Costume designer Sarah Edwards talks Cate Blanchett’s Keith Richards-inspired suits, wardrobing Rihanna and recreating fashion’s biggest night.
Billed as the all-female makeover to George Clooney’s „Ocean’s 11“ heist-thriller franchise, „Ocean’s 8“ is a diamond-studded and couture-filled tale of womanly badassery directed by Gary Ross (also of „The Hunger Games“). The cast, which reads like a who’s who of our weekly best-dressed lists, includes Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, newcomer Awkwafina and, of course, Rihanna.
Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, the freshly paroled sister of Danny Ocean, Clooney’s thief character from the earlier films. The movie opens with Debbie promising to leave jail and her bright orange jumpsuit to lead a boringly normal life. But within minutes, she’s wearing a sequined ball gown and is back to her old tricks: cheating, stealing and reuniting with her leather-suited sidekick Lou, played by Blanchett.
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Once back in action with her partner in crime, Debbie reveals that she spent her entire jail sentence — five years, eight months and 12 days — plotting her next big heist: lifting some very expensive diamonds from the Met Gala. Her plan is to persuade the snooty movie star Daphne Kluger (Hathaway) to wear a Cartier necklace worth $ 150 million to the Met Gala, where she will then steal the jewels off her neck.
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She wastes no time assembling an expert team of specialists, including a weed-smoking and Bob Marley-T-shirt-wearing hacker (Rihanna), a pro-pickpocket street hustler (Awkwafina), a washed-up fashion designer (Bonham Carter), a maternally-smothered jeweler ( Kaling) and an unsuspecting soccer mom (Paulson). Together they tackle fashion’s biggest night in hopes of walking away with a generous cash prize.
While plotting to rob the Met Gala is no small feat, dressing these Hollywood heavyweights and hundreds of high-profile extras in the film’s recreation of the glittering affair is a tall order. Nevertheless, costume designer Sarah Edwards („Uptown Girls“) beautifully rose to the occasion. Fashionista jumped on the phone with Edwards to find out how she established strong sartorial identities for each member of the heist crew and what went into gathering hundreds of Met-worthy gowns. Here are the highlights.
What was it like working with such an accomplished and well-dressed group of women?
It was a total pleasure — I love them all, and we had so much fun making the movie. It’s true that they all have their own unique personal style, which I think is a part of collaborating on a character. I incorporated each of their own unique personalities within their wardrobes for the film.
For me, it’s always a collaborative process, part of my job is not only working with the writer and director, but also working with each actor to help them find their characters and to give them the skin — to design the character as much as designing the costumes.
How did you go about dressing Debbie Ocean, played by Sandra Bullock, the mastermind behind the heist?
Her character is Danny Ocean’s sister from the original „Ocean’s 11“ movie, which was George Clooney’s character. It was important that she appeared cool, calm and collected. I wanted her personal style to be very sleek and polished. She’s been in prison for five years thinking about how to pull off this heist, so I wanted her to be very focused. We chose a lot of dark neutrals for her because I felt like she’s someone who I wanted to be able to move in and out of a lot of space — not calling too much attention to herself — but always looking sleek and beautiful.
Lou’s character — Debbie’s sidekick, portrayed by Cate Blanchett — is very rock ’n‘ roll. Where did you get all her ’70s-inspired suiting, and how did these pieces tell her story?
Lou owns a nightclub in New York. She’s a very chic kind of character, coming from a rock ’n‘ roll past. It was important that she had a bit of a history — we wanted it to be a mix of old and new and vintage. We wanted her to have a lot of small detail items like jewelry, scarves, that she would have collected over time. A lot of those things she had were just pulled from all over. We worked with Burberry to make three-piece suits that were based loosely on Keith Richards in the early ’70s. We took things from all over to create her character, but it was a cool, rock ’n‘ roll reference that we were taking from to do her character.
Anna Hathaway plays a snooty, big Hollywood star who becomes the target of the heist. She spends most of the film in classic silhouettes, but there’s a bombshell quality to everything she wears. Where did you pull inspiration for her character?
Her character is movie star. She’s beautiful, talented and elegant and she’s very aware of herself. She’s the Met Gala co-chair in our story. The director and I talked a lot about her, referencing back to really beautiful, classic, old film stars, like Elizabeth Taylor. We just wanted her to have a really classic, recognizable, sleek movie star silhouette.
Helena Bonham Carter is a washed-up designer who seems very scattered with both her designs and in her own manner of dress. Did you reference any particular fashion designers who have found themselves in a similar situation?
She plays a somewhat eccentric fashion designer who’s slightly passed her prime, but she still has a following; she’s very well-respected and still sort of a cool choice, but she’s fallen a little out of step with what’s happening in the fashion world. She’s maybe not as relevant as she once was, and she’s facing some financial troubles, which motivates her to join up with the group for the heist. So, for her, we looked at a lot of different designers. She has a little bit of Vivienne Westwood in her. We wanted her to have a timeless style in a way that a lot of Japanese designers often are able to pull off. They aren’t about trends; they transcend trends and they very much have a timelessness about them.
Mindy Kaling’s character dresses very formally and conservatively, and then there’s Awkwafina who lives in hoodies and baggy pants. What was it like dressing such contrasting characters?
Mindy Kaling plays Amita, an expert jeweler, but she’s still living with her parents and very much under their thumbs. She’s trying to get out of that and strike out on her own. We wanted to portray her as a slightly prim, doting daughter, and as she gets more involved in the heist, she sort of makes her first real forays into independence and adulthood.
Then you have Awkwafina, who plays a street kid, card hustler, pit pocket, skater type. She’s the youngest of the group, and a little bit different from them for that reason. She and Nine Ball, Rihanna’s character, really hold onto their identity. For her, we looked at street kids and skater kids. It was nice because for each of these characters, we had really different references that we could keep separate from each girl so that we never loose the thread of each girl’s character. And with a heist, it’s nice to keep clear of who everyone is and keep a very strong identity for each character.
Sarah Paulson’s plays Tammy, who we first meet at a somewhat square Westchester housewife, but then she goes on to work undercover at Vogue. How do the clothes reflect this transformation?
There is an arc that happens with her character that we tried to reference through the clothes. Sarah Paulson is a lot of fun to work with, and her character is an old friend of Debbie Ocean’s who’s somewhat retired in a sense and is now living in the suburbs with her family and has become a soccer mom. She’s dragged back into this by Debbie Ocean and goes undercover to work at Vogue; that was fun because she got to play a role within a role. We looked at a lot of real women who worked in fashion and real assistants that worked at Vogue, so that was where we based her character. There are two sides to her: You have the mom side to her, and then the character she’s going undercover to play who works at Vogue. Her character was fun because we had a duality there.
And last, but certainly not least, can you talk about what it was like dressing Rihanna, who, in real life, is the reigning queen of the actual Met Gala?
It was very different for her. She plays a computer hacker. A lot of her clothes oddly enough came from vintage places or Army Navy. Most of her clothes were oversize, so it was really a departure for her to do something like this. I remember the first time she came in and we were doing fittings and she took a look around the room and said, „Wow, this is really different,“ and I thought, „Uh oh, really, why?“ And she said, „There are no high heels.“ But that wasn’t what we were going for for this character, which is why it was kind of great.
What was it like working with all the incredible jewels?
It was amazing — Cartier was so incredible to us and lent us so much jewelry and opened up their safes and their archives and sent people from all over the world — from the different archives and offices — to loan us jewelry. It was the most exquisite jewelry and so fun for me to be able to handle it, and look at it and match it to outfits. We actually went to the offices on Fifth Avenue with Anne Hathaway, and we sat together and were matching jewelry to all of her different outfits and it was just an incredible experience; they were just bringing trays of things out of the safe, so it was so much fun.
This movie gives viewers an intimate look at the Met Gala. What challenges did you face in trying to recreate fashion’s biggest night, and how did you manage to dress all those high-profile cameos?
It was a big challenge of getting all the extras dressed so that they looked correct in the part. We worked with KCD to help us sort gowns from many different designers because it’s not like we could go to department store and get these gowns and have them look like anything.
A lot of the cameos that were in the film — the ones that we were able to know about in advance — we dressed from head-to-toe, and we were lucky to be able to work with a variety of different designers who loaned us things and worked with us. Different people lent us jewelry. When you’re shooting a movie, it’s hard to ask someone to be there for 14 hours a day, at night or something, so it was shot in such a way that we were able to have people come in and work for a couple of hours and put them around strategically so that they didn’t have to be there all night. A lot of those people did end up coming in their own clothes or we tried to help them last-minute, but it all happened at such a crazy pace.
Anna Wintour makes a few appearances. Did you get to dress her?
Anna comes in her own clothes. We did not attempt to dress Anna Wintour.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
„Ocean’s 8“ opens in theaters on Friday, June 8.
Homepage photo: Helena Bonham Carter as Rose in „Ocean’s 8.“ Photo: Barry Wetcher
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