In 1862, Crimean War veteran Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) sets out from London for the misty Irish Midlands on a puzzling venture. Thirteen years after the Great Famine, devout villagers like to believe in a miracle: young Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy) hasn’t eaten in four months, and Lib must determine if the 11-year-old really survives on “manna from heaven.”
Lib’s vibrant blue nursing ensemble feels bold and authoritative as she challenges the rigidity of the village – and the all-male tribunal – with her pragmatic, science-based knowledge. “Lib comes as the modern, practical woman entering an oppressed, traditional society,” says costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux. “She’s trying to show that there really is another world.”
Dicks-Mireaux’s research found that the highly trained Nightingale nurses did not wear a standard uniform, but simply “something practical.” For example, she took inspiration from images with bold colors against the dusty Oregon desert in another 19th century film, Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s cut. Director Sebastián Lelio, not wanting a “sad-looking film”, made the final decision on the dominant shade of blue, which stands out against the lush Irish landscape.
During her 15-day investigation of Anna, Lib’s linen layers – a basque waist dress and a tonal herringbone jacket with a peplum and pagoda sleeves – take on a life of their own. As she becomes more frantic, Lib unbuttons her outer layer and forgoes her light petticoats, changing the shape of her skirt, which also becomes increasingly muddy.
An authentic vintage piece, Lib’s detachable lace-up collar speaks to cleanliness practices during rare Victorian-era washes and also provides character narration. Lib begins her assignment with the delicate gear worn impeccably. When she soon discovers the reason for Anna’s brother’s absence, the scalloped corners have been neglected tucked under her coat. In an exposed moment, literally and figuratively, Lib, suffering from her own personal traumas, wears the collar still attached to her undershirt – but not much else. It’s all gone after that, “because she gets more distracted about how she’s going to save the kid,” says Dicks-Mireaux, “rather than being the fine, real Florence Nightingale nurse.”
Until (United Artists)
Emmett Till biopic of Chinonye Chukwu opens with a tender, carefree mother-son moment: Mamie Till (Danielle Deadwyler) and her 14-year-old (Jalyn Hall) sing playfully in the car as they drive to Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago. Mamie’s pink dress, with floral texture to match her petal-like Juliette cap, parallels the spirit of her son’s striped button-up in his signature golden yellow “to match the emotion, the vibrancy and the cinematic language,” says costume designer Marci Rogers. “I wanted it to match Emmett’s shirt.”
Mamie is a professional who works in the Air Force office and, as always, impeccably outfitted from head to toe: white gloves, a beaded bag, immaculate black pumps and rhinestone jewelry favored by the real Till. Mamie knows the racism she’ll face at the store – and she’ll have to protect Emmett from it. Rodgers, who tailored the dress, recognized the importance of “setting the tone that Mamie was a woman of grace, poise, class, and black excellence come what may.”
Rodgers, a proud Windy City resident, also understood the seriousness of depicting the historic black-and-white photo documentation — which launched the civil rights movement — through dynamic costumes. “The world doesn’t know what Black Chicago – Black America – looked like in color in 1955,” says Rodgers.
Before anxiously sending Emmett south on a train, Mamie emulates her son’s bright palette in a nature-print marigold silhouette with cap sleeves, a trompe l’oeil bolero and gathered skirts. “That dress represented the fact that she had let her son go to Mississippi,” says Rodgers. “Be small,” says Mamie, warning the cheerful, confident Emmett, whose tie and pocket square glitter with gold in the prism patterns. Later at the train station, in a “full circle” costume recall, a background actor, in yellow, will walk past the duo as they say what will be their final goodbye. “Her son was a martyr, and she had to take that on herself and be the light and beacon of it through her pain,” says Rodgers.
True to Steven Spielberg’s personal photographs of his pianist mother Leah Adler, costume designer Mark Bridges purposefully placed “Easter eggs” in the costumes worn by on-screen matriarch Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams). “Steven would recognize it as his mother’s style,” the two-time Oscar winner says of highlighting key moments of connection (or tension) between Mitzi and her aspiring author son, Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle).
Teenage Spielberg alter ego Sammy documents Fabelman’s ill-fated camping trip with his 8mm turret camera. Sitting around the campfire, Mitzi, steadfastly encouraging her son’s artistic pursuits, wears a plaid wool cape with her trademark – and Adler-loved – Peter Pan collar peeking out. “That’s really inside [Spielberg] home movies. She made a poncho out of a blanket,” says Bridges, recalling images of Adler “frogging in the snow.” He custom designed a similar robe for Mitzi, in harmony with check-clad father Burt (Paul Dano) and Sammy’s sister, but without telling Spielberg beforehand. “You could tell he was touched by that,” Bridges says of the director’s quiet recognition upon seeing Williams in costume. “He went out and filmed that scene for two nights, and we never said a word about it.”
After a resulting split with Mitzi, Sammy screens his amateur World War II epic, Escape to nowhere, to his fellow boy scouts, parents and family friend Bennie (Seth Rogen). Bridges referenced a black and white photo of Adler, who watches as a young Spielberg receives a Scouts badge. In a sky blue dress with a white round flat collar and a pearl necklace, Mitzi beams with pride and amazement at her son’s impressive work. “[Sammy] gives her a cold shoulder,” says Bridges, who wanted to evoke a formative “memory” with his wardrobe. “That blue dress really sticks out in that sea of green.”
Bridges recalls Spielberg’s initial reaction on set after seeing Williams, Dano, and Rogen in costume for that turning point in the movie. “He was suffocated,” says Bridges. “So, my work is done here, I felt.”
This story first appeared in a standalone January issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.