Caroline Duncan wanted to create a timeless rom-com, and that is exactly what she did with the fashion-forward and glitzy costume design for Marry Me, starring Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, and Maluma.
Rom-com Marry Me centers on Kat Valdez (Lopez), a pop superstar who discovers – seconds before their globally televised mega-wedding – that her equally successful musician fiancé, Bastian (Maluma), has been unfaithful to her. Heartbroken and embarrassed, Kat spontaneously decides to instead marry a complete stranger in the crowd, Charlie (Wilson). After saying "I do," Kat and her math teacher-husband must navigate their completely different worlds and give their marriage and love a chance.
"It's supposed to be frothy, beautiful and fun, and, of course, aspirational. It's a feel-good movie. It's about somebody who starts really, really high and realizes that that height is not where they're happiest," Duncan, known for her costume design work in Old, The Affair, Servant and When They See Us, tells A.frame. "It's not even a falling through the muck [story]. Everything sort of started off at this incredibly high vibration, and then we were able to sort of soften it as we went."
To style a superstar like J.Lo, Duncan took, in a sense, a meta approach to dressing her character.
"It was also funny to think as a costume designer that, on top of designing all the other characters, I had to sort of function as a stylist, which I had to think, 'OK, as a costume designer, I am Kat Vladez's stylist, right?'" Duncan explains. "So, some of these looks are Kat at home, natural, Kat picked this out herself, and some of the looks – a stylist put on Kat. So, it was a very meta universe, but it was fun."
"And we filmed this pre-pandemic," she continues. "I feel like I watch a lot of things now that it feels weird to see people without masks. But, there's a very nostalgic, romantic New York City love story that, with the clothing at least, Kat [Coiro] our director, really, really wanted it to not be caught in such a moment in time so that in 20 years when it's running a rerun, you don't really think, 'Oh, that's 2019 or 2020.' So, a lot of Jen's choices also leaned into that. We just want her to look iconic for decades to come. When you watch some of the greatest rom-coms of the last 50 years, that's something that's successful about all of them."
Below, Duncan breaks down three of Kat Valdez's iconic looks in Marry Me, and discusses how she collaborated with Lopez on her character's wardrobe.
A.frame: How much was Jennifer involved with the costume design? Did she have a say in everything she wore, did you take the reins or was it more collaborative?
Caroline Duncan: It was collaborative, but she was a producer on the job as well as the star, and more than anyone connected with the character. There's so much to Kat Valdez that Jennifer could relate to that most people couldn't. So, it was beyond collaborative. She was very, very involved in the design process, and very, very specific and intelligent about what she wanted the arc of the character to be, and clear about that from our first conversation. And, the way we would communicate before I met her, before we had our first fitting, before she was in New York, was all via photos. So, we sent her stuff and she would respond to what she liked. And, we would move from there, and put things in front of her for a fitting.
Jennifer was extremely specific and responsive to actual designs. And, when it came to the outfit at the school or some of her date night looks, etc., it was more traditional like, have a fitting and try on a few silhouettes, and a couple combinations, and see what we liked most. But I imagine that her process when she's on tour is very, very similar to the process when we did her more specific elevated stage looks, that it was signed off on before she ever saw the garments in person.
It was really exciting because people were happy to loan and/or give us stuff for Jennifer to wear. And, she ended up wearing so many absolutely gorgeous and custom pieces that came through those connections.
How did you make sure to separate Lopez from Kat?
[It was] very, very important to Jennifer. One of the first things she said to me is, "Kat is a pop star. She's a diva, but she's not an actress. She's number one in her world." But unlike Jennifer, who wears every hat that there is, Kat is a very brand-focused pop star. And, in such, I think that's also partly why we went for it with sparkle a lot of the time because Jennifer did it first. Jennifer is somebody who, if you want to find a reference for fashion, you can find a photo of Jennifer killing every single trend. But, in her personal life, she doesn't wear a lot of sparkle and showman kind of Vegas style stuff. So, we felt like that was a really good way to distinguish the two. And there's going to be overlap visually when you're putting somebody who is an incredibly famous pop star into anything that goes onto a stage. But, we really tried to push away from what Jen has worn. And her stylists, Rob [Zangardi] and Mariel [Haenn], were amazing and the most collaborative team. They were wonderful and so helpful, telling you, "Oh, she's worn something [like that]." Or, "No, she's never worn anything like that," which was – for me – that insight was so helpful because I don't overlap with stylists very often.
Let's break down the wardrobe. The first look we want to touch on is the incredible and breathtaking wedding dress that she wears on stage. Tell us why you chose this specific bridal look for Kat?
The dress is a runway Zuhair Murad wedding look that had just been in the Bridal [Fashion] Week a few weeks before we had her fitting. There were two dresses from that collection that stood out to everybody that were both incredibly embossed and dramatic. So, in talking to Jennifer and her team and the director, it felt like, because the wedding is not an intimate, subtle or private event, because it's part of the media beast – but also it's part of a show – it's also part of like a musical act, we wanted one of the dresses to just have so much stage presence.
And then, there had to be this balance between humor and sort of a little bit of a sadness to how overwhelming it is on her after the deflation of realizing that she's not going to have her dream wedding to the man that she's in love with, and that it's all actually a show. So, the bigger and the more sort of overwhelmingly feminine and stifling it became on her, the better it was to the point where she's having a panic attack when she gets into the elevator. And then, even in the pieces in the car, when she and Charlie look like they're being dwarfed by the dress, that it had this element to it that kept referring back to how big and how out of control this wedding had become.
She also wore a dramatic and stunning veil. Was that also designed by Zuhair Murad?
The veil was part of the runway collection. They sent it to us when we reached out and we weren't sure we [were going to use it] and thought maybe it's too much to add the veil. Her first fittings we did without the veil, and then, close to when we filmed it, we tried it with the veil, and had the jewelry as well at that point, and it just heightened it even more to this princess fairy tale version of a wedding… This dress is not a dress that, even if you wanted to have the fantasy Cinderella ball gown wedding, most people wouldn't have a venue that could even fit such a dress, right? So, when we added that it felt like adding a crown.
Was there a specific decision behind the color of the dress? We know that this isn't her first wedding; so, she might not have worn the traditional white wedding gown.
The sparkle of the dress, it's a rose gold and under the lights and everything in her show, [it shines]. Previously you see the church look and that there is always a sparkle and a shimmer when somebody does stage work, and that also heightens the fact that this wasn't a traditional wedding in a church or a backyard with only family present. This was like a VMAs-style wedding, a bit of a PR paper. So, it was very intentional that you're not wearing a pure white dress. And then, we leaned into that champagne and rose gold palette with her backup dancers, and with Maluma. Instead of putting him in a white tux or a black tux, we thought it would be nice to put him in that beautiful red tone that is also like a flack in her dress.
Were there other dress options or was this instantly the go-to gown?
No, there were other options. I would say there were about 15 dresses that Jennifer tried on. There is a scene in the movie, before [the wedding], where she's putting on an outfit in her dressing room at home, and Melissa [played by Michelle Buteau] comes in and she's in this giant feather-like [look]. That was an option for the wedding. It didn't make sense for the centerpiece dress, but it felt like everybody would have been sending Kat Valdez their biggest, craziest costumes – show-stopping wedding looks.
So, we decided, the director, Kat, thought it would be really fun to put her in another bridal look. We used a third one in the posters that you see for the concert [that takes place in the movie], the Marry Me [concert] posters that are littered around New York City before the night of the concert. That's another dress that we had in the mix for the wedding. We had only about 15, but a lot of them made it into the movie in different ways and they were all extremely nontraditional, high fashion. Very glamorous.
And then, she had so much jewelry on for the bridal look.
All the jewelry was pivotal, especially for the wedding gown. It was all this company, this incredible Italian diamond company called Pasquale Bruni. The earring, the flower, it's a petal. So, it's a really, really feminine bridal [look]. And [it’s] romantic. Just heightened romance for every part of her costume.
The second ensemble we’re highlighting is the stunning gold gown that she wears at Bastian’s concert. She's also wearing a glamorous headpiece and matching necklace. Tell us about that look.
The gown is Versace and it is a custom beaded gown. It's absolutely incredible! It's gold ombre, crystal beads that they created into a fringe. It was made for Jennifer. She has such a strong relationship with Versace, such an iconic relationship. They were very, very generous and sent us so many beautiful things. From the minute we saw it, that was the only dress that it was ever going to be.
And, the headpieces were custom made by a milliner in Europe. We had a lot made for that look. Because of the weight and the shape, we needed to be able to sort of play [because] we didn't quite know how that was going to be staged. But [that scene] was a really cool trick that they pulled off, where Jennifer came out at a Maluma concert, and it was filmed. So, it was nutty. We only had like a few days where they knew exactly what the choreography was going to be in sync with his real concert for the film piece. I would say we were playing around with headpieces until the last moment trying to figure out what the right one was. We wanted [her] to feel like a sculpture, like a statue, like the statue that she so badly wants. She wants an award. She wants recognition. And, there are some references to The Bodyguard, looking at another story that's been told about a celebrity, a larger-than-life diva, who's an actress and a singer. We went back to some of the designers that were used in that film. The crown feels very, very 1930s art nouveau. We were constantly reckoning and harkening back to a classic Hollywood look on her whenever we could.
Was the fringe sleeve detachable or was it all connected?
No, it was built as one piece, and it was so heavy. Actually, both of the dresses were so heavy, the wedding dress took about five people to put on her. It was that big and it was so large it needed its own truck. It could barely fit on our wardrobe truck. It traveled around in a box of different trucks. And, that dress probably weighed 80 pounds. The Versace gown, it was very heavy because of the crystal beads. That felt like we were putting her into a chandelier.
How long did it take to make the dress?
The Versace gown we filmed, I would say [it took] about six weeks of them building before we would put it on her.
The third outfit we are highlighting is Kat in her all-white "casual" look. She wears this when she visits Charlie at the school he works at. She is wearing an Orseund Iris jacket, Dolce & Gabbana pants, a Ralph Lauren sleeveless turtleneck, and white-and-silver Christian Louboutin boots.
That outfit, Jennifer and I really liked the '90s. We were thinking about when Kat Valdez would have been coming up. What was her career arc? And we were pulling a lot of '90s [references] into the movie. The idea is that even when she is at her most casual, until the movie really gets deep into their relationship, even when Kat is not on stage, not performing, that everything is quite manicured and curated. She has a videographer following her around. Every moment of her life is on camera for a channel or social media. Much like at her press junket, we kept tying back into the bridal and the white wedding in the beginning. Lots of white, but, especially in that, we wanted something that felt like she was putting together an outfit that felt, for her, warmer, and more real, more approachable. But has a really fun, street style '90s throwback to it. And, that, to Kat, who lives in a very different world than the kids, that outfit, the white-striped cropped blazer and those pants, would feel very casual to her. But, to them, and in the context of that space, she is just as glamorous in their eyes coming in that outfit as she would be walking in with her Versace beaded gown.
The divide between her world and Charlie's is kind of extreme, even when she's trying to come a little bit into his world. And you see it again at the prom. It's very intentional that the outfit is romantic and sweet and understated for her character. That's a very subtle look. But still, in the context of a Brooklyn High School dance, she's very, very clearly a celebrity, a diva, and stealing focus, and showing a lot more skin than anybody else in that room. So, it's the same idea in that white outfit. But, there was something about that outfit, I think, that speaks to… there's a warmth about it. Even though it's all white, there's something about it. It has these really sweet little tassels that [when] she dances with the kids that have some air and movement to it, which was nice, and there was something very fun and young about it too. So, those are all the reasons that we loved that look for that moment.
And, I think it's something so funny about her coming in a pair of sunglasses that are transitional. They're not even the dark black sunglasses that are pretty prescribed for a celebrity. She's not hiding. She's not trying to hide her eyes. She's wearing a pair of sunglasses, but even more-so are so fashion forward, and emphasize who she is. Like, obviously, that's Kat Valdez. So, it's part of the look. It's not part of trying to avoid the paparazzi.
Wrapping up, what happens to the two gowns, the Zuhair Murad and the Versace piece? Does Jennifer get to keep them?
I believe that the wedding dress was sent back. I believe both pieces are back with the design houses. Although I can't imagine that they would be [made available]. I think they're probably archived by now. I don't know. They were stored for a little while, but I think finally they were released back.
Marry Me arrives in theaters and will be available to stream on Peacock on Feb. 11.
How to Watch 'Marry Me' on Peacock