BEHIND THE SCENES
Byline: Kavita Daswani / Sabrina Qutb / Marcy Medina
Amid all the Academy Awards hoopla, those who help the stars shine brightest — the men and women who paint, curl and clothe them — will get their due on Saturday, when the Costume Designers Guild hosts its second annual awards gala and the Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild celebrates its third year.
These masters of illusion will be honored by their peers, with extra-special support from the likes of Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore and Hilary Swank. (Watch out, Oscar, you’re not the only game in town!)
Here, WWD profiles three of this weekend’s nominees whose impact has already made Hollywood history.
Be it A-list actors or directors, each time Jeffrey Kurland first meets with the team of a film he’s about to start work on, he remembers the crucial three C’s of his craft as a costume designer: concept, color and character.
Take “Erin Brockovich,” the multiple Oscar-nominated hit, which generated as much buzz for Julia Roberts’ perfect-pitch acting as her character’s dress-sense. The push-up bras, short skirts and vivid colors instantly resonated with the public and the fashion industry. “I was surprised and extremely pleased,” said Kurland, who is up for the trophy in the category of Excellence in Costume Design for Contemporary Film at Saturday’s Costume Designers Guild Awards. “I never thought of it as anything but telling a story. But the clothes drew so much attention.”
It’s the kind of moment in the Hollywood sun that Kurland and his peers know to appreciate.
“It’s an overlooked art. It’s something that’s taken for granted,” he said, describing his craft.
With that in mind, Kurland and several of his peers set up the Costume Designers Guild Award three years ago.
Most audiences are unaware of a costume designer’s role in the film, which is one of the reasons Kurland is so enthusiastic about the Guild. When he works on a production, he designs the way everyone looks — down to the wordless extras in the background. Basically, it’s about clothing anyone who appears in front of the camera, even for a fleeting second.
“Every movie, and all its scenes, are filled with characters, and what we do and design is all about color, character and concept,” he said. “It’s never just about clothes.”
Hence, the drive behind the Guild. “We felt we should celebrate what we do, as it is extremely important to making a film. It deserves recognition.”
The affable, chatty designer has been in the industry long enough to know. He’s worked with myriad film styles, from the theatrical dresses in “Mighty Aphrodite” to the contemporary looks of “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”
Working with Woody Allen has been another blessing; Kurland and the iconoclastic film-maker have so far collaborated on 16 projects.
“There is no better place to learn the art of film than with Woody Allen,” he said.
Next up is a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film, “Ocean’s Eleven,” starring George Clooney and Roberts, as well as Roberts in “America’s Sweethearts.”
“Costume design is so enjoined with fashion, yet it’s so not fashion. One may use the other. But it’s two different art forms. When people talk about ‘fashion in films’ it drives me crazy, because I doubt the fashion designer is on the set at 5 a.m. — but I can bet you the costume designer is.”
Kurland’s contribution to “Brockovich” ranks high in terms of overall great experiences, he said. “We had a great crew, wonderful actors and director. Everything came together to make such a nice, cohesive product.”
Kurland met with the real Erin Brockovich, however, he elected not to see any of her actual clothes as he “didn’t want to do an exact replica.”
Instead, he noted, “the idea was to dilute the essence of who she was. I spent time with her, looked at her family photographs, understood what her life was about. And then I designed the picture.”
Working with Roberts was another major perk. He had dressed her in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and was struck by her “great easiness and friendliness.” Kurland said that the mega-star makes it her business to remember the name of everyone on the set, from production assistants to the grips, and greets them every morning by name.
“She has a great sense of humor, a lot of wit, style and fun. She’s never been on a star trip. She’s the real thing, with a face and smile that is a gift from the gods. Worse things could happen to a costume designer.”
As the world knows from the Rachel ‘do phenomenon, it’s impossible not to notice the hair styles on “Friends.”
But it’s the camera-friendly cast’s makeup that’s getting a nod from the Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild.
Robin Seigel, the artist responsible for Monica’s ruby-stained lips and Rachel’s bronzed glow, is a contender in the Best Contemporary Makeup in a Television Comedy category.
The nominated episode, “The One That Could Have Been,” revisited the friends in a parallel universe: Phoebe as a stockbroker, Rachel as a suburban housewife and Monica 200 pounds heavier.
“It was interesting because I made two very different looks for them, both modern, but completely different worlds,” said Seigel, nestled deeply in a slip-covered sofa in her Hollywood bungalow.
Her work translated into more intense makeup for an uncharacteristically sharp-tongued Phoebe, gaudy eyeshadow for Rachel and a face and body prosthetic for Monica.
Seigel, in her second year as makeup department head — she’s worked at “Friends” since its debut seven seasons ago — oversees three other makeup artists and serves as a liaison between her staff and the show’s executives during the weekly production meetings.
“We try to stay current — maybe even ahead — in fashion,” she said. “I go by the script, which determines the clothes, which determines the makeup and hair.” She’s already started to bring spring’s colorful runway makeup to the small screen, favoring products from Nars, MAC, Cargo, Stila and La Mer.
But her goal isn’t to have the makeup take center stage — although she receives regular inquiries about the actresses’ cosmetics — but to enhance each character. For Lisa Kudrow’s whimsical Phoebe, that means of-the-moment lipstick and eyeshadow to match her outfits.
“You often can’t see all the details on the small screen, but they’re there,” she noted. Courteney Cox Arquette’s fair skin, dark hair and blue eyes need little playing up, but Jennifer Aniston’s character, who’s morphed from a waitress to a Ralph Lauren executive, has switched from a neutral palette to more sophisticated looks over the years.
So how did the Miami native end up on the sound stages of Burbank? “Makeup was a just a dream,” said Seigel. “But I decided to move to Los Angeles in 1980 and go for it.” Already a licensed cosmetologist, Seigel supported herself by cutting hair and “working for lunch” on low budget films, videos and commercials. She landed a staff job at the now-departed HBO series “Dream On,” where she was department head for seven seasons. When the show’s producers, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, created “Friends,” Seigel came right on board.
Because the show’s taping schedule allows her three free days a week, she also keeps busy working as a personal makeup artist for Aniston and other celebrities. She prepped Mrs. Pitt for the Emmys, the Golden Globes and last year’s post-Oscar festivities. She also moonlights as an instructor for Clinique and Fred Segal Beauty. There are also films (“Fools Rush In” with Salma Hayek and the upcoming Mark Wahlberg-Aniston comedy “Rock Stars”) and editorial (Allure and British Elle).
“I like to share what I know,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be a big secret or mystery.”
Her earliest idol was late makeup artist Way Bandy, and she admires current artists Francesca Tolot and Kevyn Aucoin.
Some of the actresses she tends to also provide inspiration.
“Kirstie Alley really knows her face. I always learn from people who really know what looks good on them,” she said. Ditto for the legendary Jane Russell.
“When I saw her in front of the camera, I was in awe of how beautiful she was,” she said, noting its impact on her work. “I have a way of revealing a person’s face rather than painting over it.”
Paul Le Blanc
As Oscar-winning hair stylist Paul Le Blanc recalled his discussions with director Darren Arronofsky about his scarily realistic paean to drug addiction, “Requiem for A Dream,” he could only laugh.
“Darren wanted fire coming out of Ellen Burstyn’s head,” said Le Blanc. “I took it sort of metaphorically. But if he wanted real flames, I could have provided real flames.”
What he provided instead, thankfully, was a window into the heart of Burstyn’s character, caught in a kaleidoscope of neurosis and chaos. The feat won him a nomination for Best Innovative Hair Styles in a Feature Film at this weekend’s Hollywood Makeup and Hair Stylist Guild Awards.
Arronofsky is only one of many visionaries who have relied on Le Blanc. George Lucas, in fact, once called him when his own vision wasn’t quite working as well as he’d planned.
“He just hated how all the cartoonists in all the papers all over the world were always drawing Princess Leia’s hair as Danish pastries or doughnuts or bagels,” Le Blanc said, again laughing. “He just hated that. So he called me to help.”
A few extensions and some head armor later, Princess Leia reappeared in “Return of the Jedi” with a whole new look — the sketches are now stored at the Smithsonian. “Well, an artist was called in to do the faces, I just put the hair on it,” he added humbly.
With a 20-year career and an Oscar for his hair and makeup work in “Amadeus,” Le Blanc shows no signs of taking it easy. Over lunch near his home in West Hollywood, he allowed himself a short break from his latest film, “Don’t Say A Word,” with Michael Douglas.
It wasn’t exactly a break, though. He actually used the time to prepare for his next film, “The Banger Sisters,” starring Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn.
“Well, the truth is, when Ellen called me up for ‘Requiem,’ I was feeling a little bit burnt out on film,” he revealed. “But I was blown away by the script and thought, ‘Can we do this? This could be magic.’ And it really was a wonderful collaboration. I think it actually rekindled my love for film.”
Creating a character like Burstyn’s can be a dramatic process in itself, he observed. “When Ellen got up out of her chair, she was physically and emotionally a different person. That’s why wigs are so wonderful to work with. You put them on, and at the end of the day, you can take them off.”
But Le Blanc’s talents clearly extend far beyond the world of wigs. Lasting relationships with actresses such as Susan Sarandon and Sharon Stone, for example, who want to work with him over and over again, reflect the relationship between woman and hair stylist.
“They are vulnerable when you first meet them, and I am a stranger at first. And I’m touching them,” he said, demonstrating by working his fingers through his own hair. “But eventually a trust develops. I become part of their comfort zone. I’m the first person they see in the morning. And with calls as early as 3 a.m., there are not a lot of people you feel like dealing with at that hour.”
Now, Le Blanc is starting to deal with a whole new generation of stars.
“My leading ladies have children, of course, and now here they are, and I think, ‘Oh my goodness. I’m working with Susan’s daughter, Eva, now, and she’s a good little actress.”‘
And what did mom have to say about Eva’s hair? Le Blanc shakes his head and clarifies an important point, and perhaps one of the secrets to his success, “I’ll talk to Eva about that — not Susan.”
The Other Oscar Gowns
What makes a legend? Some would argue it’s the clothes. Film fans who believe that will be able to view the big screen threads up close at the Art of Motion Picture and Costume Design exhibit.
The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Galleries is hosting its ninth annual show, which runs now through May 3.
This year, the exhibition features 12 costumes from the five films nominated for Best Costume Design: “Quills,” “102 Dalmations,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Gladiator” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Another 50 costumes hail from Best Picture nominees “Gladiator,” “Crouching Tiger,” “Erin Brockovich” and “Chocolat.”
A new feature for the current show is a special gallery housing Debbie Reynolds’s personal collection of Oscar-winning-and-nominated costumes from her own films, like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “How the West Was Won,” as well as other classics like “Show Boat,” starring Ava Gardner, and “Meet Me in St. Louis,” starring Judy Garland.