By Romain Raynaldy, AFP
HOLLYWOOD–Even though “The Artist” was filmed in black and white, costume designer Mark Bridges says his work had to be a study in both color and texture, to create the movie’s sumptuous look and ambiance. Bridges — whose previous work ranges from “8 Mile” to “There Will Be Blood” to “The Fighter” — is up for an Oscar on Sunday for best costume design for “The Artist,” after winning several awards including a BAFTA. Creating the wardrobe for the silent, black-and-white ode to Hollywood, which takes place in the late 1920s and early 1930s, was a gamble for Bridges, who needed to stay true to period fashions and ensure they popped on screen. Some of the costumes, on display till late April at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles along with others from about 20 films released in 2011, showcase an unexpected array of hues and fabrics. “I had to create a real world for the actors to behave in and live and create their imaginary life in,” Bridges told AFP. “And also there was a real small chance that certain film markets in the world would want to see the film in color.” So, the U.S. designer considered the colors to be used as he would for any other film, but paid even more care to the fabrics. “I had to tell the story with the textures — lamis, satins or whatever — that was the language that I had to use,” he said. He also played with the contrasts for dramatic effect, in telling the story of the rise and fall of silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), and how ingenue Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) dragged him into the “talkies” era. “When George is at the height of his career, there’s a lot of contrast — white, white shirt and black, black suit. That’s how we see him at the very beginning,” Bridges explained. At the start of the film, when Miller is first shown as simply a huge fan of Valentin, not the star she would later become, her clothes do not pop as much — to explain her place in the Hollywood hierarchy. “The coral color dress that Peppy wears at the beginning is actually very medium value in black and white,” he said.
“I threw in a few contrasting things like the white collar and the white hat just to pull her out of the crowd, because she’s the leading lady.” The cut and fit of the costumes also traces the evolution of their characters, he said, noting: “As their fortunes change, so does the contrast.” “Once George has his downfall and loses all his money, his tailoring became different. His suits were a little bigger and a little more ill-fitting, even the shirts. And I used fabrics that drooped more,” Bridges said. “It’s very subtle, but all of it is less precise and perfect than his life was before.” Most of the costumes for the film’s stars were made from scratch, as the fabrics of yesteryear would not be able to withstand the grueling filming schedules of today, Bridges explained. But for those in minor parts, he relied on the vast costume archives available in Los Angeles.
“We worked on a very modest budget so it was great that we were in LA so we could use the resources of the costume houses,” Bridges said.