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“Look at you. Swanning ’round like you’re Al Capone” – 1920s/30s costume design in Lawless.

Recently, during the opening trailers at the cinema I’ve noticed this particular film a fair few times – it stuck out to me. Naturally, as you do, I was doing the typical “yes!” or “no!” throughout the opening trailers, deciding whether or not the films look good or bad and/or if I’m going to pay to go and see it. Of course, I’m a huge fan of the prohibition era and having had a sneak peak at the wonderful costume designs during those couple of crucial minutes deciding on whether I am going to spend a few bob at the cinema watching it  – all I could think was – yes, yes yes!

After watching the trailer I thought Lawless had a very Johnny Depp in Public Enemies kinda look which obviously can’t be bad. Also with my one true love Boardwalk Empire also showing strong similarities, in particular the attractive men in swanky, expensive suits living the American gangster lifestyle – all in the name of (illegal) alcohol I knew it would be right up my street.

Before I start expressing my love for the wonderful costume design – let me just say that as a whole this film is brilliant. I left the cinema feeling extremely happy and wanting more, it’s one of those films that I could watch over and over again but do let me know whether you agree or disagree? The film, based on Matt Bondurant’s ‘The Wettest Country In The World’ tells the story of the infamous Bondurant brothers, known to their community as some sort of misunderstood, mysterious superhero trio with such a large collection of legends and myths associated with them that even their grandkids would get a little bored hearing about.

Costume designer Margot Wilson’s previous work on 2009  post-apocalyptic drama The Road despite being brilliant, I can imagine didn’t give much freedom with costumes. Lawless on the other hand set in Depression-era Franklin Country, Virginia with an array of world class actors, all very individual in their characters and the way that they present themselves on screen. Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke – the Bondurant brothers who to me, clearly have some sort connection with ridiculous  rapper 50 Cent – if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.

First up, Tom Hardy, aka Forrest Bondurant – the ‘middle’ brother and the leader of the 3 man wolf pack just loves a cardigan and doesn’t care much for the tailored suit wearing people he sometimes crosses paths with, he has far more to worry about than how his clothes are perceived by others – his strong family values in particular. Despite this, the choice of clothes Margot has put him in works perfectly for his build, almost an Incredible Hulk kinda moment – his inner Bane from The Dark Knight Rises is just waiting to be unleashed onto passers by who cause trouble between him, his family, his lady friend and most importantly – his home grown moonshine. Typically seen wearing a well-loved or more appropriately, beaten-up fedora hat, a high necked shirt, an oversized cardigan and some loose fitted trousers his character is perceived well – a laid back, casual approach yet with his hat low and when needed, his intimidating body language in check he has the menacing look down to a t.

Howard, played by Jason Clarke is the mad one of the three – the alcoholic, howling Bondurant brother is a little scruffy in the way that he presents himself physically. Also rocking the beaten up hat look alongside a tatty shirt and a heavy woolen coat his clothes are definitely falling apart and could do with a little wash but are glued to his skin just like a moonshine filled mason jar is glued to his hand. Despite his clothes requiring a few amends, they will no doubt be handed down to the younger brother, the runt of the litter, Jack.

The only one of the three that has a clear transformation costume wise in the film, Jack played by Shia LaBeouf gets thrown a lot of his older brothers hand-me-downs and isn’t happy about it. The baby brother wants to be just like his older brothers and show some sort of authority and intimidating characteristics yet feels a little out of place at the start of the film. From the hand-me-downs leads to wearing his dad’s fancy, tailored suits to impress a girl (Mia Wasikowska) until he gets the money to purchase his own swanky ensembles. After earning some dollar he splashes out on some 3-piece suits and even buys Bertha (Mia) a yellow, floral dress that flows perfectly on her petite frame.

Of course, no prohibition-era based film would be complete without a villain. Rakes, played by Guy Pearce isn’t one of those characters that you love to hate, it’s just pure hatred towards him. The moment he steps on to the screen with his quirky, unusual fashion sense, his ugly hair cut, his irritating voice  and a face you just want to punch you immediately know that he’s trouble. His dodgy deal with the Bondurant brothers doesn’t go the way he liked which spirals out of control into a long feud between the corrupt law and the legendary family. Sometimes he looked like he is dressed for a dinner party in The Great Gatsby with his bow tie and thick, pin-striped suit and other times looking like his just about to wait a table at a restaurant with ridiculous white and black trousers and suit jacket – there is a lot of depth to his wardrobe. Oh and I can’t not mention the gloves that complete his pretentious look and that are always wiped clean from the blood shed at the hands of his annoying character. There’s a clear barrier between Rakes and the Bondurant family – in particular, the colour palettes are completely opposite to each other. The warm tones of the Bondurant brothers – the browns, beiges, greys contrast well against the bold colours that Rakes is draped in.

Not quite as extravagant and luxurious as 1920s prohibition television drama Boardwalk Empire and no one in particular giving Steve Buscemi and his flowered lapel a run for his money, yet the period costumes Margot Wilson has used in the film are used so well between the characters that the difference between each character’s clothes is clear and even those people that aren’t particularly used to paying attention to the costume design in films will probably notice it.

Basically, what I’m saying is – go and see it.

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An interview with Community and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia costume designer, Sabrina Rosen

Last week I got to have a chat with the lovely costume designer of Community and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Sabrina Rosen over the wonderful invention of Skype, and here it is:

On Screen Fashion: How long have you been a costume designer? What influenced you to become one?

Sabrina Rosen: I have been an actual designer since 1999, but I’ve worked as a costumer since 1993, and I kind of got into it by accident while I was living in New York and I had given up trying to become an actress. I was studying and working in fashion when my best friend’s husband, a director, asked me to work on one movie, so I thought I would give it a shot. Next thing I know, I’ve given up my apartment in New York and moved to Los Angeles, and that was that.

OSF: How would you describe your personal style? Do you ever get influenced by the television shows or films you work on in your own personal wardrobe?

SR: No, what I really love is the 30s and 40s and since I grew up in the 70s I like a lot of the nice stuff from the 70s era like Ali MacGraw. My main influence for my personal fashion style is my mom, I dress a lot like her and my moms sister was a very well known fashion designer, so with that and living in New York I was very influenced a lot fashion-wise. At work, it really is the character that influences you. In TV it’s more what you can find in the stores on a weekly basis that will work on that character, it’s not like a movie when you have three months to prepare. You can search in the vintage shops and do whatever you want but you’re forced to do it quickly due to the deadlines.

OSF: Which character in Community was the most fun to dress and why?

SR: Obviously Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) but I would say after that, Annie (Alison Brie) but Jim Rash is so much fun to dress. The costumes we put him in are so ridiculous – he’ll let us put him in anything which is great in comedy, plus he’s a really nice guy! It’s the same with my actors in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, they will wear any ridiculous costume, we just did a pilot and one of them is wearing a handmade gorilla costume which was fun. Going back to Community, Annie is so much fun to dress because that is a style I would personally never wear, I don’t know anybody that dresses like that – it’s so specific and very girly.

OSF: You worked on episode 1 of season 3 which opens with a Glee-esque song which has very bright and eccentric clothing – was that fun to work on? Can you explain reasons for the choice in clothing?

SR: Yeah it was fun to work on – it had to be a version of how our characters already dress but with a heightened colour situation, especially with Jeff (Joel McHale) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) who are always in dark colours. We put Jeff in his classic button up shirt but instead of a dark colour we put him in pink, the same with Britta but with pink jeans instead of dark jeans. Sometimes it’s like, ‘what’s easy and that I can do fast? I knew that there were tons of bright coloured jeans in the stores and in TV a lot of it has to be put together in such a short amount of time. Most of the time you have to just go to the stores and know your characters enough so that you can identify what would work on them – I have to see it to know it.

OSF: Michael Kenneth Williams appears in season 3 who is well known for his super-stylish clothing in Boardwalk Empire – what was the story behind his costumes?

SR: As he always plays the bad guy like Omar Little (The Wire) and Chalky White (Boardwalk Empire) and because we’re all such huge fans of his, we were all so excited that he was coming. He’s a teacher but he had previously been in prison so I didn’t want it to be too much about his clothes but I wanted him to have a little bit of style – enough for him to intimidate Jeff. He wore a lot of Banana Republic jeans and blazers – I dressed him just like that character would think a teacher would dress after being in prison.

OSF: Abed (Danny Pudi) is dressed quite young – is this to reflect his geeky, awkward personality?

SR: Yeah, it is. It’s funny, three years in and I start forgetting how we even got to this point … but it’s funny with TV, you kind of land on a character and the clothing to match the character and you kinda go with it … so you don’t want to have a completely different look from year to year. He’s the best guy, you should expect to see him in a lot of crazy costumes in the new series.

OSF: Do you have any funny stories about the costume and styling in Community that viewers may not know?

SR: I’m sure there’s a lot of Jim Rash ones. I will tell you one thing … this isn’t really a big thing but I will tell you anyway. Joel Mchale (Jeff) is a clothes horse like you have never met in your life. He is OBSESSED with clothes, sometimes I have to remind him that I’m dressing him for his character but he is so obsessed with fashion. He’s the only actor I have ever worked with in my life that loves costume fittings, most actors aren’t too phased by it but if I tell Joel I’ve just bought new clothes he can’t get over quick enough, he is obsessed.

OSF: What is your favourite fashion moment in Community that you worked on?

SR: There’s an episode coming up where Annie wears a yellow 70s inspired princess dress and we found it in the costume shop, it’s so pretty and it kinda reminds me of Valley of the Dolls so I would say recently that’s my favourite costume.

OSF: You’ve also worked on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – are there any big differences from Community in terms of costumes?

SR: For one thing on Community, I get to buy new clothes. Two of the guys on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia have been wearing the same thing for two years because in the show they are not supposed to have much money and want it to seem real. They are both comedy’s so you both get stuff thrown at you at the last minute – the creators will say ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if … ?’ and it always has something to do with some ridiculous costume that you’re sure you can’t come up with in a 2hour/24hour period but you have to do it because it’s your job. In Community, Dan Harmon the creator of the show is always coming up with something like ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if …?’ as he’s so influenced by other TV shows and movies. In both shows, the creators have seen every movie ever made and every TV show ever made so they’ll come up with an obscure movie with obscure costumes. It’s usually an 80s costume which wasn’t as much my time, so it’s like coming up with something in hardly any time with what you have. You have to figure out how to make it happen, out of nothing and you have to have good seamstresses!

OSF: Are there any other television shows that you would love to work on? Maybe Mad Men?

SR: Obviously Mad Men would be great, who wouldn’t want to work on that? She does such a good job, she’s amazing. I would love to do something that’s 30s or 40s and I would love to do a TV show where they dress like the movie The Artist everyday. I would also love to do something that’s kind of something out of the blaxploitation movies of the 70s where the guys would be wearing a red suit, red hat and red alligator shoes, the sort of thing you would see at a fight in Vegas, it’s very pimpy. I love bad clothes, like I’d love to do a pimpy thing – bright clothes and just bad clothes you could buy downtown but not the nice stores. Obviously Boardwalk Empire would also be amazing to work on but that’s another dream job for all of us, I love the costumes he puts Michael Kenneth Williams in.

Many thanks to Sabrina Rosen

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