EXCLUSIVE: We talk to Tom Ford's Costume Designer!

15 October 2009

Could we get any more excited over “A Single Man”, Tom Ford’s directorial debut starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore that opens at the London Film Festival tomorrow? Well, after a chat with Arianne Phillips, the Oscar-nominated Costume Designer for “Walk The Line” and, oh yeah, only the stylist responsible for every fantastic, mould-breaking, envelope-pushing, awe-inspiring Madonna look since 1997, the answer is yes! We managed to catch up with Arianne on the set of her next movie, starring Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise, to find out about all things Tom Ford, Madonna and what gets this iconic image-maker excited.

Arianne Phillips

KG: Arianne, first of all, congratulations on "A Single Man", it looks absolutely beautiful! How did Tom Ford first approach you to work on it and what was your initial reaction? After all, it's his directorial debut!
AP: Tom and I knew each other socially; he had always been very supportive and encouraging about my work. He asked me to read his script for “A Single Man” a year before production. I was more than flattered, as you can imagine, to be asked to work with him. I fell in love with the story, and for me there was no question.

KG: How was working with Tom, someone so well-versed in terms of fashion, design and style, especially since he designed Colin Firth's costumes himself?
AP: Tom Ford is one of the most articulate, informed, creative minds I have ever had the pleasure of knowing let alone working with. He is the most prepared director I have ever worked with. Tom is an extremely generous and gracious man, who was encouraging, agreeable and allowed me to do my job. We actually collaborated on Colin's costumes; they were manufactured at the Tom Ford International factory in Italy.

KG: Are you attracted by the research that a period-set film, such as this, demands and how much of it do you like to do? Also, how many of the costumes in the film were specially created for it, either by yourself or others, or were originals from that period? The black and white column dress that Julianne Moore wears with those earrings is just stunning!
AP: Thank you! I adore research, for me the more I have to research the better. When researching different periods, geographical locations, and cultures it is an opportunity to learn about specifics that I wouldn't normally know. I am well aware I work in a narrative construct. I do not work on documentaries, obviously! I am not necessarily interested in recreating things exactly as they were, however I need to be informed by authenticity. How the director and/or myself choose to interpret that research is part of the creative process that I find very stimulating. Being an American designer, most of the period films I have designed are 20th century with the exception of 3:10 To Yuma, which was set in the 1880's, and Tank Girl that was set in an apocalyptic future.

KG: You were nominated for an Oscar for "Walk the Line" and "A Single Man" is getting great reviews too! What do you enjoy about costume design and is it something you knew from the start you wanted to get into? It feels like you've always created characters in your styling work too so is it something that equally translates onto film?
AP: What I love most about Costume Designer is being part of the storytelling process. Costumes inform character, help underscore and illustrate mood, tone, and texture. In addition to the inspiring experience of working with an excellent director with a strong vision and a command of story I love working with all the other departments, the cinematographer, the production designer, the prop department. And, of course, working with actors is always fascinating, challenging and can be very rewarding. Not to mention my own costume department which can grow to up to 20 people, a mix of seamstresses, tailors, shoppers, ager dyers, milliners, set costumers and such. Unlike the fashion industry where as a stylist it is you and an assistant, the costume department is filled with costume professionals who specialize in different aspects of the costume dept.

KG: You've worked with some very strong personalities, like Madonna and this time Tom Ford. How much of it is listening to what they want and doing what you think is right? You've worked with Madonna since 1997 so obviously there's a strong relationship there.
AP: My work is completely collaborative. My creativity depends on the inspiration of narrative and the directors/ artists I work with. This is where the magic happens, when different personalities come together for a common creative narrative. This is the place I love to be. Both Madonna and Tom Ford are excellent artists and directors. They expect the people they collaborate with to bring something to the table. What they have in common is they raise the bar and have inspired some of my best work.

KG: What's next for you? We know you're currently working on another movie with Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise, and the tour with Madonna has finished so what are you looking forward to doing next?

AP: I have a couple scripts I am reading for upcoming films, however I think when this film commences shooting I will want to take a break and work the spring fashion season. Madonna is also cooking a few exciting projects up so I will hopefully be collaborating with her as well. I slip between Costume Designer for films, and stylist/ freelance editor for magazines and my work with Madonna.

KG: Finally, you've said before you're "not that into fashion". What really excites you?
AP: Actually, I do really LOVE fashion. I think what I really meant to say is that I am not really into the business side of fashion. I don't relate to the "Devil Wears Prada" or "Sex and The City" culture, a shopping culture. I love the artistry and pageantry of fashion.

By Kiki Georgiou


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