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Inside Llewyn Davis: Interview with Costume Designer Mary Zophres!

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I thought the costumes in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ were so lovely, I just had to ask designer Mary Zophres a few quick questions about her work on the film. Here, she even gifts us with a few of her sources for vintage knits!!  BONUS!  Read on:

What were your discussions like with directors Joel and Ethan Coen about the look of this film? 

Our first discussion involved the intention and that it should feel like a documentary. And that it should have an almost black and white quality to it without shooting in black and white. I also knew it was roughly inspired by Dave Van Ronk, a folk singer who never really achieved a lot of fame.

What was your strategy?

I started by doing a lot of research from this time period and specifically from the location (New York City–particularly in the neighborhoods focused on in the script) of folk musicians, jazz musicians, poets, actors, cafes, clubs, music producers and engineers, people on the street etc., etc. Then I had a visual meeting with Joel and Ethan when I showed them the research and what I had learned. They were into the ideas for all of the characters and about how I wanted to differentiate the look of the uptown characters versus the downtown characters.

 

Llewyn is forever without a warm coat, even when he is given one. The thin corduroy blazer isn't going to keep anyone warm for long.

Llewyn is forever without a warm coat, even when he is given one. The thin corduroy blazer isn’t going to keep anyone warm for long.

I’d love to know more about the lack of a coat on Llewyn – I took it as symbolism for his arrogance (I mean, his manager GIVES him a coat, and he doesn’t wear it, just as he ignores all advice and help).  Can you elaborate?

It was scripted that he didn’t have a winter coat. He doesn’t take Mel’s because if you watch the scene, when Llewyn goes to take it, Mel tugs it back, (I don’t think Mel really intended to give it to him). To me, Llewyn not having a coat was because he didn’t really have the money to pay for one. He barely gets by from basket to basket. For me I felt sympathy for his situation.

OMG, the knits.  Can you tell me about sourcing all of the beautiful knits in the film? Where did you find them?

We rented a lot and purchased a lot from Teri Gabriel, flea markets, some vintage stores in New York and Meow (in Long Beach) had a fair amount as well.

Sweaters

Those Aran sweaters!

Those were an online purchase–we had to find one that would fit the larger fellow… OMG!

 TRI-O

Carey Mulligan’s undergarments created such a distinct shape – can you elaborate on that? It is so evident that when you dot your Is and cross your Ts, it looks right.  When you don’t, it doesn’t.

Exactly. Carey, and every other woman in the film, has on a period bra (which I have as part of my stock and always replenish). It’s part of the storytelling. Women were not braless and they were not in a round cup–it helps make the period garments that they are wearing fit properly and it gives a true silhouette to everyone inhabiting the film.

What were your discussions with the actors like?

I had done so much research and was so entrenched with the material, that all of the actors were very receptive to my ideas character boards. I send them to all of the leads before we meet in person because none of us were in the same city in the beginning. They were all very happy to have the help with their character’s development.

Did they want input into the costumes that altered or shifted your plan?

Not really.

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Lovely color palette on this film – tell me about the decision-making process there – was there any color timing or tweaking in post that you know of?

At the outset, we wanted the film to have a desaturated look, almost a black and white feel. Joel and Ethan began by telling me they wanted the film to have a documentary feel to it so I approached the pulling of the stock by keeping it almost colorless.

It’s very stylistic.

We ended up (production, costume and cinematography) all being inspired by the album cover “Freewheelin’ by Bob Dylan.

Big thanks to costume designer Mary Zophres for taking the time to talk with me about this beautiful film. It’s still in theaters, and I hope you get a chance to see it! Mary and her crew did some gorgeous work.

Have a great week, everyone!

- KMB

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