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Rachel Getting Married: INTERVIEWS – Susan Lyall, Costume Designer; Amy Ritchings, Asst. Costume Designer; Barbara Hause, Costume Supervisor

Photo courtesy Susan Lyall

I recently got in touch with Susan Lyall, Amy Ritchings and Barbara Hause to talk about their great work on Rachel Getting Married.  Here is what they had to say:


How did you get hooked up with this job?

I met the producer, Neda Armian, informally at a dinner party more than a year before filming.  She always stayed in touch and eventually asked for my agent info and then had me read the script, respond to it via e-mail and THEN had me in for an interview with Jonathan Demme.

What did you do to prepare for your interview?

I watched ALL of Jonathan Demme’s movies.  Then I assembled images from a variety of sources into a ‘look-book’.  He responded to one in particular of Elizabeth Hurley in various saris.  This was so he could imagine non-Indian women wearing this colorful, specifically Indian garment.  (The wedding party wears saris.)  I heard afterward that he considered the interview our first design meeting.

What were your early design discussions like?

See above.  He is the kind of director who lets you have a long leash and if something doesn’t feel right he simply lets you know.  After the first costume/hair/makeup test I expressed my concern that the groom’s costume was a little somber.  He said, “Great, I’m THRILLED you’re not satisfied.  Take it further.”  Somehow he expects the best out of you and believes you will deliver.

What did the director tell you he wanted to achieve or convey?

He wanted me to imagine everyone being at the coolest wedding ever.

What kinds of discussions did you have with the actors about their costumes?

As with all costumes and all actors, unless it’s a uniform, there is a lengthy, method-ish discussion of what each character would wear.  There is a language of clothes that takes place and of course a back-story.  Each actor is an expert in his or her character.

Did the actors have input, or any ideas of their own that made it to the screen?

The actors have a great deal of input, which leads to general ideas appearing on screen as opposed to specific items.  Anne Hathaway was very interested in the aspect of her character that used to be a fashion model.  She felt there would be vestiges of her past life in her current wardrobe, such as a stray designer label.  Mr. Demme felt she shouldn’t care one iota what she looked like.  Rosemary DeWitt wanted to consider her character’s early stage of pregnancy by wearing looser, hippie-ish tops.   Debra Winger wanted to avoid being a suburban cliché.  One actor/poet/performance artist, Beau Sia, wanted to have his signature hot pink-rimmed sunglasses on or hanging off his costume at all times – this specific idea made it on screen.

Setting up the sisters, how did you develop the idea to separate or define them, visually?

As their characters are so different, defining them separately is easy – it’s in the words.  Connecting them visually is more complicated.  The dress Anne Hathaway (KYM) wears to the rehearsal dinner was perhaps borrowed from her sister, RACHEL and would therefore be out of character for Kym but something her sister would want her to wear.

What were you discussions with hair & makeup like?

Lengthy, given what happens to the hair and face during a weekend!  Kym’s hair suffers the ill effects of leaving a highlight process on too long.  We tested many versions of this and even tried hats, but it was decided the wrecked hair was yet another indignity to be suffered and was worth seeing.  Also the rose tattoo with the name of Kym’s little brother took an enormous amount of thought and consideration by the make-up department, the production designer and Jonathan.

What were some of your greatest challenges on the film?

It was originally a 36-character script.  Jonathan adds many friends, colleagues and family as he goes along.  We were up to 75 parts by the end – which were never accounted for in the original budget, schedule or prep.  Also, Jenny Lumet’s script was really a summer time wedding, which Jonathan wanted to shoot in true chronological order.  By the time we got to the exterior portion of the wedding it was mid October and weather was very unpredictable.  There is a scene where everyone is dancing outside, food is being served and the wedding cake is cut and all the characters and guests have to add on cardigans, shawls and jackets.  We always treated it just like reality – if it’s cold, add layers.  If it rains, get umbrellas and move everyone inside.  Furthermore there were always at least three cameras going and sometimes five and you always had to assume everything showed from every angle.

Where did you get the fabulous jewelry – especially the Anna Deveare Smith pieces, and the wedding earrings for the bridal party?

I collaborated very closely with an extremely talented jewelry designer, Tam Tran (tamtranjewelry.com).  She crafted the wedding rings, the beautiful wedding hair ornaments, the bracelets and much of the other jewelry in the film.  Anna Deveare Smith’s wedding jewelry was delivered to Tam as a vast assortment of stones, brass beads and concepts.  We roughly sketched out some ideas and she strung everything over a weekend and when I placed it around Anna’s neck Monday morning, I couldn’t believe how beautifully it came together. (I had tried to shop the piece readymade but to no avail.)  The Indian earrings worn by the bridal party came from various Indian shops throughout the city, particularly Om Sari.  My assistant Amy Ritchings called the store  “I’m Sorry” because every one of the earrings broke and every one of them had to be taken to a jeweler to have proper findings put on.

How much discussion did you have with some of the “high-brow” BG & musicians on the show (Roger Corman, Robyn Hitchcock, Sister Carol East, Fab 5 Freddy, etc.) – did they have ideas about how they wanted to look, because they were essentially playing themselves?

I met Roger Corman for the first time the morning he worked.  We asked him to bring a beautiful dark suit and Amy fixed him up with a shirt and tie.  Sister Carol came for a fitting bringing several of her own options.  Nothing I had could top what she could provide.  We got her some jewelry and off she went.  Fab loves to be suited up in costumes especially in Sean John so he was dressed top to bottom by us.  Robyn Hitchcock was another “show up on the morning”.  We tweaked a scarf and shirt here and there but really worked with his clothes.  They are cast by Jonathan because of who they are; I treat that as though he has given me direction.

Sourcing for the Brazilian dancer costumes?  They were faboo!

For the Brazilian musicians there was the usual internet search for images and then shopping in Little Brazil where we found specific Brazilian pieces with the colors of the country’s flag incorporated into capoeira pants, t-shirts, bandanas, jewelry etc.  One of the male dancers wore a cut velvet Versace shirt from Century 21.  We also used vintage Indian pieces and African textiles that worked to further enhance the multi cultural aspect of the musicians (and the wedding guests).  The Brazilian female dancers however, brought their own costumes mostly because of time constraints and because it is so specific to their bodies and their form of dance (samba in this case).  They were extremely proud of their costumes, particularly the headpieces and were a tiny bit suspicious of potentially wearing something else.  Only when things got colder did we layer them a little.

Any good stories from the film?

When Anne Hathaway yells in reaction to the musicians playing outside, “Are they going to play all weekend!” it was not scripted; she meant it.


Wow! I think Susan and Barbara covered everything.  The only thing I feel I can contribute to is to talk about the challenges of making this film.  I would have to agree with Susan and Barbara by saying that it was just difficult to keep up with the pace and the never-ending cast list.  Often we would receive a book of 20 or more new characters to dress by the end of the week.  I spent a lot of time at my desk calling different people from all over the country (which I found so interesting) who were to appear in the film.   Once we compiled all of their information (sizes and such), we were off shopping.  Although everyone was willing to bring a lot of their own clothing, Susan had a hand in everything and was prepared to fit them all… and we did.  This became routine for us as we were handed a new book of faces at least once a week.

As Barbara mentioned, keeping up with the shooting crew was another great challenge.  This is just an example… Susan and I would be shopping the Stamford mall many nights (until closing) and a few times we saw some of our shooting crew there hanging out.  Now when would that ever happen?  Because of the unique way in which this film was shot, hand-held with so many cameras going at once, they were able to move a lot faster to get the coverage needed and work shorter days.

The only other thing I would like to add is that although it was very busy all the time, we all knew we were working on something special.  I know we are all proud to have been involved.


How many shooting days in the schedule?

34 shoot days. We started shooting Sept. 19, ‘07 and our last shooting day was Nov. 7, ’07

How many prep days?

I had a 3 weeks of prep, Susan Lyall (Costume Designer) and Any Ritchings (Asst. Costume Designer) started before me.

Where did you do your prep?  What kind of setup was it?

We prepped in NYC. A warehouse building in the west 20’s. Our costume builders and alterations people have a studio with a lovely fitting room across the hall from our room. We borrowed the use of a washer and dryer from The Costume Collection (a non-profit rental house), which was further down the hall. Our room was small but beautiful light and it all worked out. The building had space in it for Production to set up the Hair, Makeup and Costume tests there. That was REALLY convenient for us! Then on Sept. 17th we moved to a space in Stamford CT. and started shooting on the 19th. Our space in Conn. was a closed down Rehab Hospital. It was “close” to our House Set and had lots of space and plenty of exam rooms and patient rooms to be converted to dressing rooms when it came time for the wedding and reception. This worked out very well.

What time of year was it when you shot the movie?  It’s hard to tell!  How did the weather affect the shooting?

It was the fall. From what I recall the weather was pretty kind to us. We did work around some rain. The house was always standing by as a cover set. It rained the night we shot the receiving line and shoes sank into the yard and umbrellas went up. Lots of scrambling around, changing shoes and adding wraps before cameras rolled that night. Keeping that many actors warm off camera was a challenge but for the most part I don’t recall problems with our dept or with shooting.

Of the BG at the wedding and at the rehearsal dinner, how many brought their own costumes, and how many did you have to costume?  What was the total number of BG?

The numbers kept changing so I’ll give estimates. The rehearsal dinner had 50 including caterers. I’m guessing 120 at the Wedding including caterers, valets, bands, and dancers. I feel Susan dressed and accessorized   ninety percent of them. It was hard keeping up with her!

Was there an ager-dyer on board for this show?  Everything felt so natural – how was that achieved?

Thanks, I think it looked natural, also. That’s Susan again! We didn’t have an ager-dyer on board. Any thing that needed aging we did ourselves but it wasn’t that much. Susan mixed thrift, with new, with actors own, and with ethnic and the result was absolutely authentic. I was always impressed!

What were your greatest challenges, departmentally, on the film?

Jonathan Demme would shoot 8 to 10 hour days. Really. One might not think this is a challenge but there were 2 days that my department worked longer than the shooting crew. It was always hard on days that we were loading trucks and pre setting up locations to keep our hours equal to the shooting crew, even though we were the shooting crew. The producers always understood so that part was fine. It’s just the first time I realized that short hours could turn into a challenge.

Any good stories or anything else you’d like to add?

The job was surreal ’cause it always felt like we were actually planning Jonathan’s Wedding. The Actors, and Musicians, and Guests were all friends of Jonathan. In fact, the company referred to them on lists as FOJ’s. (Friends of Jonathan) The list was edited and updated often. Amy was always organizing who we could pre-fit and who we would fit on the day while getting everyone’s sizes and helping Susan shop. Most would be fit on the day, and they were really prepared. All “Guests” were treated as principals by all departments. It’s always fun on films to meet the BG and the Principals, but on this, you felt honored to meet some of Jonathan’s friends. I had an outstanding crew that charmed all the guests while scooting around them collecting their jewelry, jackets, dresses and undies at day’s end.  As in the film, the music was always live on set and Jonathan’s dog, Olive, was always present and unaffected by the activity. We had a great time!


Ladies, thank you so much for your insight.  All I can say is Wow, WoW, WOW!  Great work all around – you should be very proud!!


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