“Iron Man 3”
By Gina Silverstein, March 26, 2012
There are few designers who began their film career on an Academy Award-winning period drama, and even fewer who seem to just be hitting their stride after twenty-five years in the game. Meet Costume Designer Louise Frogley and perhaps it is understandable why hers is a rather unique trajectory. She, herself, is an anomaly of sorts. First, she is a Brit who became an American citizen because by her own account, “I love America so much – the way it works here is more democratic and more sensible.” Second, she is humble and understated with a pedigree of directors and actors that most designers can only dream about.
One of the first perceptions of Frogley, though, is how positive she is about everything – costume designing, and the abilities of her directors, actors and crew. She clearly takes pleasure in the process of making films. After studying textiles and the history of fashion, then working as a Costume Designer in British commercials for many years, her first film was “Chariots of Fire” in 1981. She worked as an Assistant under Costume Designer Milena Canonero, who won an Academy Award for it. But it was a stroke of good luck that brought Frogley to the project in the first place. She and Canonero had never met but director Hugh Hudson, who knew Frogley from commercials, brought her in. Perhaps more intriguing is how the designer’s training ground in commercials just happened to intersect with directors such as Hudson, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and Adrian Lyne – all who would later become successful film directors.
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Frogley says the timing was right for her to segue into the big screen. “I was bringing up my daughter and concerned about being home,” she explains. “Commercials were very convenient and as she got older, doing films was more possible.” After “Chariots” Frogley skipped past assisting and went straight into designing with a second period drama “Another Time, Another Place” in 1983, followed by several contemporary British films. She continued to work in commercials as well. Her move to the U.S. was “accidental” when, in 1988, Frogley designed “Noble House” a mini-series starring Pierce Brosnan. After shooting exteriors in Hong Kong, the now-defunct De Laurentiis Entertainment brought the production to Wilmington, North Carolina to shoot interiors at its studio. While there, she was offered “Bull Durham.”
Although she had no knowledge of American baseball, only $20,000 for costumes and two weeks to prep, she jumped at the opportunity. To this day, Frogley seems genuinely surprised she was chosen for the film and that it resonated so well with audiences. When asked about her inspiration for the sexy but age appropriate costumes Susan Sarandon wore, she remembers, “I bumped into Susan Sarandon who was coming in at the airport and she said, ‘I’ve got great shoulders.’” Frogley went with it, buying off-the-shoulder blouses and other clothing mainly from Durham thrift shops, in combination with a little New York shopping. The thriftiness paid off. She managed to create memorable costumes on budget for one of the best romantic comedies of this generation.
Over the next several years and throughout the 1990’s, Frogley designed a string of successful contemporary films including “Speed 2: Cruise Control” (1997), “U.S. Marshals” (1998) and “Stigmata” (1999) as well as small-budget films such as “The Limey” (1999) where she first worked with director Steven Soderbergh. The next year, in 2000, they re-teamed for the acclaimed, Oscar-winning film “Traffic.” Nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award for her work on the crime drama, Frogley created costumes for characters in four separate storylines interwoven into one film.
“I liked learning about Mexican culture and border towns. It was so, so interesting,” she says about the experience. Frogley describes Soderbergh as “incredibly funny, well-read, well-versed in cinema, and very politically informed.” She should know, having worked with the acclaimed director on three subsequent films – “The Good German” (2006), “Ocean’s Thirteen” (2007) and “Contagion” (2011). A typical project with the director consists of a rough outline of what she is planning to do, followed by boards. Frogley then works with the actors to fit them and finally, presents Soderbergh with photographs from the fittings. The process, start to finish, moves along quickly, she says.