Costume designer Catherine Marie Thomas was no slouch in the credits department when she landed the costume design job of a lifetime, transforming Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange into the Beales of “Grey Gardens” for the HBO biopic.
Yet the veteran designer of “Kill Bill” Vols. I and II (for which she earned two Costume Designers Guild noms), “A Prairie Home Companion” and “27 Dresses,” found herself daunted at the thought of disappointing fans of the famed documentary that preceded the HBO film.
Thomas pulled it off seamlessly, so to speak, creating brilliant interpretations of the Beales’ bohemian style without letting the costumes dominate the actors. In addition to an Emmy nomination, the effort earned her name recognition beyond Hollywood, with styling gigs for Women’s Wear Daily.
“For as presentational and exciting and innovative as she was, and true to Edie as she was, she didn’t go over the top into a costume realm,” Barrymore says. “That she could (execute) the accuracy and the artistry without it feeling like a costume piece is a delicate balance not many people could pull off.”
Barrymore trusted Thomas to create “iconic, cool and unique” costumes for “Whip It,” her directorial debut about derby girls, which opens Oct. 2. Expect some fashion spillover as Barrymore, Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis and Eve hit the skates in DIY uniforms that include bustiers, rainbow socks and Girl Scout tops. (Her third collaboration with Barrymore is the currently lensing “Going the Distance.”)
Thomas seems to be the favorite designer of strong, funny women. She partnered with actor-producer Sandra Bullock on “The Proposal,” creating sexy power outfits that added to Bullock’s B.O. appeal (the film has earned $293 million worldwide thus far).
“I’m certainly drawn to strong women who are very knowledgeable about the businesses,” Thomas says. “And luckily, they trust me to help them do their job.”
IN A NUTSHELL
Job title: Costume designer
Mentor: “Edi Giguere. She dragged me out of the costume shop at Juilliard and said, ‘You can make more than $300 a week.'”
Career Mantra: “Laughter. And to not be afraid to trust your instincts”
Leisure pursuit: “Being home.”
Philanthropic passion: Chicago Academy for the Arts (alma mater)