And boy, was it worth the wait! I’d describe it as nothing less than a work of art. Over almost a decade, Luhrmann and his team, including his wife, costume and production designer Catherine Martin, have created (and I say ‘created’ because there is an innate sense of artistry here) a movie truly ‘roaring’ with the energy of the Twenties.
Luhrmann has succeeded in bringing The Great Gatsby into the 21st Century – it’s not often that a period drama feels modern! But this film is unarguably contemporary, no doubt thanks to an incredible soundtrack by Jay-Z featuring today’s best-known singers and musicians, as well as collaborations with top fashion designers including Miuccia Prada.
The modernisation of the story is well-founded. Luhrmann describes the ‘20s as “such a culturally rich period”, much like our global and ever-moving modern society. He goes on to say “there’s an industrial explosion and at the same time, the stock exchange and new monetary products are being created...everything is going up, up, up in an orgy of money... In my estimation, Fitzgerald predicts the crash of 1929 in a book he wrote in 1925.” In the same way that Fitzgerald uses Gatsby to comment on the corrupt fabric of a money-led society, Luhrmann uses the story to bring to attention the similarly corrupt, extravagant and out of control idea of ‘spend, spend, spend!’ that we experienced before the financial crisis in 2007. It’s safe to say that the narrative is as relevant today as it was in 1925.
Not only is the contemporary twist well-founded, it is well-rounded. The world of the film feels ‘complete’; the merging of the ‘20s and the 21st Century is seamless and utterly believable. This, I feel, is thanks to the incredible work attributable to Catherine Martin. As production designer and costume designer, I cannot even start to comprehend how much work this must have been for her! Nevertheless, Martin brought together a feast of colour, sparkles, all things glitz and glamour in an incredible explosion of visual energy!
Part of the creation of a truly contemporary version of The Great Gatsby is down to a score of collaborations with today’s top creatives. For the costumes specifically, Martin collaborated with Miuccia Prada to create for the leading women (see thecostume sketches here), and Brooks Brothers for the menswear. To produce the incredibly lavish and glamorous jewellery, Tiffany’s was invited to join the project. Martin says that “each brand partnership for the film has been about helping to tell the story” – they are meaningful and well thought through. At first, I was afraid that this fashion-costume link was simply for publicity purposes, but there is so much more to it. In an interview, Catherine Martin explains: “From a philosophical point of view, we really needed to know how we justified the anachronistic choice of this collaboration...As a brand and design force, Prada looks to the past for a lot of its inspiration, but it is always done in a way that looks to the future.” This I find conveys perfectly the way in which Gatsby has been conceptualised: the attention to historical detail is ever-present, yet it is used unexpected way, which brings the mise-en-scene in line with the visual style of our own decade. Everything we see is “rooted in its historical basis” but stills retains “absolute contemporary relevance”.
In attempting this fusion of modern and historical, it is important to have definite faith and confidence in the accuracy of your work. Reference is key, and for every aspect of the design of this film, Luhrmann and Martin have proof that it existed in the twenties. For example, the inflatable zebras at the party come from a photograph the pair found during their two years of research. Carey Mulligan, who plays Daisy Buchanan, commented that “every time you went to a costume fitting or into make-up, whole walls were filled with images”, ensuring that the world Luhrmann wanted to capture on camera was already present in the atmosphere of the studios.
Not only were the costumes endlessly glamorous and awe-inspiring, I think they were fantastically successful in conveying character – which is their job after all! What I mean is: the spectacle of costume didn’t overwhelm the primary purpose of the clothing as a means of telling a story. From the pocket details of the men’s suits, to the fabric of the women’s party dresses, I found every intricacy had a message, and to me, that is the art of good costume design.
I think if I start writing about each costume in detail here, I won’t be able to keep this from becoming a full-on dissertation, so for now, I’ll leave you with a few interesting video interviews, and I’ll be back with a post on costume breakdown soon!
Have a great weekend, and of course, if you haven’t already – go and see The Great Gatsby!!!
"The starriest, glitziest, greatest Gatsby!" by Amy Raphael, Event, 21.4.13
"Recreating the decade that roared" by Julia Maile, Stylist, 6.5.13