After the exclusive interview with Madonna and a photoshoot by Tom Munro for the promotion of Madonna’s latest movie W.E., Harper’s Bazaar posted another interview, but this time with costume desginer Arianne Phillips.
Oscar and BAFTA nominated costumer Arianne Phillips certainly knows her way around a movie set and understands the intricacies of working with directors. For her most recent project, she collaborated with a director she knows intimately — Madonna, whom she’s been styling for nearly two decades. Phillips role in W.E., a film that draws on the life of Wallis Simpson juxtaposed with the modern tale of an abused woman, was that of costume designer — a job whose purpose goes far beyond choosing clothing. BAZAAR spoke with the stylist about her newest working relationship with Madonna, fashion’s role in building a character and reimagining a style icon on film.
Harper’s Bazaar: What drew you to W.E.?
Arianne Phillips: Madonna asked me if i was interested in designing the costumes, and I said of course!
Harper’s Bazaar: What was it like working with Madonna in this capacity? Was she very involved with your process?
Arianne Phillips: After 14 years of collaborating with Madonna, we have a creative “short hand,” an understanding and a language. She is a great director, she has been essentially directing and inspiring me for 14 years. She is detailed, prepared and open to ideas — which creates an atmosphere of creative trust which is essential to my process. No one understands costumes better than Madonna — from first hand experience as an actress and performer she has the ability to create characters and tell a story through costumes — she gets it.
Harper’s Bazaar: Wallis Simpson is an enduring fashion icon, what is the process like trying to recreate her look?
Arianne Phillips: Research, research, research.
Harper’s Bazaar: What were some of the stand-out elements of her style that you focused on?
Arianne Phillips: Wallis and Edward’s relationship with jewelry was fascinating, it was a big part of their love story. I knew the jewelry alone would present a huge challenge to recreate for our film.
Harper’s Bazaar: How did your approach differ when creating a modern-day look for the Wally character?
Arianne Phillips: I wanted to make sure there was a balance between the Wally (Abbie Cornish) 1997 story line and the Wallis (Andrea Riseborough) 1930s story line — to make the connection between the two worlds and the two women. Wally goes through a personal transformation that you can see reflected in her manner of dress, hair and make-up, as she becomes more and more enchanted by the Wallis and Edward storyline, and moves farther away from her abusive marriage.
Harper’s Bazaar: Madonna says that the film is really about our “cult of celebrity.” Do you think that women in particular are too focused on overarching celebrity style?
Arianne Phillips: Our culture has always been obsessed by celebrity, this is not new, the difference is now there are so many outlets, and so much information available. Our obsessions with celebrities, reality shows, magazines, and blogs are celebrity obsession on steroids.
Harper’s Bazaar: What role do you think costume plays in the creating of a character?
Arianne Phillips: Costumes are essential to creating character, we get visual clues that inform the story, mood, or underscore the emotion of the scene or piece. Whether it is stylized color control, or the power of a silhouette. I also believe costumes help actors in a physical and visceral manner, the feel and touch or fit of a costume can inform an actor and help to access an emotion or feeling. For example, a tight corset makes you walk differently, the movement in a cape, or the way wool or velvet feels against the skin all [make an actor] take on a different physicality that can be essential for the physical aspect in building a character. There is a visual aspect for the audience regarding the “design” or look of the film, as well as a physical aspect for the actor.
Article by Kerry Pieri for Harper’s Bazaar
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