Monday, 09 January 2017 11:45

Jacqueline West: The Revenant Costumes

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Jacqueline West speaks to us about her costume design for the film, The Revenant ...


Ms. West gave an interview on Blog Talk Radio, and I gleaned this information from that interview.

Jacqueline West was working as a fashion designer in the San Francisco area for many years, and  became acquainted with the brilliant director, Philip Kaufman, who first approached her to design ‘Henry & June‘ for him; he really gave me my start. She wasn’t actually able to design ‘Henry & June‘; instead went to France as an artistic consultant to the director but the very next movie he did which was ‘Rising Sun‘ she did design and after that she did ‘Quills‘ with him. He just decided there was something in her that he thought was right for the business and costume design.

Design Process

First she reads the script; its the power of the script and who’s directing them because often you don’t know the actors that are going to be attached to them when you sign on.  It’s really the vision of the director after you reading the script and you go and meet with them. The initial conversations when there’s a chemistry between you and you have the same excitement and same ideas about that particular script and about the characters. She's drawn to directors that really are character driven. They want her to dress characters from the inside out. The process is usually after the first meeting and they realize they see eye to eye and are on the same page that she goes back and reads the script many times. She starts putting visuals together for the director and shows them  a lot of her ideas for the main characters and the backgrounds. They start talking and it becomes a very collaborative process.

When you read a script 7 or 8 times, you start really knowing the characters from the inside out;  you're virtually taking them shopping in the era of the part they’re playing.  Once you know that character really well, they dress themselves.  There are certain things they wouldn’t pick based on who they are, what their career is, their economic situation, or their mentality.


 The production designer comes on first; to scout different locations because some sets take longer to build than costumes.She has different lead times; but usually comes on  when the lead actors are cast.  The costume designer usually gets about 12 weeks prep., depending on the project. Contemporary movies  usually allow 10-12 weeks.

Collaborative Process

She usually starts with the director and shows him a look to make sure its something he feels its right because he has the vision of the overall production. How wil those characters intermingle and  interact. How they are going to look up against the backgrounds they are in?  He’s seen the set designs so, he knows how he’s going to shoot it, the circumstances and the moods. Then she’ll have within that concept, several choices to try on an actor because sometimes the cut of one shirt  is right for the character. You’re dealing with a real body and real actor playing that character.  But maybe you're going to make it because you need 5 or 6 so you must take into consideration the body of the actor and how he’s built or her body language or her movement or her style, the way she carries herself. She often knows the second she sees an actor in something, if its right; if its something they’re leaning against then she'll talk to them and  tell them a back story and try to sell them on it. Brad [Pitt] always calls her a method costumer. 

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The Costumer's Notebook,

The book The Costumer's Notebook is a 295 page comprehensive handbook for Costumers for stage and film including a full Glossary of stage and film industry terms. Sections include methods and tricks for laundry, dyeing, breakdown, Dresser guidelines and protocols for Stage or Film and various size charts for men and women from shoes to gloves. Other Sections include diagrams showing How to Iron A Shirt, How to Tie a Tie and How to Tie a Bow Tie. Costume fittings, costume lay out and costume storage are also discussed.