Designers craft costumes for 60s projects

'Education,' 'Mad Men' head recent renaissance

If clothes make the man, they also help define character, set the tone and tell the story — which is exactly what they do in four current ’60s-centric projects: “An Education,” “Mad Men,” “A Single Man” and “A Serious Man.”

“It was a great era for style, especially the early ’60s,” says “An Education” costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux, whose credits include “The Constant Gardener” and “Dirty Pretty Things.” “Both men and women’s clothes had that great classic look and shape.”

Dicks-Mireaux did a lot of research, including “getting hold of old school photos” from Brit journalist Lynn Barber, whose vivid coming-of-age memoir formed the basis for Nick Hornby’s screenplay. The designer also collaborated with director Lone Scherfig — “who has a great eye” — and scoured London’s vintage stores, Getty Images and old French films for the right looks.

For lead Carey Mulligan’s precocious, French-obsessed heroine, the team referenced the early Catherine Deneuve look, says Dicks-Mireaux. As for Peter Sarsgaard’s shady worldliness, it owes a debt to “that suave, sexy, James Bond look of the early ’60s,” and Sarsgaard pal Dominic Cooper channels Jean-Paul Belmondo. “We wanted the clothes to embody that sense of style, right before it became swinging London.”

The ’60s minitrend may have been birthed by AMC’s “Mad Men” series, recently renewed for a fourth season. “The early-’60s look definitely seems to be in the air,” says the show’s costume designer, Janie Bryant, who researched the Western Costume Library and contemporary periodicals such as Vogue and Esquire.

“The show begins in 1960, so there’s that carryover from the late ’50s, and I love the elegance of the menswear. I’m obsessed with the skinny suits and ties, small collars and sports coats.” This year, the show “really gets into the sculptural and architectural elements of the period,” she adds, “and there’s all the great Jackie O. and Givenchy looks going on. It’s that iconic American-classic style.”

Early ’60s attire also figures prominently in two of this year’s films so similarly named that people often mention one when they mean the other: “A Serious Man” and “A Single Man.”

The latter is based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel and set in 1962 Los Angeles. Fashion designer Tom Ford, making his directorial debut, collaborated with costume designer Arianne Phillips (“Walk the Line,” “3:10 to Yuma”) to re-create the sartorial elegance of the era.

Joel and Ethan Coen’s “A Serious Man” is set five years later — in 1967 Minneapolis. “Styles there hadn’t started changing as they had on the coasts,” says costume designer Mary Zophres, who created a look to emphasize the story’s conservative backdrop and tale of a fractious Jewish family.

“I love the ’60s,” adds Zophres, who has worked with the brothers on every one of their films since “Fargo.” “I was very familiar with the period as I’d done Steven Spielberg’s ‘Catch Me if You Can’ and researched the (aborted) ‘The Trial of the Chicago Seven,’ which Spielberg was going to direct. “Luckily I found great research material from the Jewish Historical Foundation of the Upper Midwest, including tons of photos.”

Zophres then presented the Coens with her character and palette boards. “After so many films together, we have a system in place, so even if they’re off in Minneapolis for ‘A Serious Man’ while I’m in L.A. prepping, it all goes smoothly, and they’re involved in all the fittings down to the last detail.”

One such detail: the glasses worn by Michael Stuhlbarg’s professor father. “I felt they were very important to his character,” she says. “Also, there were no contact lenses back then. Look at any ’60s photo and at least half … wearing glasses.”

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