December 12, 2014
In the prologue of the book “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the author laments how, 38 days into her journey, she lost her ill-fitting left hiking boot down a steep slope dense with trees.
“It was a big lug of a thing, of genuine heft, a brown leather Raichle boot with a red lace and silver metal fasts. I lifted it high and threw it with all my might and watched it fall into the lush trees and out of my life,” Strayed wrote.
For “Wild,” the Fox Searchlight Pictures movie adaptation, that scene has been faithfully rendered, with intense attention paid to creating the boot–not the one Strayed wore, but the one pictured on the cover of her book, according to Costume Designer Melissa Bruning.
Bruning said that it was clear from her early meetings with director Jean-Marc Vallée, that the boot on the cover of the “Wild” book had become a significant symbol for fans.
“I started making inquiries into this boot. I looked online and there is nothing like it. The type of boot that Cheryl actually wore was a Swiss pair of boots that aren’t made anymore,” Bruning said. “I was able to find them through eBay to see what they actually looked like. Then I called Cheryl and said, tell me about the cover of the book and this boot.
“She said, actually, those are men’s boots. That is not my boot. And it’s from the ‘60s,” Bruning recalled.
According to Strayed’s account, the author was working with the art director when he got the idea to use a pair of worn boots on the cover of her book. He fetched an old pair from his basement and added the red laces per the text.
“So I instantly panic and realize I have two weeks to come up with these boots,” Bruning said. Her online search yielded only men’s sizes, and Witherspoon wears a tiny 5 ½ or 6. “The idea of going on eBay and finding 15 pairs of boots that matched–that wasn’t going to work, especially in that size,” she said
“I continued to research. The ones I liked the best so happened to be Danner boots in Portland, where our office was set up. As soon as I hit the ground in Oregon, I went to Danner. My costume supervisor, Dan Moore, and I crossed our fingers and went into the store and found someone to talk to about the film.”
Bruning said they explained their mission, showed the staff the book and were interrupted by two customers who came over and said they loved the book and did they know Reese Witherspoon was making a movie about it?
“Within an hour, we were talking to people at the factory, who said they could do a limited run that would take eight days to get two or three pair done. Could we start with that? We were like, oh, OK!,” Bruner said.
After another two or three days for Fox to give permission to use the boots, Danner started supplying the custom boots.
That hiking boot is the single item of costume that summed up the frustration and the resolve of the story’s main character, and yet, Bruning says her responsibility for getting faithful reproductions made–in record time–has been virtually overlooked.
The boot, the $299 Mountain Light Cascade, is prominently featured on the Danner boots website, with a shot of Witherspoon as Strayed on a mountain trail. It even comes packaged, the website says, in a replica of the box Danner used in 1995, the year Strayed began her 1,000+ mile adventure. The website and the 2:46-minute video, “The Making of the Danner Wild Boot,” which details the process, mentions Vallée, the director, but not Bruning. Credit also has been given elsewhere in several stories that have been written about the reproductions.
“I chose the color of the leather, the sole, the type of brackets. I also purchased red laces,” Bruning said. “Anything we could do to look like the boots on the cover we did.”
She said the Danner company was very helpful, even using a special machine to bend the boots to add realistic distressing. Bruning also used a hammer on some, or gave the boots to a crew member to wear.
The making of the movie was nearly as arduous as the hike. Though the book takes place in the summer, the film was shot over eight weeks on location in October and November last year. The hotel–and the nearest washing machine–was a 90-mile drive from the location. Bruning had four-and-a-half weeks to prep–nearly half of the standard. She was also pregnant–and had finished “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” just three weeks earlier.
“To this day,” said Bruning, “I think my child is a motion junkie because I was always moving.”