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Costume Designer Arianne Phillips Talks Nocturnal Animals

When A Single Man came out back in 2009, the world saw Tom Ford flex heavily (and successfully) outside of his natural habitat in the fashion realm. Film seemed to come as a natural extension of his creative talents, and with a serious cast and crew behind him, Ford’s directorial debut was destined for legend status from the get-go.

The common thread between Tom Ford’s two milieus, of course, is clothing; it brings his characters to life on the silver screen much like it does his models on the runway. His latest movie, Nocturnal Animals, is as perfect an example of this as A Single Man, proving that an actor’s habit is an essential element in storytelling—and in this case, the story behind the costumes is one of its own. We sat down with costume designer Arianne Phillips to explore the method behind the ’70s-Western-meets-Los-Angeles-mod madness that weaves throughout Nocturnal Animals and its layered storylines.

You’ve styled some incredible people and projects in the past, including the likes of Madonna and Tom Ford’s last movie, A Single Man. What are some of the things that made Nocturnal Animals different from anything else you’ve worked on?

The script Tom adapted and wrote from the novel Tony and Susan was extra special. Tom managed to balance the three different storylines in a very clever and seamless fashion that contributed to a very harrowing a moving script to read. I knew from the first read in Tom’s hands we would embark on an extraordinary experience given the complexities of the script and Tom’s extra keen and specific design sensibilities.

Tom wrote, co-produced, and directed the film, and his fashion background is certainly different from that of the typical director. Did this have a heavy influence on your approach or on some of your stylistic choices?

With Tom, as any great director when discussing the costumes and design choices, first and foremost it must serve the character(s) we are “illustrating” and that the actors are portraying. Ultimately costumes must move the story forward. Costumes, hair, and makeup design are the context in which we the audience understand who the character is.

It is especially poignant and rewarding to work with a director such as Tom who can communicate and speak aesthetics on a very detailed and sophisticated level. Tom has the vernacular for design which puts him at an advantage over most directors I have worked with.

Did you work closely together on the costuming for this film?

Yes, extremely. Tom is interested and cares about every aspect of how the characters are defined and shaped. Costumes are part of that process.

Without giving too much away to our readers, we’ll say that there are three storylines that parallel one another between reality and fantasy. It goes a bit deeper in that some of the fantasy characters are direct versions of reality’s main characters, and both stories have a very distinct aesthetic. How did you express this duality in the costuming for each?

I would say as far as design, one of the tools we used was color as a device for transitions between stories.

What were some challenges or obstacles you faced?

The most challenging for me was my own schedule in that the first month of prep I was in NYC finishing 12 weeks of prep and rehearsal for Madonna’s costumes for her world tour, Rebel Heart. Lucky for me, Madonna and Tom are friends and both were extremely patient with me.

Tom and I worked remotely that first month; lots of Skype meetings and phone calls. Suffice to say I didn’t sleep much, which only prepped me for our first 3 weeks of night shoots.

In toggling between the two aesthetics–modern minimalist chic and a sort of toned down ’70s Western–which did you have the most fun with?

They complete the whole picture, you must have one to juxtapose the other. I loved the contrast of working between both worlds. They were extremely well-defined in Tom’s script, which provided for a depth of experience. Something I always hope for in a script.

Any future projects you can tell us about?

I am designing my first opera, which I am very excited about; it’s a co-production between The Met in NYC and the English National Opera in London.

It is a new commission based on the 1959 novel Marnie that Hitchcock famously made into a film. The music is composed by Nico Muely and directed by Michael Mayer, whom I worked with on my first Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It opens in London, Fall 2017.

Featured image via Trunk Archive; all other images by Merrick Morton for Focus Features

Stay tuned to Milk for more badass ladies in film and fashion.

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