Thrilleroscar-nominated costume designer Arianne Phillips (Walk the Line, W.E.) likes to say that she works with Tom Ford “the movie director, not the fashion designer.” What Phillips, who costumed Ford’s cinematic debut, A Single Man, means is that while Ford’s name is synonymous with sophisticated fashion, the filmmaker cedes complete sartorial control to Phillips on set. The only area where the line between Ford the fashion designer and Ford the filmmaker blurs is when it comes to Ford’s vocabulary, which allows him to communicate aesthetic ideas with Phillips as efficiently as possible.
“The ability to communicate aesthetics is always a very challenging thing for directors,” Phillips explained on the phone last month, while discussing her work on their second on-screen collaboration, Nocturnal Animals, out in theaters Friday. “Most directors don’t have the vernacular to speak in aesthetics, but they speak about story. Tom has this exacting ability to communicate on the visual level.” And because of their shorthand, Phillips said that she had a fun time brainstorming costume clues for the characters played by Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
Ahead, Phillips shares some secrets about designing the looks for the thriller, which features an art gallery owner (Adams) haunted by a disturbing novel written by her ex-husband (Gyllenhaal) that seems to be a story of sordid revenge.
“With Amy’s character, you have her present world as a very successful gallerist living in Los Angeles,” says Phillips of the impeccably styled Susan, who is trapped in an unhappy marriage. “Internally, she’s feeling alienation, and the regret and unhappiness of being in an unhappy relationship. She’s basically on the verge of a mid-life crisis, trying to figure out who she is.”
On giving Adams a stylish armor, Phillips says, “Her character has this really palpable inner world that is a juxtaposition to her presentational self, as a successful woman. That’s all the more reason why she has this steely exterior of presentational perfection-to mask her inner world full of pain, suffering, and the unhappiness she’s experiencing . . . I was living in New York in the 90s, and totally understood Susan aesthetically. I knew women like Susan-successful women battling something internally.”
While Phillips did not use any clothing from Ford’s line, she did dress Adams in crisp silhouettes, clean lines, and sophisticated materials-like an ivory silk georgette blouse. “I loved the poetry of it,” says Phillips. “It worked in the scene with the brick and white world of her office and the museum. It just seemed to have a very stunning effect, especially against Amy’s red hair, for a day scene.”