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exclusive: get the story behind american hustle fashion

the movie's costume designer fills us in.

by: liza darwin

December 12 2013

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Rather than talking about how pumped we are for American Hustle, let's just cut to the chase. David O.Russell's newest all-star film, which stars Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper, finally hits select theaters on Friday (!!).

We can't wait to see this dream team together onscreen (especially considering Lawrence snagged an Oscar for her last Russell role in Silver Linings Playbook) in this slick con-man story. But there's also a whole other layer of awesomeness that's just as integral to the plot as J.Law's Jersey accent: the clothing.

From plaid suits to fur coats to slinky cocktail dresses, we got the exclusive scoop behind the outfits from the film's costume designer, Michael Wilkinson. He filled us in on the key to nailing '70s style and how Lawrence can choose an outfit in 30 seconds flat. 

After you signed onto American Hustle, what was your first step? 
We did a lot of research--looking at films from the '70s, magazines, ads, pop culture references. But while we wanted to draw from the period, we also wanted to cut ourselves loose from it in a way. All of David's characters are so unique; we went deep into the psychologies and the choices of how they present themselves to the world through clothes. In this film the people are all hustling and reinventing themselves, so clothes are a direct way to do that. 

How involved were the actors in their style choices? 
It depends on the actors. It struck me how different everyone's approach to the costumes was; Christian [Bale] gained a lot of weight for the role, and so when he came into the fitting room, he had a huge belly! I've worked with Amy [Adams] before, but I hadn't worked with Jennifer. She has an incredible energy. 

Did she have a say in her costumes?
She did-- Jennifer can scan a couple of racks and pick out the perfect outfits. Her character has wild mood swings, and is depressed at home and hiding from the world. So when she's at home, she wears '70s house dresses and slippers. But when she's out she gets dressed to the nines and tries to make her husband jealous. She's dressed to kill, in chiffon leopard print jumpsuits, slinky dresses--her character tries to be high fashion but doesn't get it, so we tend to have details like cheesy rhinestone embellishments to show how she's not quite there. 

Even just from the trailer, her character definitely has a whole lot of...look.
[Laughing] Definitely. And Jennifer pulled it off! She was very trusting and respectful and it was a fun collaboration, especially since she has such an immediate reaction to clothes. As soon as she puts it on, she just knows. 

Where did the clothes come from?
Since we wanted to use as many authentic pieces from the period as possible, we went to the costume rental house in LA and New York. Then if we couldn't find something from that period, I made it myself. It was a challenge because many of these clothes are 40 years old, so it was tough to find pieces that were authentic and still looked fresh in terms of colors and fabrics. 

Which particular costume sticks out in your mind the most?
There's a scene where Jennifer is in a white dress. She spills champagne on the dress in the scene, so we knew that we would have to have multiple dresses for the different takes! That was challenging. We had to make several dresses for all the takes. 

How were Jennifer and Amy's costumes different? 
Amy Adams' character typifies the edgy spirit of Manhattan, so we went with dresses with a plummeting neckline and streamlined silhouettes. We were inspired by designers like Halston, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Gucci--in a way she is  breaking away from the '70s and has more of an '80s feel. Jennifer's character is a bit more suburban, so she has different reference points. We're not looking at the high fashion magazines for inspiration here, but you can definitely see the showiness of her ensembles. It's very aspirational. 

American Hustle opens in select theaters Friday. 

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