This romantic comedy set in the early ’60s is an homage to the Doris Day-Rock Hudson bedroom romps of its day, and a nod to the Pantone-saturated palette of Technicolor. Costume and production design needed to be as clever as the concept to capture an idealized setting that actually looked as if it were shot in that decade. Tone ruled supreme over creative decisions, requiring close ollaboration among departments to ensure a fully stylized, whimsical and idealized New York, in which apartments are enormous and characters peer out 18-foot-high windows to an obviously fake bakckdrop.
True to the genre is the story about farm girl Barbara Novack (Renee Zellweger), who hits the Big Apple to launch a pre-feminist book about sex sans love — then becomes the target of ace reporter/womanizer Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) — only to wind up in marital bliss.
Production Design: Andrew Laws
Knowing 95% of the film would be interiors, production designer Andrew Laws took inspiration from cutting-edge residential designs of the mid-century by architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen, and expanded the sets to a scale more indicative of films of the 1930s. “We looked at European designers, not only from an architectural standpoint but for furniture for furniture and glass — things people hadn’t seen before.”
Laws’ goal was to bring people into the period without using icons imbedded as much in modern style as they were in that era, like an Eames chair.
Set design was whimsical, tossing practicality out one of the fake panorama windows. In McGregor’s swinging bachelor pad, “you never went into the kitchen, and you never really had to try to let the audience know there even was one.” Characters’ apartments had an overriding design. Zellweger’s was a feminine, virginal space – white, light, airy and curvy — whereas McGregor’s was designed as a “machine for the modern bachelor, designed to ‘close the deal’ – with a couch that turns into a bed and a wall that turns into a bar.”
Laws worked closely with costume designer Daniel Orlandi to use design, color and detail to define character – to ensure, for example, that the pink in Zellweger’s suit was a 1962 versus a 1969 pink — and matched her couch. As for Catcher Block’s first entrance via his magazine office, Laws said: “McGregor was in black trousers, the walls were dark, the floor was white to contrast to his clothing, so when you see him walk through the room, you establish the cut of a man who is a modern king of the bachelors…. This is a look back at mid-century through rose-colored glasses.”
It all started with the script, says costume designer Daniel Orlandi, down to “music starts, fashion show begins.” Transforming McGregor into a Rock Hudson-type ladies’ man and man about town called for a look that is vintage suave, down to the skinny tie and almost-too-small suit, a ’60s men’s silhouette. Orlandi tracked Zellweger’s scenes with a color chart so he’d never repeat any of her more than 100 hand-made costumes. Of that era’s movie costumes, Orlandi said, “They did not reflect everyday life; they represented a heightened sense of fashion.” He was inspired by the movie clothes and great costume designers of the era, rather than ’60s clothing designers – with the exception of, perhaps, Givenchy and Balenciaga. Orlandi said film designers of the era designed for the star. “They said, ‘I’m designing for Doris Day, she looks great in yellow, she looks great in red’…. In ‘Down With Love,’ we were designing for Barbara Novack (the character), but like those movies, everything was geared to use colors and silhouettes that Renee looks good in.”
Costumes were hand-made to avoid a “vintage thrift-shoppy look. We wanted it to look like those movies where everything was clean, everything matched and we never repeated any hat, glove or shoes – the costumes always had surprises.”
“With costumes, you’re figuring out the character with the actor, making it come to life. In “Down With Love,” it’s the complete opposite. We just wanted everybody to look great, all the time. Even the delivery guys had crisp new uniforms.”
Hair and Makeup Design
Hair designer Colleen Callaghan says hair design follows costume design because “the costume designer creates the look.” Just as every picture tells a story, so does hair, which gives a complete feeling about what the character should be and his or her state of mind. Callaghan says, “Hair also tells you the period, and what kind of person it is, according to how he or she is groomed.” Kymbra Callaghan designed the looks for Zellweger and David Hyde Pierce. Michelle Vittone-McNeil, the department head for makeup who created Ewan McGregor’s look, made boards covered with library archive photos from the 1960s showing different looks, like “upscale party” and “everyday people.” They were sticklers for period authenticity; if a makeup wasn’t made then, like frosted colors, they didn’t use them. She also put together three makeup color palettes to keep the look consistent.
Callaghan darkened McGregor’s blond hair to effect a dark, very groomed look a la Rock Hudson or Cary Grant. Zellweger and Sarah Paulson, who plays Zellweger’s editor, wore wigs throughout, but Callaghan asked for background actors with longer hair to create exaggerated teases and ‘up dos. “If you want a look to set a period,” says Callaghan, “be very specific about claiming a look that you believe will define that era. That way, you can get away with a little more with the principles.”