There's something undeniable about the coolness of gangsters in suits. Mary Zophres was given the opportunity to design the "costumes" for Gangster Squad, and the outcome was an accurate and stylish rendition of 1940s era men's tailored clothing. The designer recently discussed with Esquire what went into the design of the wardrobes, and how these styles could work for men nowadays. We selected some of the best excerpts from the interview to check out below. Also, you can read the complete article here.
Esquire.com: First and foremost, what is it that drew you to designing costumes for film?
Mary Zophres: I wasn’t even sure which department I wanted to be in because when I was in college — film school — you got to be a cinematographer one week, director the next week, then set design, costume design, lighting, and so on. The only thing I knew I didn’t want to do was act or be in front of the camera. So I graduated and sort of just narrowed it down. I can’t be stuck in a room, so I didn’t want to be an editor. Which meant it was either costume design, production design, or cinematography. I was drawn to costumes because I have a background in it. My parents owned a clothing store, I was a vintage clothing brat, and that’s how I dressed all throughout college. I felt very comfortable in that world, so I set my sights on it. I almost went to grad school but the designer I was assisting at the time said, "Don’t go to grad school. Just work with me and it’s like you’re getting paid to go to graduate school." Very naively I thought to myself, "This is what I’m gonna do — be a costume designer." And I never looked back. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some terrific people who keep asking me to come back. I love what I do. I’m lucky because I think a lot of people don’t love what they do.
ESQ: What are the biggest challenges in a period film? Is there a particular way to steer the actors away from feeling like they’re playing dress-up?
MZ: I want to make them feel like it’s really their own clothes as opposed to someone else’s. Often in a period film, a piece of clothing — be it a shoe, or the way a jacket fits, or in Emma’s case, a corset — I think it helps them. All the actors in the movie told me individually that their costumes helped them get into character. Putting them on made them feel like they were in that time and place. In the fitting room, postures changed and statures changed when they put on the costumes. For an actor, it helps put them in the right mindset to play the part. And every single character in that movie, there's a reason why they’re wearing what they’re wearing.
ESQ: Are there particular elements of suiting from the '40s and '50s that you think men today should adopt?
MZ: The 1940s silhouette for a man is very flattering. It emphasizes all the right things, and it’s a silhouette that almost any kind of body type can wear, whereas the most fashion-forward suit now — with thin lapels and a shorter jacket — not everyone can wear that. But men should not be slaves to fashion. I think tailoring is a huge component of looking put-together and handsome. Even if you don’t have broad shoulders, a suit jacket gives you them. And if you tailor it correctly, it can give you a nipped waist, or cover a stomach or a little bit of pudge. I love a man in a suit. And there's a reason why it will never go out of style: It does all the things that a perfect black dress does for a woman. So if guys walk out of this movie and say, "I’m gonna go get my suit tailored," that would make me very happy.