March 11, 2016
Writer/director Jeff Nichols describes his new film, “Midnight Special,” as a sci-fi chase movie, which may not be the usual genre mashup you’d expect from a story about an extreme religious sect and a father’s frantic effort to protect his uniquely gifted 8-year-old son.
Costume designer Erin Benach showed how the indoctrinated sect members never quite shed the grip of their affiliation. Though some members leave the ranch headquarters, once “outside,” they show an affinity for the same workwear brands, teal and mauve color scheme or modest attire dictated by the sect.
“We’re in that world, the world of women in their neck-to-ankle dresses, and the men in their chambray shirts, buttoned to the collar and worn work pants,” Benach said. She aimed for a look that wasn’t instantly identifiable, but that communicated the wearers’ remove or even distaste of fashion. “They are buying a lot of Carhartt and Dickies, and shopping out of thrift stores,” she said.
Kirsten Dunst, as the child’s mother, Sarah, escapes the ranch but covers up in unfashionable, high-waist jeans, a chambray shirt not unlike those the ranch men wear, and a loose-fitting sweater, a utilitarian shape from ACME.
“It’s hard to find knitwear that isn’t fitted and that had a boyish look to it,” Benach said. “And it also fit into our color palette.”
Playing the father, Roy, Michael Shannon wears a distinctive, three-quarter length, patch-pocket jacket. It also featured contrast corduroy on the collar, a banded bottom, a zipper beneath snaps and a cowboy yoke. Modeled on an anorak, the jacket was one of many items custom made by Levi’s and its celebrity team.
“Levi’s helped us a lot. We had so much denim and chambray in our movie, it made sense to reach out to them. I’ve worked with them so many times in years past,” she said.
Benach flew to the San Francisco headquarters where Levi’s sews samples and houses its archives.
“They let us in the archives and helped build things,” she said. “It was really great because those guys are so knowledgeable about all the historical styles. Once you start eliminating all the bells and whistles on all these garments, you see that there are five basic blocks that so many jackets are built off of.
“It’s so cool that you can have these very few blocks…of staple, historical jackets of the 1900s and build jackets off of them now,” she said.
That particular blend of a style that’s familiar but of an indistinct era was exactly the vibe Benach sought.
“When you look at pictures of these ranches, it’s a really weird mixture of shapes. The pants are high-waisted, but the kind that came before the lower-waisted ones were in fashion. You look at the clothes and think, ‘Was it ‘70s? Was it ‘90s?’”
Just like the story, even the clothes of “Midnight Special” keep you guessing.
“Midnight Special” arrives in theaters on March 18.