She clad Claire Danes in angel wings for Romeo + Juliet, brought English aristocracy to the outback in Australia, and won two Oscars for her plush-as-a-bordello costumes and sets in Moulin Rouge. Now costume and production designer Catherine Martin turns her talents towards the roaring ’20s with her favourite collaborator, husband Baz Luhrman, for The Great Gatsby costumes.
The story of Nick Carraway’s (Tobey Maguire) entree into east coast society, guided by the debonair Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), is a perfect canvas for Martin’s signature glamour. Over the phone from her home in Sydney, Australia, Martin talks about how she brought her own signature twist to the ’20s.
The ’20s is such a familiar aesthetic, yet you really made it your own. How did you create this look?
Baz didn’t want it to look like a 21st gangster-themed birthday party. We needed to delve very strongly into the ’20s period. I looked to the slightly slimmer body consciousness emerging in the early and mid-’20s in Hollywood movies. You see a slimming down of the silhouette and a shortening of the skirt. It was titillating to the audience I suppose but also because, in terms of photography, it was just more appealing than [wearing] a big bag.
What are some of the more wearable elements you’ve featured in the film?
Beach pyjamas really came into their own in 1927, but Jordan wears a pair of cream silk pyjamas to dinner at the Buchanans on the first night. Daisy Buchanan’s (Carey Mulligan) wardrobe is pretty without being overwhelmingly cloying. You have details like appliquéd fabric rosettes and a lot of tulle to give the illusion of a strapless dress. [The look is] wearing very beautiful clothes with a kind of casualness. You see Daisy for the first time in a very fancy dress, but she’s just lying on the couch.
Tiffany’s leant you pieces from their archives. What was your favourite?
They had a deco vintage crystal, diamond and onyx stickpin. Jordan wears it in her hat rather irreverently. It had its own little safe and everything.
Since The Great Gatsby began filming in 2011, so many people have jumped on the band wagon of art deco and ’20s fashion. Where do you think that interest is coming from?
During this bleak economic period, certainly for Europe, it speaks to us because of its historical parallels. And there’s such a thing as zeitgeist. One of Baz’s skills as a director is he can feel what’s happening in the air—and he’s not the only one.
Your films with your husband are all about great passionate love affairs. Do you get to bring that home with you?
Definitely our relationship is very passionate because we are very passionate about what we do. And that passion rubs off in our personal life as well. I’m always very awkward talking about my personal relationship because there’s an Australian saying: you are rooster one day, feather duster the next. I am having a lovely interview with you, pontificating about design, and half an hour ago I was yelling at my children to put their underwear on. The everydayness of life is something that keeps you grounded.
The Great Gatsby opens May 10. Four of Martin’s costumes from the film will be on display in the windows of Holt Renfrew in Toronto through May 20.