Jacqueline West is an expert in period costumes — though the time periods that she has designed costumes for have spanned centuries. Across her career, West has earned four Oscar nominations for her work on 2000's Quills (set during the Napoleonic era), 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (at the turn of the 20th century), 2015's The Revenant (in the early 19th century), and 2021's Dune, which transports viewers 20,000 years into the future.
"I'm a big researcher, and I really do my homework," the costume designer says. She did, after all, enroll at Berkeley to be a medical student. "And I decided I did not want to read science books when all my friends were reading D. H. Lawrence, and Henry Miller, and Lawrence Durrell, and Lampedusa. I wanted to be looking at paintings! And so I quickly jumped into the world of art history and Italian."
Though West never imagined working in film, it was during her time at Berkeley that she truly became a cinephile. "I came of age every night at the Pacific Film Archive," she reflects, "I was impacted every night by Lubitsch, by von Sternberg, by every great filmmaker that there was."
West eventually found her way to the costume department through her friend, the filmmaker Philip Kaufman. She has since become the go-to costume designer for Terrence Malick, David Fincher, Ben Affleck, and more. Her latest projects are Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon and Denis Villeneuve's Dune: Part Two, which takes West from Osage Nation at the turn of the 20th century back to Arrakis in the distant future.
"You just dive into the period, and then you take the characters shopping in that period," she says of her process. "Brad Pitt once called me a 'method costume designer.' It's trying to reveal a character's inner riches by what they're wearing on the outside."
Below, West shares with A.frame the five films that have had the biggest influence on her, though she's quick to point out, "It's very hard thinking of only five movies that most impacted me!"
Directed by: Josef von Sternberg | Costume Design by: Travis Banton
Anything with Marlene Dietrich. Like, Blonde Venus and Devil Is a Woman by Von Sternberg. And my mother was a fashion designer, so I loved all the Ernst Lubitsch films for the high fashion of the '30s. Those kinds of movies I adored.
Directed by: Federico Fellini | Costume Design by: Piero Gherardi
I'm Italian, so Italian films have always been really close to my heart. La Dolce Vita was a film that I wanted to crawl into when I saw it as a young woman. Pauline Kael had a foreign film cinema in Berkeley, the Cinema Guild, before Tom Luddy opened the Pacific Film Archive, and we all watched foreign films. That's what we did when we weren't studying.
But it's the Italian filmmakers that really sang to me, like Fellini. And I have always felt that Marty was our American Fellini, because he really dives into the character and place at the center of his movies. You feel the depth, and I always felt Fellini did that.
Directed by: Luchino Visconti | Costume Design by: Piero Tosi
Death in Venice is a movie that, when I saw it, I wanted to crawl into it, because my grandmother was Venetian. And just the clothes, and the sentiments, and the setting. The other Italian movie would be [Bernardo] Bertolucci's The Conformist. Love, love that film. Like I say, these were movies I just wanted to crawl into, to be in them, and this was before I was in the film business. This is when I was in school, and then I became a fashion designer. And those movies still sang to me.
Directed by: Alain Resnais | Costume Design by: Coco Chanel and Bernard Evein
For years, I sat like Delphine Seyrig in Last Year at Marienbad. Whenever I would sit down, I would sit exactly like she sits in that movie. That movie becomes like a dream. It has this dreamlike quality that haunts your subconscious. There's a couple movies like that; the other is Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.
Directed by: Henry King | Costume Design by: Charles LeMaire
The Sun Also Rises is a movie that I saw when I was quite young, and I was such a Hemingway fan, and a Tyrone Power fan. So I'd say that's it, but cutting it down to five is excruciating!