Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss play women who take over their husbands’ criminal business in Warner Bros.’ “The Kitchen,” adapted from the DC/Vertigo comic book series by Andrea Berloff, who also directed. Costume designer Sarah Edwards and prop master David Schanker used their skills to create a supporting parallel story for the characters that evoked the look and feel of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in the late 1970s.
“The story starts out with the girls under their husbands’ thumbs,” says Edwards, who used costumes as a visual representation of each character’s arc. As the women find success, it became important to show that “suddenly their clothes reflected the new means they had. They changed their hair, they changed their clothes and they started wearing more jewelry.”
Edwards researched the period thoroughly to find the right balance of colors, patterns and textures. Much of what the actresses wear had to be specially designed because of the difficulty in finding specific examples of clothing from 40 years ago, let alone the multiples required for a movie. “You don’t need just one costume but several — for them to go into water or get blood on or for the stunt double,” she says.
Denim turned into an unexpected challenge, since jeans are made differently today than they were in the ’70s. “Now there’s a lot of pre-fading to jeans, and
that didn’t exist,” she says. “Now jeans are all broken in. It starts with the fabric. It’s the dyes, the weave, the color and the wash.” While Edwards designed most of the jeans seen in the movie, she admits to one “cheat” in using a pair from McCarthy’s now-defunct clothing line because their retro style worked well on the actress.
Actual cash plays a big role in the film, and Schanker knew that for it to look right, he had to find vintage bills. “Newer money has larger heads [on the front] and they’re not necessarily in the center,” he says. “They’ve added color into the bills over the last decade, and the designs have changed.”
Federally authorized prop money looked wrong on screen when the actors counted it because the texture was different. So Schanker had to find older bills. Adding to the degree of difficulty: Old money is destroyed as new bills are put into circulation; prop houses’ supply of such bills was insufficient for the movie’s needs.
“I had to find collectors who had enough of it,” he says. “And we bought it at more than face value. The $100 bills were about $140 each.”
While contemporary movies featuring bank heists and large quantities of cash can get the real deal from a bank — protecting it with security guards on set — Schanker didn’t need to go that far. He had about $10,000 on hand, and it was mostly smaller bills.
Prop guns also were researched to be accurate to the time and place. “The guns are not only period correct but correct to the neighborhood and income of each user,” he says.
Schanker worked with director Berloff (an Oscar nominee for co-writing the screenplay for “Straight Outta Compton”) to map out every gun the characters carried. “There were some scripted scenes where people were getting rid of the guns after a shooting, and that would mean they would need to pick up another gun somehow,” he says. “So what gun would they get off the street illegally at this point in New York history?”
Though it may seem that props and costumes are two separate departments, they actually work together quite closely. For a scene in which the women handle a great deal of jewelry, for instance, some of it came from one of Schanker’s sources, and some of it included jewelry the characters wear. “I’ve worked with David before,” says Edwards, “and it’s all a collaboration.”