Julianne Moore’s latest character in Tom Kalin’s “Savage Grace” has her share of loose screws, but boy, does she have great style.
The movie, which is based on the bestseller by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson, recounts a real-life murder saga that took place within a dysfunctional wealthy American family in the early Seventies. In the film, Moore plays narcissistic social climber-turned-butterfly Barbara Daly Baekeland, who was married to the heir of the Bakelite plastics fortune, Brooks Baekeland. At the end of a downward spiral of disillusionment, Daly Baekeland ends up seducing her own son.
Throughout, however, she keeps up appearances — donning everything from Balenciaga to Givenchy and Chanel. Even Karl Lagerfeld lent Moore a hand. “Karl made a suit for me and was terribly enthusiastic about the project,” says Moore.
“[Baekeland] was this wealthy young New Yorker for whom being impeccably groomed was her armor of sorts,” adds the actress, explaining how, in the book, a former nanny recalls seeing Baekeland washing a car in a stylish chocolate-hued bikini.
“Baekeland had once been called in for a screen test [with Dana Andrews] and that was something she liked to drop into conversation a lot,” says Moore, who flew into the Cannes Film Festival Friday to promote the movie. Moore traveled light, with a carry-on bag full of Yves Saint Laurent, but the film, she says, involved a remarkable number of costume changes.
Of course, not all the looks in the film are real couture. Kalin, the director, also had certain couture pieces reproduced. One white suit Moore wears in a picnicking scene with her young son, and eventual killer, Tony, for example, is a copy of a Fifties Balenciaga creation that Kalin came across in an old photograph of Suzy Parker.
“American socialites used to go to Paris to buy one piece of couture and would then have all of the rest copied,” says Moore, whose favorite look from the film was an elegant pistachio silk sheath.
Kalin wanted costumes to play a key role in the story-telling, which takes place over six time periods, from 1946 through 1972. “When I saw a photograph of Baekeland with her son in their London apartment in 1971 — him in his Savile Row suit and her in Chanel with her pearls — it all fell into place. They looked like a husband and wife,” he says.
This story first appeared in the May 22, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Kalin called upon his friend, Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, for fashion advice. The pair first met when the director was commissioned to make a documentary for Geoffrey Beene in the early Nineties, back when Alber Elbaz was the designer’s assistant.
For the Moore film, “Bowles had the brilliant idea of going to Didier Ludot,” says Kalin, for whom the Parisian vintage dealer was to prove an invaluable resource. The idea for the blood red silk Givenchy dress Moore wears during an airport showdown between her character and her cheating husband, for example, came from Ludot.
The dress is further proof that working out the costumes was an integral part of developing her character. As for Daly Baekeland herself, they had a vital side benefit beyond looking glamorous. “Even when Barbara was found dead in her kitchen at age 51, people presumed she was in her 30s,” says Moore. “She was incredibly well preserved, and that was way before the days of Botox.”