By Gina Silverstein, June 10, 2011
Costume Designer Sharen Davis has twice been nominated for an Academy Award, for “Ray” in 2004 and “Dreamgirls” in 2006.
Her most recent venture is the science fiction film “Looper.” “We all know that story,” Davis chuckles. “It was an independent film, so money was tight and I had to design the future. But the script captivated me, and I am a big fan of director Rian Johnson, so I was excited to collaborate with him.” The plot is top secret, and the film stars Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis playing younger and older versions of the same character.
Davis’ approach to the film’s look was to revisit fashion from 20 and 50 years ago and weave the two silhouettes together with futuristic highlights. Color played a vital role in defining the different eras for Davis. She employed two distinct color stories, one for 2030 and one for 2080. In the 2030 component, which was shot in New Orleans, Davis avoided prints and focused on texture and layers of the same hue. For example, she paired blue pants and a purple shirt with gray-blue touches. “Dressing the extras was a puzzle that created the palette, ” Davis explains, “It worked very well.” In 2080, the film moves to a futuristic pioneer town set in Shanghai. Davis used monochrome black and gray underscored with blues to paint the scene.
In the film, both Levitt and Willis belong to a specialized group known as Loopers. In terms of costume, they are the only group of people who wear ties and have collars. “Loopers were into ’50s and ’60s films,” elaborates Davis, “so they would dress like their idols.” She found it a challenge to make Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis, and ultimately chose an “iconic tie, so you would know it was the same person.”
Auxiliary characters were equally distinctive. Davis clad the antagonists, called “Gat Men,” like ’30s villains, in long trench coats made from oilcloth. She had a strong direction regarding the accessories. Only one group was allowed to wear hats, and except for one ring, jewelry was banished from the set. Contrasting the stern clothing aesthetic, Davis wanted the look of the hair and makeup to be “overdone and wild.” In 2080, Piper Perabo plays a dancing girl in a bordello. “Piper’s character was more goth, so she wore ripped up, faded velvets and leathers with torn tulle can-can skirts and pantyhose with holes in it. The dancing girls also had gladiator sandals or boots. It was a tawdry mining town, and these girls were supposedly all drunk or high—it was really fun,” says Davis.
Davis lured Costume Illustrator Gina Flanagan out of retirement for the movies “The Book of Eli” and “Looper.” The two share a special affinity since working together on Davis’ breakthrough film, “Devil in a Blue Dress.” “Gina really captures character,” says Davis. On “Looper” they first defined the overall look. Then they focused on the dancers of 2030 and 2080. Finally, Davis designed the “Gat Men” and the actual Loopers. Flanagan says of the experience, “It was a lot of fun because there were no rules. Time was crossing… so people from the past were affected by the future. Sharen is so talented that everything she did just came out beautifully.”
It is inspiring that Davis can explore a dark future in “Looper,” exploiting minimalism and a lean budget to her advantage, focusing on what was possible and allowing her creativity to complete the vision.