Courtney Hoffman: Designing Costumes for Auteurs

March 18, 2017
We stole time from one of the most exciting young costume designers working on a film set today, Courtney Hoffman.

It’s the set of Edgar Wright’s anticipated new film, Baby Driver. We’re in Atlanta, Georgia and unlike most set visits we’re afforded time with the crucial behind the scenes talent. Top of the list is Courtney Hoffman, whose two most recent credits are the impressive Captain Fantastic, which saw her go ‘feral’ dressing the alternative lifestyle dad played by Viggo Mortensen and his motley crew of kids, and before that The Hateful Eight, in which she went full winter Western with Quentin Tarantino.

Tell us about being working with Edgar Wright? “For me there is nothing more exciting than working with an auteur. I’m a big fan of Edgar’s movies and really nailing his aesthetic is as important as designing the movie because I think if you look at a lot auteurs’ body of work, you feel like they have their own aesthetic.

“To me, my interpretation of Edgar’s aesthetic is that there’s almost a two-dimensionality to it, which I don’t say in a negative way. Edgar’s inspired by comic books, he’s inspired by video games. So if you look at a lot of his characters in his other films, you can almost draw them. You can imagine exactly what they’re wearing. So, to me, it was important to infuse these characters with that same vibe.

“Obviously, this is a contemporary film. It’s actually quite a bit more dimensional aesthetically and on the page. So there was more to do with that and filling it out. We made some really bold colour choices that I think will be really fun for the audience and for his fans.

“I think it really has the quality that you can imagine people dressing as the characters for Halloween. That’s what I think of as your auteur ultimate goal as a costume designer; like will there be a doll? Could you recognise that character when it stands outside of the film world?”

Courtney Hoffman on the set of Captain Fantastic

Did you have any reference points? “Edgar made a beautiful reel of stuff to look at. Each character comes from their own world so even though it is a crime movie we had those points of reference for inspiration. There’s Buddy [Jon Hamm] and Darling [Eiza Gonzalez], our ‘True Romance’ or ‘Wild at Heart’. So, we got to pull from lots of different movies as inspiration but I think the goal is always – what is the 2016 version of those people?

“That was what I strived to do. Edgar really created a unique film here because it’s not just a bank robber movie; it’s not just a car chase movie. It’s set to this amazing playlist of songs. So, right from the beginning when I got sent the script I was also sent a playlist. That’s never happened to me before. You start reading it with the music and it was the most fun experience I’ve ever had reading a script because it was interactive. It was already so full of life.”

Did the music inspire you? “I think the biggest thing I took from the music was that it was all over the place. It’s ‘50s, it’s rap, it’s hip-hop. As dynamic as the music, I wanted to make the aesthetic equally dynamic. I didn’t want to just shop at a mall or just shop vintage or just build things. I wanted it to come from everywhere. I found my clothes at many different places as you could imagine Edgar found that music.”

Can you tell us about the respective choices you made for the characters? “Baby [Ansel Elgort] is the most two-dimensional. I purposely avoided textures. He doesn’t know who he is as a character when he starts the movie. So we kept things flat. Everything is black, white, grey. Everyone else around him is standing out because they’re these fully formed characters. Over the course of the movie as stuff happens to him, as he gets hit, he gets blood on his shirt, he’s starting to get character and dimension through his experience. As he starts to make his decisions, he starts in a white shirt and I actually dyed four different versions of his shirt so it ended up by the end of the movie being grey but it’s very subtle and no one will probably notice, but just to create some sort of journey for him.

“Bats [Jamie Foxx] is a rogue badass criminal who is from Atlanta and living in this crime world. I went to every mall that someone got stabbed in. I stopped guys in the mall and was like, ‘Where did you get those jeans and why do you wear that brand versus that brand?’ It was really fun honouring this city as much as we could and creating a life on film that I think feels unique.

“Deborah [Lily James], who plays the love interest, Baby meets her in a diner. So their whole interaction she’s in a ‘50s diner uniform. She’s sort of living this ‘50s ideal of what it is to be a woman. So that was fun to explore because that’s not actually who she is, that’s what she has to wear at work. One of the ideas that I had was you have her in the same pair of boots in the entire movie. She has these beat down boots because she doesn’t actually care, she’s a bad ass and yet she has to wear this ‘50s cutesy diner uniform. So we tried to put as much of her as we could even when she had to wear her uniform. But it is fun to see women through this sort of fantasy ideal of what every guy would wish their girlfriend would wear.”

Can you tell us more about Bats? “Jamie is representing the actual urban world in Atlanta, where you see guys that are literally in the worst area in a line for a soup kitchen wearing these bright pops of colour clothes. It took a little while for us to convince the studio that it was real. I had to start sneaking pictures of everyone I saw because it almost felt like it’s too much. Nobody ever really wears that much red head to toe. One of the first pieces I found was this King Card sweatshirt and it’s the face of a king card, a playing card. This character thinks he’s the king, it’s loud but it’s so perfect, we have to use it. Just convincing everyone this is real and it was from the store that sets the trends, all the rappers. It’s called Pure Atlanta. It’s the store if you want to know what the southern trends are for black men whether they have money or not and what that aspirational quality was to it. So it was like integrating brands like Coogi, which was a brand Biggie Smalls made really popular, and now they’ve revived it. Now all of a sudden that is something people are wearing again and we got to put that in the movie, which was just really fun.

“We also wanted him to have the right bling. Jamie goes, ‘I think it should be a finger I cut off dipped in gold’, so that’s what he wears the whole movie.”

Back to the Baby character, can you tell us about the jacket that he wears in the movie? “He’s wearing the same costume the whole movie, and it’s like Shaun of the Dead for me; what is that costume that people will want to emulate? So we ended up making his jacket out of three different jackets that we’ve “frankensteined” together. It was made out of a different bunch of Topshop jackets actually. We tried like 80 jackets. When you pick one costume for a movie, it is way harder than if you have 40.

“I didn’t want that we could buy out of the stores because he’s not buying new clothes. He doesn’t have money so I wanted something that felt second-hand so when we put this jacket together, and it was actually really affordable, it would’ve been really real that that’s a jacket he may have gotten from a thrift store or something.

“And then already on Twitter, because of the paparazzi pictures I’m getting tweets like, ‘are you gonna make those jackets? Can we buy a jacket? I want Baby’s jacket!’ It’s crazy how people that love Edgar’s films, they love the aesthetic of the films and they’re paying attention.”

Whose character was the most fun? “I love dressing women so probably Darling. Just because both Eiza and the character have this complete impracticality to their fun. We really loved the idea for her character that no matter how impractical it was, she always had a heel to her. So her sneakers, those are platform. I said to Eiza in one of the fittings, ‘Do you think you could run in these heels?’ And she was like, ‘Pfft, I can run in any heel!’ We just had so much fun making choices where everything was too short, showed too much skin, was totally inappropriate. Buddy, her husband probably was like, ‘Do you have to wear those?’ She’s like, ‘they look good!’ and he’s like, ‘We’re robbing a bank!’ I just picture that was the conversation they had before.

“There is this wonderful scene where she’s shooting a huge gun in a purple fur coat and it’s like, when do you get to do that? So we went all the way for those types of moments. I wanted femininity to be ultra-femininity and masculinity to be ultra-masculinity.

“Jon [Hamm] was another really fun transformation because, you know, he’s Don Draper. But in this film he’s a guy who’s going through a mid-life crisis who’s dating a girl who is 25 years younger than him. We wanted him to look like she had helped pick out all of his clothes. So, I wanted him to have one too many accessories. He always has bracelets, jewellery and necklaces and a leather jacket and his colour is blue. Eiza’s colour is pink. Bats’s colour is red. So everything you see them wear is some relationship to those colours, whether it’s direct or indirect.

“Buddy was always wearing a V-neck shirt that’s kind of a little low. One of the things that was really fun was they have a lot of tattoos. The whole movie has a lot of tattoos. The poor make-up artist had a lot of work to do on this. But one of the ideas was he’s in his second marriage with his new wife and I actually knew a couple that got these tattoos and got his and hers tattoos on them so he has hers tattooed on him and she has his tattoo. The idea is he has committed to her in this big way so on their neck they have his and hers tattoos that are embarrassing but awesome for the characters. That’s that True Romance vibe.”

Baby Driver is in cinemas August 10, 2017

Read our story with Edgar Wright, Ansel Elgort and Jon Hamm on the set of Baby Driver.

Leave a Comment