Despite hubby Baz Luhrmann and the preening, prawning Gatsby of Leonardo DiCaprio, Costume and Production Designer Catherine Martin squeezed two Oscars out of that sad puppy. And I doubly respect her. When we talk about women in Hollywood, sometimes we overlook the crafts where women dominate, like costume design and casting. I recently wrote a Tribeca Film Festival preview piece for Variety and interviewed Martin at medium length. We only used one quote about New York. No worries. That’s the collaborative process. But here are the outtakes from that interview — and they’re fascinating.
Me: How rare is it to be both production and costume designer – and how do the two influences each other in your work?
Catherine Martin: When you live it, it’s very difficult to imagine another way of being, and you don’t think of
yourself as a rare bird. I think one of the great advantages for me, in terms of being a costume and production designer is you get to harmonize how the costume and set work together in a very instantaneous and very real way.
Can you address ways in which your costume design has influenced contemporary fashion – and, how, inversely, in films like The Great Gatsby you researched the historical period and then creatively reinvented the looks in collaboration with you husband, Director Baz Luhrmann, and his thematic re-imagining of the period?
CM: Oh my goodness, this is a very complicated question. I think you never go into a work, thinking very much about how you’re going to influence someone, rather you go into a work trying to understand the director’s vision, the vision of the author, the lives of the characters, and if they fit in historical context, what existed at the time, what were the signs and symbols that the clothing of the time captured, what do they say to the contemporary audience when you saw someone walking down the street. So I think very much one of Baz’s focuses on all the films is to really examine in the fullest possible way, how it felt to be a character in a period that you’re exploring, how it felt to wear their clothes, how it felt to walk in their shoes, and those signs and symbols that those garments gave off to their contemporaries.
Obviously, if you translate that absolutely literally into a modern day context some of the meaning can be lost so Baz always tries to, while being extremely true to the period, find things that existed within any given historical time period that still connect and still mean the same things that they did back in their time and at the same time, absolutely connect to the here and now and that story, relative to the people watching it at this point and time.
How closely do you follow contemporary fashion?
CM: I love fashion. Some men collect sport cars, I collect fashion magazines. I love clothes, I have always loved clothes. I love they way they’re made. I love the way that they feel when they’re on your body. I love how they make you feel. The give you confidence. They’re the costumes of every day lives.
Do you have a favorite period?
I’m always loathe to say favorites things because neither do I say a period is my favorite or my least favorite, I think it’s very dangerous to proclaim one favorite period because when one works in the world of telling stories, every period has to be your friend, you can’t afford to play favorites.
And, personally, what is your style.
CM: God, to be honest, when you’re inside your own style, it’s very hard to imagine. But I hope that it’s it eccentric, eclectic, and elegant or at least the appropriate attire for the task at hand.
If you wear vintage do you have a favorite piece/find?
CM: I’m very affected by objects and things from the past and the imprints of the humans, by the humans who have handled or touched the garments before. So although I really appreciate looking and examining vintage for reference and for inspiration. I don’t actually like to wear it myself, because I can strangely feel the presence of people who have worn the thing before me.
How would you describe New York’s fashion sense at this moment?
CM: I think we’re in a very democratic period of fashion where if you have style, you can create a look out of the most inexpensive of clothing that rivals any high fashion house.
For more images of Martin’s work, check out my Pinterest page and feel free to add your favorites.