Ever wonder what working with Brad and Angelina is really like? https://t.co/au39Rgm8QT— Vogue Runway (@VogueRunway) November 11, 2015
By the Sea’s Costume Designer on ’70s French Glamour and Brad and Angelina’s “Raw” On-Set Passion
By the Sea, the third directorial feature from Vogue November cover star Angelina Jolie Pitt, isn’t a walk in the park any way you slice it. Pare away the dreamy, ’70s South of France backdrop and the almost tangible glamour of the film’s leads and you’re left with a turbulent portrait of a collapsing marriage, brought to life by Jolie Pitt and her real-life husband, Brad Pitt. (Filming off Malta came hot on the heels of their nuptials.) The film’s tearstains and tempestuousness are underscored by the placidly sumptuous costumes, a visual feast served up in part by costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, whose past credits range from Face/Off to The Knick. We caught up with her by phone on location in Cambodia, where Jolie Pitt’s forthcoming endeavor, First They Killed My Father, a true-life account of life under the Khmer Rouge, is in production. Below, Mirojnick talks about why French style works, dressing Jolie Pitt after Jane Birkin, and what it’s really like to work with Hollywood’s most famous couple.
What was your preparation for the film like? How did you immerse yourself in those characters?
Aside from talking to the director and trying to understand the vision that Angie had and what she wanted to accomplish—I always use images to delve into a time period or a vibe. In this case, the late-’60s, early-’70s South of France. It was all thrilling to look at it because it’s so classic and glamorous and of its own time. Jane Birkin, Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling, Peter Sellers even, Brigitte Bardot. Looking at those images, it just brings back a surge of je ne sais quoi, of absolute chic. It’s aspirational and inspirational. We decided that we would create what we felt was a classical early-’70s feel that was both cosmopolitan and European, true to characters that came from the East Coast. Brad and Angie’s wardrobes are not large, [as] people who traveled and packed for a month—that’s also a challenge to put those pieces together and make it authentic to the characters’ lives.
When you mention ’70s style, people’s minds inevitably go to freewheeling bohemia and flares. What is the stylistic milieu that these characters occupy? They’re a bit bohemian in their careers [he’s a novelist, she’s a former dancer], but they’re also jet-set.
I agree, they’re jet-setters in the sense that they are from New York. They have traveled to the South of France; they’re not poor. The bohemian style is reflected in more of a Jane Birkin kind of way. She was definitely the model for the visual style of [Angelina’s] character, and [Angelina’s] husband was more modeled after Serge Gainsbourg than, say, the Beatles at the time. What you learn about the French sense of style is that there’s an ease and a simplicity, there’s an ease in wearing it. It’s not overdone. The cut is always beautiful; the finishing is beautiful; the fabrics are beautiful; and even if they’re inexpensive, [the clothes] look beautiful. [The characters] are not trendy. They err on the classical side. [But] they are human people, and that in the end is what we needed to focus on—their vulnerability and how it comes through in the fashion. [In the ’70s] there was an ease of fit: The blouse was open to the cleavage, but you didn’t look at the cleavage. You could feel the flesh on a woman. That feminine quality is evident in this film. There’s a sexiness in the cut of the clothes, where nothing is drawn attention to.
Obviously the subject matter of the film is very turbulent. How, if at all, were you using the clothing to telegraph the emotions of Brad and Angelina’s characters?
We have a very neutral palette—it’s very clean and beautiful in its simplicity, chosen to flatter the skin tone. As the film unfolds, there are some moments that are pure and there are some moments that are meant to be sexy, and yes, we did use the transparency of lace, and black and cream, and a beautiful greeny-gray that really did allow the characters to breathe the sadness, or subliminally suggest the sadness. Or, for example, they drive, and they try to renew a hope, and there’s a freshness to it. We used white, and we end in white so that there could be a fresh start, and we begin in white because it’s the entrance to this story that unfolds in a turbulent way. We used the neutrals to really pop the flesh and the humanness of their interactions. The green that you might see, it’s kind of a sour green. If there was a [non-neutral] color, we tried to use a tonality that was a bit sour. White was the only thing that was vibrant and fresh.
Angelina wears quite a lot of loungewear—silk robes and nightgowns. What prompted that choice?
What it really is about is a woman who isn’t present in her own being. She doesn’t get dressed every day, she stays inside, she pops pills, she doesn’t really know where she is. There is an overhanging depression. They’re beautiful garments because that’s who they are—they pack beautifully and they have great taste—but the reason for it is to show more of a state of grief, a real anguish. She feels hopeless. It was really important to pick the silks and the silk satins and the beautiful fine-lace trims so that it was kind of a counterpoint to the desperation she was living.
What was the collaborative process with Angelina like, and what is she like as a director?
She’s very, very, very hands-on. She has an idea, she really expresses it clearly. She likes to be absolutely participatory in the designs and the choices. All of her costumes were made, so she really likes to participate in that process and actually have a bit of a selection. Working with her is a dream. She is very articulate, very knowledgeable of what she wants to convey as a director, and as an actor she’s great in the fitting room. She always carries as much of the film as she can, and it’s a difficult job for a director, to always carry the totality of the film in your head while you’re making it.
How long were you on location for the film?
We arrived at the end of August, right after Angie got married, and we were there until the beginning of November.
What was the working dynamic like between Brad and Angelina?
They had just gotten married, and it was the first time that they had appeared on-screen [together] since Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and we all were really curious about what this was going to be. They’re a very loving and professional couple; the story’s turbulent and they always came to work prepared to be the couple that they were playing. The film that we created, with Angie and Brad being husband and wife, it was a feat that you don’t always come across. It’s a difficult story of anguish and torment and grief, and they held their ends of the bargain. Nobody knew what to expect, but in the end, it was terrific. Yes, they were married; yes, they had to present this tormented love, misery, anguish, seduction, love—name a human element and they had to experience it. As a crew we were all very respectful as they found their balance. And they still had this very, very deep and intense connection and sexuality that is raw and passionate and rough. It’s intense, without a question. This was a great test of their talent and their strength and their passion, and I think they passed with sailing colors.