“We needed to find a way of translating the twenties into something that felt as new and modern and titillating as it was back in 1922,” said Catherine Martin—the designer behind the costumes for husband Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming The Great Gatsby film—during an intimate Q&A with Harold Koda at the Met. If there’s anything that can reignite the Jazz Age’s mystique, it’s Martin’s wares, which are at once painstakingly historically accurate (aside from a zipper here and there) and completely enchanting. The film, which opens on May 10 and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, boasts such fantasies as feathered frocks worn by the Fitzgerald-penned tale’s “girls in twin yellow dresses” (the looks were inspired by an actual twenties-era vaudevillian act), hordes of boater hats by Rosie Boylan, wigs made in England, and beach pajamas (for the elusive Jordan Baker).
Luhrmann and Martin’s fondness for Schiaparelli (the pair worked on the film for the Met’s Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition), lent a surreal edge to the story’s infamous party scene. “Baz kept saying, ‘We need a lobster!’” recalled Martin. And he got one—the costumer crafted metallic crustacean headpieces for the showgirls at Gatsby’s raucous soiree (below).
The film’s menswear was courtesy of Brooks Brothers, and Martin noted that, particularly for evening, crispness was key. “We wanted clean, sexy men’s clothing for night that felt predatory and sharp,” she said. When not in his slick evening garb, Gatsby dons linen pants and sweaters, and that iconic pink suit. DiCaprio, however, was apparently less than thrilled by the latter’s hue. “I told him, ‘You’ve read the book a number of times, Leo. That couldn’t have escaped you. This [suit] is one of the very important plot points!’” Martin laughed, adding that even if he were “in a potato sack,” DiCaprio would be a beyond-convincing Gatsby.
Of course, everyone was curious about Mrs. Daisy Buchanan’s wardrobe, particularly the crystal chandelier gown Miuccia Prada designed for her (above). “Miuccia’s first question was, ‘Why would my modern clothes talk to the twenties, and how do they speak to your production?” said Martin. “So I started thinking about how, in the twenties, you had the beginnings of Coco Chanel, you had Jeanne Lanvin, you had all these strong women making clothes for women. I love that Miuccia challenges our ideas of beauty—what’s appropriate to wear, what’s ugly, what’s beautiful, what’s romantic, what’s nostalgic—and I think, in a way, all those 1920s designers were doing the same thing.”