Academy Award-nominated costume designer Arianne Phillips is the rare talent at the intersection of fashion, rock ‘n’ roll and Hollywood. After cutting her teeth styling music videos in the Nineties, she moved into film, transforming Reese Witherspoon into June Carter Cash in Fifties sweetheart dresses in “Walk the Line,” Madonna into the Duchess of Windsor with Thirties-style couture in “W.E.,” and Julianne Moore into a Sixties vixen in Tom Ford’s directorial debut, “A Single Man.”
She also created a Mr Porter men’s wear collection based on her haberdashery for “The Kingsman,” has collaborated with Prada and Gucci, and designed the Time’s Up pin that rallied stars around gender equality on the red carpet.
For her latest project, Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” opening Friday, she turned her stylish gaze to her hometown, outfitting Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and the rest of the starry cast. Set in the summer of 1969, leading up to the Sixties-ending Manson murders, the film is a love letter to a Hollywood that was, using some of L.A.’s most iconic locations past and present.
“It’s a memory film with a poignant sense of nostalgia that doesn’t feel sentimental but exciting,” explains Phillips, who grew up in Northern California but often visited her grandparents in L.A. in the 1960s. “I got it because I saw it, 1969 was a time when culture was changing…there was a whole youth revolt not just against the war but against ‘the man.’ In Hollywood, it was about going from pompadours to long hair.”
The fictional story set among real life events centers on the interplay between fading TV western star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double best buddy Cliff Booth (Pitt), as they try to transition into a film industry newly dominated by shaggy-haired heartthrobs like Steve McQueen, and epitomized by the new Hollywood glamour of Sharon Tate (Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Damon Herriman), who was just coming off the breakout hit “Rosemary’s Baby.” As it happens, Dalton lives in the hills on Cielo Drive just next door to Tate and Polanski. “That’s the beauty of Hollywood — you can be on the downside of your career and just a dinner party away from turning around your luck,” says Phillips.
WWD tagged along with the costume designer on a driving tour of some of the film’s Hollywood locations to find out how she built character through clothing for 1,000 cast members and extras, and what it was like to work with Tarantino.
Musso & Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Boulevard
“This is the heart of our movie,” Phillips says of the Hollywood institution opened in 1919, which remains a favorite for stars and tourists alike. It’s also the place where moviegoers see Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), dressed in a caramel-colored leather jacket, turtleneck and gold jewelry, meeting with talent agent Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino) to hatch a new career path, as the Hawaiian-shirted Booth (Pitt) waits nearby at the bar.
“Costume designers are like people detectives,” says Phillips, who created binders of reference material, including one for each member of the Manson family, using everything from Sears catalogues to Vogue magazine clippings. “Leather jackets are such a thing in Quentin’s movies…He originally wanted a leather blazer reminiscent of David Carradine in ‘Kill Bill,’ but leather blazers you really think of in the Seventies and Eighties. I use a lot of vintage clothes as prototypes for fittings that I then re-create for films. But in this case, I found this vintage jacket and we fell in love with it. The turtlenecks, they were so hideous, made of poly-blend fabrics. But Leo was really great about it.”
If a leather jacket sets up DiCaprio as the hero, a Hawaiian shirt sets up Pitt as his sidekick. “The Hawaiian shirt is also part of Quentin’s language. We’ve seen it before. It’s kind of the cargo short of today in that it’s a piece of clothing that tells you who this guy is. He’s the behind-the-scenes, support guy,” says Phillips, dressed herself in a Rhode collection mini-dress and jeans. The discovery, she adds, was in what color and fabric the shirt would be. “It’s not a traditional printed fabric, it has an Asian feel,” she says of the yellow shirt, which won out over 10 options made in custom prints. “Quentin and I always did the first two fittings together. And it was such a luxury to have a director in costume fittings, because most of them are not interested.”
Hollywood Boulevard at Cherokee Avenue
“We shut down Hollywood Boulevard between Cahuenga and Cherokee for shooting two different times, which just isn’t done anymore,” explains Phillips, recalling how tourists massed on the edges, and one Tarantino stalker even made it onto set. “Quentin shoots in 35mm film not digital so there are no monitors. That gives you a different focus and engagement and it brings people together, creating more communication rather than just relying on what you see in the monitor.”
Production designer Barbara Ling re-created historical neon signage and facades for iconic places all around Hollywood. But one she didn’t need to re-create is the distinctive soldier-shaped sign for Supply Sergeant, a store across from Musso & Frank that has been selling military surplus to the film industry and regular customers since 1946. “I have been buying stuff there since I did ‘Tank Girl,’” says Phillips, referencing the military fatigues and corsets worn by Lori Petty as a neo-feminist heroine in the 1995 film. “When [L.A.-to-Paris fashion designer] Rick Owens had his studio around the corner, we used to go buy wool blankets there and he would over-dye them and use them as upholstery on the walls.”
Joseph’s Café, 1777 Ivar Avenue (a stand-in for Pandora’s Box)
The Mediterranean eatery and dance hall with a view of the Capitol Records building was painted with pink stripes to stand-in for a club called Pandora’s Box, which was a popular Sixties rock ‘n’ roll club and youth culture mecca that featured performances by the Beach Boys, the Byrds and Sonny & Cher, and was the center of the Sunset Strip curfew riots in 1966.
“This was where we shot a pivotal scene, where Brad picks up Margaret Qualley who is sitting on a bench,” says Phillips. Qualley plays Kitty Kat, based on Manson Family member Kathryn “Kitty” Lutesinger, who hitches a ride with the stuntman to Spahn Movie Ranch, the dusty film shooting location where the Manson Family lived.
Kitty Kat wears Levi’s cutoffs and a very hippie-looking rainbow crochet top. “You can always rely on Levi’s for classic styles,” says Phillips of the denim brand. The company is holding a dinner Tuesday night in New York to celebrate “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” hosted by Phillips and cast members for her new philanthropic endeavor RAD, or Red Carpet Advocacy, which has solicited more than $1 million in donations from fashion brands dressing stars, and in this case will benefit Robbie’s favorite charity, YouthCare.
Kitty Kat is also noticeably barefoot in the scene. “People went barefoot all the time in the 1960s. I remember it myself. It was freedom, freedom of expression,” says Phillips, sharing an anecdote from Debra Tate, Sharon Tate’s sister, who was a consultant on the film. “There were dress codes in certain restaurants, but Sharon would put rubber bands in between her toes to make it look like she was wearing sandals!”
Age of Aquarius Mural, 6230 Sunset Boulevard
For the film, the production design team restored a psychedelic mural that was originally painted for the opening of the musical “Hair” at the Aquarius Theatre in 1968. The space had been a club called the Kaleidoscope, where hippie bands like the Grateful Dead played. “There are a lot of murals and signage in our movie. It’s so densely visual,” says Phillips, who admits working with Tarantino has been on her bucket list. “There’s no one like him and he makes movies like how I imagined Hollywood would be.” One unique thing? “Quentin projects dailies, which they usually don’t do anymore because you shoot in digital so they just pass them around via DVD or you access them through a portal. And it’s usually just department heads who see them,” she says. “But with Quentin, it was the total opposite. He invited the whole crew and expected them to show up. We would have a bar and food. To be able to step back and look at what you’re doing on-screen is awesome.”
It wasn’t the only occasion for a party. The crew also had weekly movie nights at Tarantino’s historic New Beverly Cinema, where they would watch reference films, like Paul Mazursky’s Seventies comedy, “Alex in Wonderland.” “I remember the first movie night, there were these cowboys who showed up in the seats, and I said, ‘Who are they?’ Someone said, ‘They are Quentin’s horse wranglers, they work on all his movies.’”
The cast and crew also celebrated every time they went through 100 rolls of film. “The first time, we were shooting at Warner Bros. on the backlot, and I kept hearing, ‘We’re going to hit 100 rolls!’ I didn’t have any idea what it meant, then all of a sudden, I hear a mariachi band, margaritas come out and everyone stopped shooting for half an hour to have a drink.”
Pacific’s Cinerama Dome, 6360 Sunset Boulevard
“This was the first shot we did for preproduction, so my first day ever working on a Quentin Tarantino film. It was a complete goosebumps moment,” Phillips says of shooting exterior shots outside the landmark theater, which opened on Sunset Boulevard in 1963, and is based on the architecture of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome. For the scene, Phillips and her team fit more than 1,000 people, sourcing from Western and Palace costume shops, as well as vintage stores including The Way We Wore and Vintage on Hollywood. “Speaking parts are my priority, then I jump in and help on background,” says the costume designer of her process, explaining that her role is akin to a director, while a costume supervisor (on this film, Lynda Foote) helps with logistics, including taking photos of each person in their costume, red-tagging it if alterations or aging are necessary, then packing away the costumes so when the actors return with their number and voucher, everything is organized.
“Once I look at the lineup (yes, it’s just like a backstage runway show lineup), I cross the street, and get behind the camera to look at everything. We are on walkie talkies so I can tell the production assistant that an older woman looks great walking next to the younger girl. And once you’ve established it, it’s committed to continuity. I can leave and do fittings,” she says.
Her favorite part of the film was dressing Robbie as Sharon Tate, because it let her flex her fashion muscles (next up for Phillips: a MAC campaign, and costumes for a new Broadway musical that will be revealed soon). “I took creative license with Sharon. She and Roman lived in London and she loved British designers. One of her favorites was Ossie Clark. There is a snakeskin coat Quentin loved that Ossie designed for her to wear to a film premiere. The best I could tell it was custom-made,” says Phillips, who came to the conclusion after contacting all her go-to vintage dealers on the hunt for the piece to no avail, which left her to re-create it for the film.
What she did stumble across at Timeless Vixen in Beverly Hills was a yellow jersey crop top and HotPants. “The woman who owns the shop told me it was from 1970 or ’72, and our movie takes place in 1969. But I took the liberty even if we were a year or two off, because the feeling was so right,” she says of the look, which Robbie wears during a scene at the Playboy mansion. Phillips says, “What informs my choice of films is if it’s a world I want to learn more about and if I can add something.”
More from WWD:
WATCH: ‘Big Little Lies’ Star Shailene Woodley’s Unexpected Style Evolution