Costume designer Michael Wilkinson and director David O. Russell revived ‘70s style with “American Hustle,” scoring respective Oscar noms in the process. For their next collaboration, they ambitiously chart a woman’s evolution from college student to matriarch over 30 years — and by way of 45 costume changes — in “Joy,” out Dec. 25.
How did you begin working together?
David O. Russell: Michael was brought in on “American Hustle” and had an amazing vision and passion for what we wanted to do together. … He’s not only very bold and creative, but he’s also very collaborative and kind and enthusiastic and that all shows in the work.
Michael Wilkinson: My agent had set up a meeting with David at the Greenwich Hotel in New York. Within two minutes of talking, I realized that we shared the same passion for characters. … It became apparent very quickly that, although we’re from different backgrounds, David and I speak the same language.
Why are you such a good team?
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DOR: We are both willing to try many, many things in pursuit of the right vision, and we both get excited about that vision.
MW: David has a way of drawing a level of work out of his collaborators that is totally unexpected and original. We both share an attention to detail; with David, any accessory — right down to a character’s socks — might be featured in a shot. He shoots in 360 degrees, so there are no shortcuts to be made, no phoniness.
What are some personal highlights from your projects?
DOR: I loved creating Christian Bale’s character’s look. In “American Hustle,” (he and Amy Adams’ character) get to play dress-up, in a way. In the dry cleaners, with Edith and Irving, they try different clothes on, which is what they’re doing with their lives — they try different lives on with their souls.
MW: I particularly enjoyed creating Amy Adams’ look with David. It was wonderful to explore the new, liberating spirit in the clothes for American women in the late 1970s. We wanted to reflect the sense that Amy’s character Sydney was constantly treading the fine line between supreme confidence and fragile vulnerability. With her low-cut, body-hugging costumes, she’s out on a limb, with very little between her and the world, in an emotionally raw, dangerous and exciting space.
Why was fashion such an integral part of “American Hustle,” and how did you see the film impact the fashion world?
DOR: The movie is about people and how they love the people around them, their clothes and their lives, or how they wish to love their lives. And that made them very exuberant, daring people in a fashion sense. They’re embracing their roles in life with great flair. Diane von Furstenberg embraced the film, featured it in her store windows and did an interview about our lives and our work in The New York Times Style section. I ended up going to the Met costume ball as a result, which I had previously been to in my youth as a bartender.
MW: David and I wanted the characters to use their costumes as a part of their “hustle.” Each actor was constantly reinventing themselves in their fight for survival, and dressed as the person that they aspired to be — characters playing characters. … The late 1970s was such an exuberant and expressive period for clothes. It was an era when ideas were big; people lived large, took risks and didn’t give a damn.
What was your vision for the costumes in “Joy”?
DOR: To tell a story about four generations of a family across three decades, and a girl who comes to be the power of the center of it. That’s a lot of evolution across multiple worlds, from the truck-metal garage, to the mother’s soap opera, to the unemployed Latin singer/ex-husband, to a cable television station Bradley Cooper’s character is starting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
MW: We approached “Joy” as a timeless fable — an allegory about a woman’s journey to self-discovery and self-empowerment. … With the costumes, we made choices that are timeless and classic — sturdy, “honest” pieces that have an effortless beauty to them. … We were very specific with our palette — we strove to create a luminous effect by limiting colors, the way you would do for a black and white film. We used the full spectrum of grey tones and warm, neutral earth tones — choosing tones that contrast for an impactful, graphic quality. We studied the world of Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper, and were inspired by the way they found both richness and isolation within the everyday world; we sought to capture some of this contradictory tone in “Joy.”
How do you collaborate on creating a character?
DOR: Jennifer Lawrence’s character goes from when she’s 10-years-old to 40-years-old; you have to think about what she’s going to look like as she evolves. Her age is changing and her hair is changing, and [her] personality is staying the same but getting more mature and more powerful.
MW: For “Joy,” we were inspired by a wide array of daring women. David’s characters live large, impassioned lives — they’re wildly imaginative and wholly unique, and so I always want their clothes to be equally imaginative and unique.
What advantage does working with the same team afford?
DOR: To me, it’s like the privilege of being the member of a band that loves to play their music together, and each album and each concert tour is going to be different, and take on new material and new challenges.
MW: There’s a liberating sense of trust and exploration. [The cast] prove to me that they are not only the most gifted actors of our generation, but that they are all gracious, smart, generous and brave human beings — willing to lose themselves within the complexities of the characters that they play.