Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher
This month finally sees the release of Gangster Squad, an energetic thriller set in Los Angeles at the end of the 1940s and the start of the 1950s. Starring Messrs Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ms Emma Stone and a lot of fedoras, the movie depicts the desperate struggle between a unit of the LAPD, lead by Mr Brolin, and Mr Penn's ruthless mafia organisation.
However, the icing on the cake of this high-octane noir-ish movie comes in the form of the period tailoring. The result is that the film's tsunami of beatings, shootings and stabbings are carried out by dapper guys wearing drape suits, felt hats and silk ties. Violence has rarely been this stylish. The person responsible for the costumes is Ms Mary Zophres, a leading Hollywood costume designer, and a particular favourite of the Coen brothers, who worked with her on The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men and True Grit, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. Ms Zophres recently spoke to MR PORTER about Gangster Squad.
From left: the style squad, Messrs Michael Mena, Gosling, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie and Brolin
Where do you start with such a big project?
I read the script several times and break it down by character and by scene. Then I make a list of subjects to look into, and after the research I start sketching, putting the mood boards together and then I meet with the director, production designer and cinematographer, and it all comes together.
Who has the final say: you, or the director?
I want to design within the director's vision, and he's looking to me because it's my field of expertise. It's a very collaborative medium.
How do you go about the research?
I have a lot of material in my library at home, I looked on the internet and I used a place called Western Costume, which has a great research library. I also looked at magazines from the period, such as Life and Photoplay, because I was trying to find pictures of people going out on the town - a lot of the film's scenes are shot in nightclubs.
Where do the clothes come from?
We manufactured everything for the main characters using tailors in LA that work primarily for films; they don't make clothes for regular guys. And we made all of Emma Stone's clothes.
How important is historical accuracy?
The story is the most important thing. The language in the film is very accurate to the 1940s, and the production design is very accurate, so we wanted an authentic feel, but we wanted to make it appealing to a contemporary audience. And I wanted to make Emma Stone look fabulous, so I designed her outfits to capture the sexiest part of that period - Rita Hayworth was a big inspiration. I actually pulled it back a few years, because [around] 1949 Christian Dior's "new look" came in, which I love, but it wasn't as sexy on Emma.
Mr Brolin shows us how best to tilt your hat
What are you favourite outfits in the film?
I love Ryan Gosling's opening look; it's a three-piece double-breasted suit. Also, I love Josh Brolin's silhouette, which is so rugged and handsome. And Sean Penn has a couple of great outfits. He's always wearing his most casual clothes when he does the most diabolical things. He beats the crap out of a detective wearing a cream shirt and cream pants.
Did the actors enjoy wearing their hats?
I wanted the guys to wear fedoras, but it had to suit them. We really lucked out - Josh and Ryan look great in their hats.
Was the late 1940s a well-dressed era?
It was more formal [than now], which I love. A man wouldn't leave the house without a hat and a jacket. And the tailoring was very flattering because it emphasised the shoulder line, cinched in at the waist and was long enough to cover a man's rear end.
How does the silhouette differ from today's look?
Contemporary suiting is so short in the jacket, and so slim, that not every man can pull it off. It's very youthful and I don't know if a man in his fifties can look good in that. In the 1940s trousers had a higher waist, and after seeing low-waisted trousers for eight or nine years I thought, "Thank God, something different" when I saw the 1940s suits with higher waists and fuller legs.
Would you like to see a return to the elegance of that era?
I miss that formality and I don't know if it'll ever come back. Back then people took more pride in their appearance. You didn't walk out of the house in your sweatpants; you got dressed to go out. Comfort has become more important - the sweat suit ruined haberdashery. But I'm hoping Gangster Squad will inspire men to dress well again; I'm hoping it'll bring back the fedora.
Gangster Squad is released in the UK and in the US on 11 January.
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