The Great Gatsby Costume Designer Catherine Martin

Posted by Cherie
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When Catherine Martin won her fourth Oscar I did a little jump for joy. She is truly one of the great modern costume designers and I am just waiting for her to take that same leap of faith and start her own line and follow in the footsteps of some of the past greats like Adrian or Edith Head. She won for last summer's most anticipated film - Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby. It was a huge project logistically and the costumes were akin to a character themselves. Catherine, who is the wife of director Baz Luhrmann, won an Oscar for both best costume and best production design with set decorator Beverley Dunn.

(She had previously won two Oscars for Moulin Rouge in 2002 and was has past nominations for Romeo + Juliet and Australia . Martin has overtaken the three Oscars won by Orry-Kelly for An American in Paris, Les Girls and Some Like It Hot in the 1950s.)

Of her inspiration for The Great Gatsby she says

"We began work on The Great Gatsby around four years ago. Baz (Luhrmann) read the book out loud, paragraph by paragraph, to a small group of us. That's the way we always approach an adapted work; it's all about analysing the text. F. Scott Fitzgerald creates a lot of vivid descriptions in the book and we worked for a long time to get a collective vision among the crew and cast as to how we would translate that. We started a social investigation of how people lived in the 20s - what they wore and the parties they went to

Of course, I felt under pressure to do justice to the book. But I also wanted to do justice to the film and the director's vision. And that's part of design; creating a process of cohesive story telling that speaks to modern audiences."

Baz had no overt desire to modernise The Great Gatsby. Rather, he wanted modern audiences to understand how modern the Gatsby world felt to its protagonists at the time. He didn't want it to be seen through a nostalgic lens. Instead we tried to capture that frenzy of movement and drive to the future.

Whenever you're interpreting an original text, it's really important to remember you're dealing with a perspective. It's your take on that work and if you try to please everyone, you end up with a Blancmange. The only way to do it is to have a united and solid vision that you stick to throughout."

She worked with Muiccia Prada to create the costumes for the film. The clothes were not literal interpretations of the time period but rather a balance in trying to maintain the authenticity of original twenties clothing while reconnecting audiences with the story though the clothes and their slight modern twists.

At the beginning of the process she was told by her husband, Baz, ‘I don’t want a nostalgic New York, I don’t want a sepia-toned New York, I want a New York that feels as vibrant and sexy and visceral and modern as it would have to Zelda and Fitzgerald, or any of the characters in the book.’ And he also said to her, ‘I don’t want it to look like a gangsters and their gun moll’s 21st birthday party. It has to be totally the ’20s, but you have to find an unexpected fresh way of seeing it. I don’t want to see people swinging pearls and twirling their feather boas.’

The most reinvention was done with the shoes. Catherine said in a Screen Daily interview: “Shoes from the 1920s tend to have quite a heavy heel and were stumpy and that to a modern eye looks matronly and we wanted to give the audience a sense of excitement about the period and a sense of sexiness. That’s one area where we strayed from what is expected.”

As someone who deals with twenties pieces directly, there was a teeny part of me that was sad not to see the true beauty of the period recreated or the use of the originals throughout the film but I do acknowledge what Catherine achieved. I remember seeing the opening scene and going hey that's not right....whoa that's not twenties....but then I was swept away by the world she created and by the end I did not mind it at all. The costumes stood on their own merit and became central to the mood of the film. There was enough of the essence of the twenties and the vibrancy of the times that it made the film a joy to see.

If you have not yet seen it, you should. Don't expect the 1974 Mia Farrow, Robert Redford version though - this modern day Great Gatsby stands on its own two feet - firmly planted in twenties inspired kitten heels.



(L) Catherine Martin with her 2014 Oscar for Best Costume Design for Great Gatsby. (R) Martin with husband, Baz Luhrmann.


Sketches by Catherine Martin for Great Gatsby.


Sketches for Daisy Fay's Wedding Party by Catherine Martin.


(L) Multi-striped sequins dress with a plastic and trimmings embroidery at the bottom. Inspired by the Prada Spring/Summer 2011 collection. Photo: Prada. (R) Radzmire dress with bustier embroidered with pearls, stones and sequin fringes. Inspired by a revisited silhouette of the 1920s, it is made contemporary by the use of modern fabrics and embroideries of the 1950s.


(L) Dress inspired by Miu Miu. (R) Orange organza dress enriched with plastic fish scale-like sequin embroidery. Inspired by the Prada Fall/Winter 2011 collection.












Below: The The Prada Gatsby Exhibit

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