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« 31 Days Until Oscar | Main | On the Vanity Fair "Hollywood" Cover »
Thursday
Jan262017

Three Fittings: Oscar Nominated "La La Land"

by Nathaniel R

Welcome to "Three Fittings" in which we will celebrate costume design in the movies weekly. The number is necessary self-restraint for we love the art of costuming too much. We'll choose three costumes from a chosen film to discuss. Otherwise each episode would be six thousands words and twenty-five images long. As with Daniel's series "The Furniture," which focuses on Production Design, I'll alternate between contemporary and older films.

Let's begin with one of this year's Best Costume Design Oscar nominees La La Land. Contemporary films rarely receive this honor. Out of the 85 films nominated this century thus far for costumes, only 4 have been contemporary films: The Devil Wears Prada, The Queen, I Am Love, and now La La Land. But let's state this clearly up front: La La Land deserved the nomination. 

While the guiding principle of La La Land's costume design by Mary Zophres is simplicity, this should not be confused for subtlety...

Zophres states her intentions as soon as the opening scene when a traffic jam results in a giant freeway production number. Most of the dancers are in primary colors or slight variations thereof and we even see little formations of them that will later be echoed when Mia hits the town with her girlfriends in jewel tone cocktail-hour versions of the same colors.  

Look One
Before we even meet Mia, Zophres prepares us for the key yellow dress. The first woman who sings in the movie is a brunette wearing a pale yellow. Book-ending that opening number is a blonde woman in a bolder yellow. When the color pops up again, yet more beautifully, on red-headed Mia (Emma Stone) it's in the form of this canary yellow cap sleeve dress. (It also comes with primary color accessories -red purse and blue shoes). She's in the dress for quite a long time at a party that stretches from day to night. She leaves the party with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), platonically, and they perform their first duet "Lovely Night". The dress isn't just beautiful, it's delicate like Mia and Seb's life situations at this point.

It's also functional. She can dance in it and it needs no reflectors; even if the streetlights malfunctioned Mia would be safe from traffic. You can't really not see her in that color.

Sebastian gets fired. (Mia's in the background)"Dangerous Minds meets the OC" - Mia's horrible audition

Look Two - Matched Sets.
One of the most clever yet actually subtle things about the costuming is how Sebastian and Mia mirror each other when they're on the same page, even when they're not a couple. Take the sequence when Sebastian is fired (pictured above). He's wearing a royal blue suit, beautifully tailored, with trademark spats (to give it a retro-feel since he's so hung up on music of the past). Mia, too, is dressed to impress, in a royal blue cocktail dress that's sexier than what she usually wears. They're complete strangers at this point but both of them began the evening with hope and things have gone decidedly sour. Later in a dating montage, when they're very much in love and comfortable with each other they're both wearing baby blue and a looser fit than usual. When Sebastian has his most humiliating job in an 80s cover band, he wears a shiny red jacket that Mia makes fun of. In Mia's most disheartening audition, when she's about ready to quit acting, she's also chosen a shiny red jacket (pictured above). Both of those two "humiliation" outfits (Sebastian's not pictured) are quite busy with color and pattern, which is in direct opposition to most of the clothes worn in the movie. 

Look Three.  
Classic musicals, I think we can agree, often err on the side of flamboyance in costuming. Give 'em the old razzle dazzle if you will. While Zophres will go bold (primary colors) she stays far away from flamboyant. In the big musical numbers these streamlined simple colors read as bold or elegant, but Zophres will even risk frumpy (comparatively) to rid the movie of any visual clutter. As with "Audition (Fools Who Dream)" when the spotlight is on Mia. Sebastian has driven her to the audition and they're both in their least distinctive outfits in the whole movie, drab of color and slightly too big. We're only meant to be looking at Emma's soul in this moment, after all, and what her dreams have meant to her. When the movie is busy, the costumes need not be. It's as comforting a design decision as this sweater surely is on Emma. Zophres' designs are as perfect a match for Damien Chazelle's contemporary vision for La La Land as Mia and Sebastian are for each other that magical year in Hollywood.

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Reader Comments (21)

I love the note on Mia's red jacket as compared to Sebastian's. I also think it's important that she later says the show she's auditioning for is like "Rebel Without a Cause." Might this jacket also be a nod to James Dean's iconic red jacket from that movie?

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterchasm301

I still don't get why people love this film so much, and specially how among its 14 noms, Costume Design is one of them. I'll just give you a title that developed magic costume riches this year, and earned no nomination here... "Doctor Strange" lived up to the hype and delivered visually to perfection, yet no nom for Production Design, Cinematography nor Costume Design... it's outstanding how they have nominated the basic difficulty of "La La Land" for 14 Oscars and they gave the state-of-the art on all levels "Hairspray", zero noms. Just compare both movies costumes, production values, make up, etc. And remember whih one of them, actually dealt with deep issues reflecting a key moment in American history...

Seriously, what's wrong with you, AMPAS?

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

Those two tone shoes...

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterguest

While I don't hate LLL I'm more on the negative side of reaction to the film. It feels like a film student fresh from graduation wanting to make the film of his dreams but he puts in to much effort and the whole project just falls flat. The costuming I found especially problematic, the color scheme is visually appealing but some of the designs are poor at best. I take for example the Someone in the Crowd number and her rooms costumes are done in poor taste. I get what people are saying about the costuming telling the story of the film however I don't consider there to be much story there.

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

Eoin: Chazelle needs a co-writer to slap down his dumbest dialogue, because the costumes and visual direction are at odds with the, at best okay, romance the dialogue implies. As I've said earlier: The original version of this with Miles Teller would have been INSUFFERABLE.

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Comparing LLL with Doctor Strange is such a fool's errand, they are wildly different films in terms of aesthetic and tone. I think this nomination is very deserved as it served the story , its harder to pull a feat off like the one in LLL where the default would be to just go 'big musical' and overwhelm the characters.

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRami

I'm so glad the Academy honored these Costumes. I've been wanting them to recognize more Contemporary films and I was hopeful these would make it seeing as it's the Oscar frontrunner, but didn't want to jinx it.

Your post eloquently expresses the thoughtful and beautiful way the costumes were handled in this movie. Of course it doesn't hurt that Gosling and Stone wore them.

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Volvagia - Agreed. Gosling hasn't gotten enough credit when you consider that Miles Teller's casting would likely have destroyed the movie.

I support this new column idea even though Zophres has been much better (typically, her two nominations come from LLL and True Grit, possibly her least distinctive Coen brothers effort).

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

A beautifully design film and the costumes perfectly capture that Technicolor fantasy that musicals need to succeed.

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

The purple dress and white dress in the epilogue are favorites, but I adore the costumes pretty much across the board when it comes to this movie.

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Great article and I look forward to this becoming a must-read weekly fixture at TFE, like The Furniture.

I was very happy to see the LLL costumes nominated - such a change from what the Academy usually goes for.

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

Whoever said the costumes of this film were like an Old Navy commercial was so accurate.

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

philip h -- mean, when i just spent all that time explaining how carefully they're deployed ;)

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

lovely post. thank you.

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermikey67

Wow that's the whitest I've ever seen LA

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Your post justifies the oscar nom imo. There's nothing really special about the costumes in LLL except for the color tones.
That audition scene is also one of the best scenes I've ever seen. The Fools who Dream is such a better song than the mopey City of Stars. Gosling's "singing" doesn't help too in that unbearable bridge scene.
The Queen and Devil Wears Prada were nominated in the same year with that fabulous presentation with Blunt and Hathaway. Even The Queen is barely contemporary tho.

January 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Regarding Ryan's humilating job in the 80s cover band - I saw LLL before Xmas. At one point, Mia calls Sebanstian by saying, 'Hey...George Michael.' The line was somewhat funny - but, with the Xmas passing of singer George Michael - are audiences just catching up with this film now chucking at this line or finding it distasteful?

January 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

I'm increasingly of the belief that La La Land is a Rorschach inkblot test. I've been observing people I know and their specific reactions to the film -- and it always correlates to the type of personality they have.

January 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Ian -- ooh, tell me more. what do you mean?

January 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Love this, and LOVE the La La Land costumes. I want every single one of the outfits Gosling wears, even though I definitely do NOT have the body to pull any of them off, and I know so many girlfriends who have seen this that want Emma's entire wardrobe. That to me is the mark of a well-costumed contemporary piece: you want to wear the clothes. Nearly everything in this film is completely covetable.

January 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

My favourite costume from the film (which had routinely excellent costuming - so glad a contemporary film was acknowledged) were Ryan's duel-coloured jazz shoes. Oh my.

January 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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