I was about 9 when I went to see a ballet with my parents, and I looked down at those tutus and I thought, “This is for me.” I thought I could be a ballerina, then I thought I could be an actress, and at about 16, I realized I wanted to go behind the scenes, so I went on to study theater design. I think coming from the 1950s, and early ’60s in London, this all seemed very, very glamorous and a world that I wanted to be part of.
When I was a teenager, I used to watch a lot of the black-and-white movies of the ’30s and ’40s, which I loved. Edith Head and Adrian, those two very famous American Hollywood costume designers, influenced me. I’ve just done a film set in 1953, so I looked at quite a lot of Edith’s work. She designed for Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. And Adrian did all those amazing Greta Garbo movies.
When I was at college in the ’70s, we went to look at a lot of the Italian films. Some of Piero Tosi’s work with Visconti was very strong in terms of how he worked so closely with the director and made use of costumes to tell his story, which was very interesting. Everybody talks about The Leopard for different reasons because it was using real clothes of the time, and using them as reference rather than just designing them.
And then of course, in between that, you’ve got the real fashion designers designing for films: Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn, Gaultier … They were very interesting as well, applying how they use their fashion to make the story of the film.
Odile Dicks-Mireaux is an Academy member and the costume designer behind films like Brooklyn, An Education and others. Her latest project, Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, debuts Oct. 29. For A.frame, Odile shares a look at the inspiration and process behind some of her work on film.
Sometimes, when I’m trying to create a character, I look to see what they would be influenced by. Who would they be looking at? In the ’50s and ’60s, I think people were influenced by what people wore on the films. So that would reflect who was dressing them, in a sense. When I did An Education, for instance, I was looking at Catherine Deneuve. She was wearing French designers, definitely, when she started out. I’d be looking at Catherine Deneuve’s clothes, and I wouldn't necessarily be looking at the designer, but the chicness of her look. I do often look at them when they’re just being themselves and what they’re wearing, along with looking at their films. Sometimes it’s better to look at them in their own life.
Brooklyn was fantastic reference. The production designer found this great archive in Ireland—the setting a bit later in Brooklyn—and it gave you the flavor and level of fashion that was going on in Ireland at the time. For New York, there was such an immense amount of brilliant photographers that had come over from Europe that were shooting black-and-white photographs, like Inge Morath. I also used Grace Kelly for [Saoirse Ronan’s character] and a bit of Elizabeth Taylor. I thought she looked a bit like Grace Kelly, that kind of innocent look that she has. And in fact, on Brooklyn, I didn’t make anything. I actually found all the clothes; they were all found, either in costume houses, both in Canada and London, and through a couple of vintage shops and dealers that we found.
It was such a design challenge, because I had to do the burlesque, plus the fashion show. It was very, very different. Darling (costume design by Julie Harris) was a very good reference for me, with Julie Christie. Beat Girl (costume design by Harry Haynes) was a very good reference in terms of looking at Soho at night and seeing how many people were out and the crowd. I liked the 1970s films [Edgar Wright] asked us to look at, the horror ones, like Suspiria (costume design by Piero Cicoletti). I hadn’t done horror before, so I was interested to see where he was coming from and what he was going for.
And then there were some really great sleazy B-films that we looked at, like Secrets of a Windmill Girl, where they had little cabaret acts in there, which inspired us for the audience: what sort of sleaziness the guys would be, and also the level of cabaret costume that we wanted to do. For the showgirl look, you wanted it to be demeaning in that scene, and so you could easily have gone too feathery and loads of diamanté. Edgar didn’t want that; he was so thorough in his research.
There were two things that made me quite nervous when I went to the interview [for Last Night in Soho]. I was thinking, “Oh my goodness, I’ve got to do a really cool, great newspaper dress. I wonder what Edgar’s expecting.” Then I thought, “Oh gosh, the dress that Sandie [played by Anya Taylor-Joy] wears …” I had no idea what it would be in my head when I went through the interview. Those were the two big challenges. But once you sit down and do your research and your design process, and then put down your ideas about the character, and then you look at the period, it starts to reveal itself.
Edgar gave us a lot of research, which was fantastic. He is a very thorough director in that sense. We had loads of films to look at, so you kind of know what he’s looking at as well, which is really nice. You’re not thinking it’s coming out of nowhere. He also gave us a lot of written research about women in the period and some documentaries.
The Constant Gardener was a very collaborative project with the actors and also very different in terms of doing modern clothing. What’s good in a film is when you feel you’re dressing real people and trying to create believable people. Then, you’ve got something to reference. I enjoyed that. I would explain to them what I was looking for, what I was trying to do. With the main character, played by Ralph Fiennes, he went shopping with us as if he was the character. He wanted to do it that way, as if the character was buying those clothes. He gave me a huge amount of time. We went to different tailors to try and decide what the look would be, and then we ended up with Anderson & Sheppard, which I think he was very pleased with. With Rachel Weisz’s character, we did a bit of secondhand stuff. In fact, she liked shopping with my younger assistant, so we combined that to get a different eye. So there are different processes. And whilst you had to be relatively practical, a lot of it also had to be based around the fact the character was pregnant as well, so that was a challenge.
10,000 BC was great. I said it was a large Dr. Who project in my head because it felt quite large at the time. We did a huge amount of research for that, looking at primitive [dress]. I would go to the British Museum, looking at all the references. We went to some brilliant museums in Johannesburg as well. There are so many different ways of approaching costume design sometimes. But the most important thing is to do your research and do the design process and work it through properly. And finding fabrics is always a challenge as well now.