LOS ANGELES — The idea of designing costumes for Sofia Coppola’s new film, “Lost in Translation,” might intimidate some. Coppola’s only the most fashion-savvy young director around, after all. But for Nancy Steiner, a costume designer who travels within Coppola’s Silverlake-Los Feliz circle, dressing Coppola’s stars has become second nature.
Steiner, 38, began her career styling music videos for demandingly hip bands like Nirvana, No Doubt and Sheryl Crow. But, starting with Todd Haynes’ 1995 film, “Safe,” through Coppola’s debut, “The Virgin Suicides,” in 1999, and last year’s, “The Good Girl,” Steiner has developed some serious indie credibility. And “Lost in Translation” only takes it up a notch. Though “The Virgin Suicides” relied on a specific Seventies aesthetic, this time Steiner and Coppola had a chance to create the characters — and their costumes — from scratch. “Sofia always knows exactly what she wants,” says Steiner.
“I was really involved in the costumes, probably more than Nancy wanted me to be,” Coppola admits a few days later at the Hotel Bel-Air. “But that’s just because I love clothes so much.”
The film follows the relationship between Scarlett Johansson, as Charlotte, an American newlywed traveling with her fashion photographer husband, played by Giovanni Ribisi, and Bill Murray, a movie star, all staying at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. To create a wardrobe to suit Johansson’s character, a grad student reluctantly following her husband on assignment, Steiner amassed a load of all-American cool-girl basics from labels like APC, Prada and, of course, Marc Jacobs. “I really wanted Scarlett to be this preppy girl,” says Coppola. “I loved the idea of a preppy girl having a breakdown.”
Anna Farris, who plays Kelly, a Hollywood starlet in Tokyo on a press junket, works a more racy look during the film — flamboyant tops by M.R.S. and skin-tight jeans by Paper Denim & Cloth — and offers Charlotte a fashionable counterpoint. For his part, Murray’s sleek, suave looks contrast with Ribisi’s cool-kid Izod shirts and retro sneakers. “I loved the idea of making over Bill Murray,” says Coppola, who gives a nod to Murray’s costumer, Helmut Lang, among the many designers thanked for lending clothes during the film’s closing credits.
“You know how it goes,” says Coppola. “The smaller the budget, the longer this list.”
Up next for Steiner is yet another fashion flick that will provide lots of opportunities to accessorize. “Shopgirl,” based on Steve Martin’s best-selling novel and starring Claire Danes as the comedian’s love interest — a shopgirl in Neiman Marcus — went into production this month.