Paramount Pictures’ Babylon, led by La La Land and Whiplash director Damien Chazelle opened to mixed reviews last week. The narrative follows “several ambitious dreamers in 1920s Hollywood” and portrays their rise and fall. American costume designer, Mary Zophres, who has earned nominations for her previous works, reveals the inspiration behind her choices in this new film.
Following her brainstorming with Chazelle, Zophres decided to take a fresh approach to ’20s fashion, “I started doing some reading and watching the films that were on his [Damien’s] list, and then the pandemic hit, which gave us even more time to delve into the research. He really wanted to challenge [me and Production designer Florencia Martin] to try to make it not look like another movie about the 1920s. He wanted to avoid all the tropes that are used–and were maybe very useful in telling those stories, but not for telling this story.”
In a recent interview with BoxOffice Pro, she confessed, “We’ve been watching a lot of Hollywood movies [that have] been based on one particular look from the 1920s, but there’s this whole other world that really hasn’t been explored. That’s indicative of the script that he wrote. And so that’s our launchpad. Some of [the research material came from] early Hollywood film sets. We [found] pictures and portraits of people that were working class, underbelly. There were a handful of books that had letters talking about Hollywood parties. I was like, “Okay, it really was like this. It’s just that we haven’t really seen it portrayed in film yet.”
She continued, “If we could find something that you couldn’t automatically identify as ‘20s, but was from the ‘20s, oftentimes that became an inspiration.” For Robbie’s character Nellie LaRoy, which was based on Clara Bow; the “It Girl,” the designer uses red, “It’s power and seduction all in one. There’s a reason the red dress has this reputation that precedes itself.”
While designing the dress, Mary took into consideration the opening scene choreography, and whether Robbie would feel comfortable, “There was a lot of dancing on furniture and [people] being carried [around] by others.” But Zophres says, “Art was changing drastically, Nellie was someone who would have seen her mother or grandmother in corsets, but young women in the 1920s weren’t wearing anything at all underneath. So there’s this liberating feeling. And skirts that grazed your ankles were now grazing your knees. It was groundbreaking.”
Produced by Tobey Maguire, Olivia Hamilton, Marc Platt, and Matthew Plouffe, Babylon features a star-studded cast among which are Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Clava, Jovan Adepo, and Jean Smart.
Watch the trailer here: