Actor Oscar Isaac as the title character in "Inside Llewyn Davis." Costume design by Mary Zophres. Photo credit: Alison Rosa, CBS Films.



“Inside Llewyn Davis”

December 6, 2013

Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis” follows a weeklong journey in the life of young folk singer Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac. The film is inspired by the late Dave Van Ronk, a folk singer who mentored Bob Dylan and soulfully meandered about Greenwich Village in the 1960s with a guitar in tow, ultimately playing a critical role in the revival of folk music during the time.

Llewyn Davis is a fictitious embodiment of the Van Ronk movement and the folk music scene in general. Told entirely through his point of view, the story follows Davis from couch to couch, from New York to Chicago and back again, on his quest to make something of his talent–and of his life.

Where there are the Coen brothers, there is Costume Designer Mary Zophres , who was tasked with creating a very specific look for that precise moment in time in 1961. She was to convey, says Zophres, the “stripping down of formality.” In her research, Zophres found that this transitional period featured a deliberate sort of rebellion that was demonstrated via clothing.

“[Men] were wearing the same shirts and pants, but they weren’t tucking them in,” she says. “Hair was longer, men were growing facial hair. That wasn’t something that young men were doing in the late ’50s. Women were wearing pants more – though pants were definitely in stores and catalogs before this, women weren’t going to the club wearing pants. Girls started going to the Gaslight [where Llewyn plays in the film, and Van Ronk played in real life] in trousers, not putting their hair in rollers and were a bit more unkempt.”

Davis’ clothing in the film reflects this stripping down of formality, and also his personal circumstances. Without a lot of money and no real place to call home, Llewyn didn’t have a lot of clothes. Throughout the film, Zophres says, he wears two shirts, the same pair of pants, “pathetic” shoes, and the same corduroy jacket. He also doesn’t have a winter coat, so he is inappropriately dressed for winter in New York and Chicago.

With a limited budget and a big cast with a lot of extras, Zophres had to be creative. She had certain pieces for the principal cast custom made, and pulled rentals from Motion Picture, Western Costume and elsewhere for the rest. For Davis, whose wardrobe she made head-to-toe, she found a pair of plaid pants and had a Los Angeles-based ager/dyer “way, way over-dye them” so that they were a muted plaid that viewers can hardly discern on screen. The character’s shirts were inspired by a vintage, long sleeve button down with “a very specific and 1950s-feeling foulard motif,” of which the designer made multiples. She worked with By Design to replicate the fabric onto cotton, which was made into shirts by Anto and then aged to the point of looking as though they’d been worn every day for years. Davis’ corduroy jacket was modeled after one that Zophres found in a costume house, but she redesigned with a bigger pocket. Davis’ sweater and scarf were hand-knit.

Zophres recalls working on the film as being “hugely inspirational, because it’s all about the music.”

“I knew ahead of time that the music would be awesome, so we downloaded the songs in advance and played them constantly during fittings,” she says. “It totally gets you in the groove and you’re in it, it was very inspiring.”

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is now playing in select theaters nationwide.

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