'her' by OC: Costume Designer Casey Storm on Styling Spike Jonze's Latest Film
Spike Jonze's new film her
, set in the near future, hits select theaters today, and here's what won't
be making a cameo: Geordi La Forge VISORs, Dr. Evil collars, and RoboCop suits. Instead, the "future" looks a lot like today's modern metropolis living, but with smaller collars, higher waistlines, and way throatier (and actually useful) Siris. As diligent readers of the OC Blog (ahem), you already know from OC founder Humberto Leon's interview with Spike
that Humberto played a significant collaborative role in shaping the film's futuristic aesthetic. So it only made sense for OC to show its love and support for the project by creating a collection
inspired by costume designer Casey Storm's looks for the Golden Globe-nominated movie. I caught up with Casey, whose incredible career spans from working with the Beastie Boys to Michael Jackson. Find out what he had to say about meeting Spike on an impromptu trip to Reno in 1993, having flirty banter with MJ, conceiving the her
wardrobe, and more.
Sofia Cavallo: The film is set at an unspecified time in the future, but you and Spike avoided making the film look hyper-futuristic. Why?
Casey Storm: It came out of a few things; one was exactly that, to have something that didn't feel futuristic with anything too distracting. I think films get pushed in [the direction of clichés] because there's this idea that technology's natural progression is to become more sterile and cold. We were projecting forward what’s happening today, which is a push towards more organic, eco-friendly things––things that have more of a warmth to them. It's the idea that in the future, you’re going to have so many options. That world you’re going to create is probably not going to be a distant, weird, isolated, sterile world. You're going to create a really beautiful, unique, comfortable, warm, and personal place that you would want to be in.
How we arrived at our specific style was just a series of conversations. I talked with Humberto for a while. We brought in Geoff McFetridge [the graphic artist and director], and K.K. [Barrett, a production designer], and we all pow-wowed on what exactly our idea of the future means, and how to represent that. We went out and bought a bunch of clothes, trying stuff on Spike and shooting pictures. We tried to find unique shapes and things that were rooted in what’s today
but that had something unique and interesting. That way, you could feel that you're in a world different from the one you live in, but it isn't a distraction and it never takes you out of the story or the emotion of the film.
What would you pick Humberto's brain about in your conversations?
I remember one conversation in particular where I had just broken down men’s and women’s, and I had a bunch of ideas for shapes and silhouettes and fabrics. We just talked through them and he told me some of his ideas for some future collections. We talked about lapels and textures, the width of things, and how to get to what we were trying to achieve without it becoming like Dr. Evil, or a narrative that appears in every movie set in the future. He had read the script and we talked about some loose ideas for characters; he was really great and helpful.
Can you walk me through the main characters and their looks, starting with Joaquin Phoenix's?
So Theodore [Twombly] is the main character. He’s sort of an average guy, and we wanted his style to reflect somebody that’s comfortable and not uptight, but also a little disassembled and just going through the world. I don’t know exactly how we arrived at the high-waisted pants, but I think when Spike wrote the character, he had Theodore Roosevelt in mind. Joaquin's pants throughout the film also have a really tapered leg, based on late 1800s pants for riding horses. The vintage pants I found [as inspiration] were from a costume house, and when I tried them on Joaquin, it just looked right. It looked interesting and weird, but it felt comfortable and casual and a little sloppy. Joaquin is kind of amazing in that you can put anything on him, and it looks great––with color too. He wears really bright colors in the movie. The palette of the film is orange, yellow, and red––it adds to that warmth and emotion, and creates this nice environment that he lives in.
Then you have Amy Adams’ character, Amy, a documentary filmmaker. We wanted her to be grounded and likable and comfortable––in her clothes and in her skin. People have said that she’s a little dowdy. I think she looks cool. She’s a little tomboyish with her style: she wears army jackets, her pants really short or cuffed really short, and she often wears her top button done and the rest of the buttons undone on her shirt––sort of a Cholo look.
Then you have Theodore's ex-wife Catherine, who is Rooney Mara. She represents a lot of things for him emotionally. She’s also super successful. She’s a lot of things that, at some point, Theodore thought he needed in his life. She's a kind of research scientist and that really informs how she dresses; she’s always well put-together.
Do the clothes intersect with technology at all?
No. At one point, we talked about how everyone’s shirt or jacket pocket would be custom-fitted to the size of your device or phone. There are some scenes in the movie where Joaquin is trying to show his operating system [voiced by Scarlett Johanssen] what the world is like, so he puts the phone in the pocket so that the camera faces out and she can see what he sees. We decided it seemed like too much of a statement, so we abandoned the idea. Instead, the phone is still too small to have the camera sticking out, so he uses a safety pin to hold up the phone at just the right height. Humberto used that idea in some of the Opening Ceremony clothing.
How about the striped color-block pieces––do those reflect anything more than the film's color palette?
That’s what I would say. The stripe color-blocking stuff to me is the least derivative of the film. It’s a little more tangential. For me, the collection is Humberto’s and Opening Ceremony’s thing, and I’m just super excited about it; I just think it’s so great. It’s a really nice interpretation of the film and the style that we created. I’m really excited about it.
The short collars are also pretty distinctive. What was the idea behind them?
We did a few things with collars. I’ve been wearing––in life, anyway––either tiny collars, no collar, like band collar shirts, or I’ve been chopping collars off of shirts that I have. So we played with that idea. That would be our statement: collars would be non-existent or they would be small. Some of the other rules we had were: no denim, no belts, and no ties. Also, the business suits that people wear either have really thin lapels or no lapels.
Why no jackets, suits, or belts? Would they give away the time period too much?
I think the opposite. If you take those things away, it puts you out of a time period. When something’s missing, you don’t know what it is, but you feel that something is off. And that was more important to us. Denim is such an easy staple and it’s so ever-present. And when it’s not there, in the back of your mind you’re just somehow aware that you’re in a fantasy, and it has an emotional feel to it. So those rules were designed to just be constant background reminders that something is different in this world.
Can you tell me about the panic attack you had while filming the scene in the Hollywood subway station?
[Laughs] We had only shot with Joaquin for three weeks, alone in an apartment. While I was creating this whole world, I really just had to focus on him. Even though we had these rules––high-waisted pants, no belts, small collars––you can’t just dress everyone the same. People still have jobs or kids; you have to get more specific with each person.
We were in the subway station, it was like one in the morning or something. We got everyone dressed. And I was just walking the line and making notes, and I got halfway through and went, Oh my god, this looks so crazy. This is kind of a disaster.
There were so many patterns, and people’s pants were tucked into their socks, and their shirts were buttoned up, and they all looked like nerds. It looked so insane. I just went to Spike and said, dude I think we might have fucked up
. It was so crazy and so distracting; it was the opposite of what we wanted to do. I walked the line again with Spike, and he just broke out laughing; it did look really crazy, but we were gonna go for it.
So they set up the shot and I go to the monitor to watch the playback of it, and in motion it’s actually kind of incredible. You’re aware that something is off, but at no point is it a distraction from Joaquin. It just became a totally different thing.
So you and Spike go way back. Do you remember how you guys met?
We met in 1993, 20 years ago. I was playing cards at my apartment with a couple of girlfriends, Anna Waronker and Jenni Konner. Jenni got blackjack five times in a row and we decided we should go to Vegas. It was like two in the morning and there were no cheap tickets, but there were two-for-one tickets to Reno at 6AM, so we needed a fourth person. So Anna said, what about that boy Spike that I was hanging out with earlier tonight? So we called him and he was like, yeah I’ll go. We knocked on his door and he was like, what are you doing here? And we were like, you said you’d go to Reno! Those 24-hours were me and Spike's first big hang out.
And we just became friends after that. I always liked clothes a lot and he knew that, so he asked if I wanted to help out on a music video. He said he could only pay me 300 bucks and I was like wow, that’s so much! I ended up doing that video, which was the Beastie Boys' “Sabotage”
. And that was it.
That's awesome. What was your process for doing the looks in "Sabotage"?
Well, the rough idea for the video was in place: it would be a 70s Starsky & Hutch
reference, and then it was just about building characters. So we were just like, what if there was a guy that worked down at the docks? And what if there was an undercover guy who dressed like a Canadian cowboy? Everyone would just throw things in the pot and then I would run out to thrift stores and Salvation Armies. I think my budget was $1,000. I remember we went to [Adam] Yauch's apartment when he lived in Los Feliz, and I walked in with giant trash bags full of clothes that we just dug through. I had a bag of wigs also. On set, we were just working out of my trunk, dumping stuff out, like, oh I’m going to wear this sweater! That’s how we ran that whole thing. It was so much fun.
So you and Spike realized you worked well together, and you've been collaborating ever since.
We were just hanging out all the time anyway. There was a big group of us. Almost everyone in Spike's film family has been around for that long. He has a really good ability to sense what someone’s capable of, even if it’s not what they do. It’s a kind of incredible talent that he has.
Then you styled the video for Michael Jackson's "Stranger in Moscow". That must have been an insane moment, considering how much you idolized him growing up.
Yeah, he was my favorite person in the entire world. I was obsessed with him and I dressed like him when I was 9, 10, and 11 years old. I wore all military jackets—white jackets with brass buttons––and fedoras. And then I got to do a video with him and that’s my favorite job I’ve ever worked. It was fucking Michael Jackson. It was incredible. I got to spend four days with him; we got along really well and had a good rapport. The craziest part of Michael Jackson was how not
crazy he was; he was the most normal dude. He was a little like a 10-year-old girl, but he was a normal dude, with the same speech patterns as normal people. It wasn't like you were in the presence of a freak. You were in the presence of greatness. There’s never been energy like the energy that guy had. I don’t know. It’s almost freaky how normal he was.
On set, they'd stick the nose of the camera through these black wraps, so only the hair, makeup, and wardrobe people could see him when he was performing. It was mostly because he was self-conscious in that environment and he didn't want to make eye contact while he was working. So I got to be inside there and I got to feel that energy, which was just insane. Then they would yell cut
and the second I'd turn away, I'd feel something hit the back of my head. And I would turn around and look at him, and he would pretend he hadn’t just thrown something at me. [Laughs] And this was happening for a couple hours. So finally I turned to his regular hair-and-makeup person, and I said, is he throwing things at me? And she was like, oh when he likes you, he throws Tic Tacs at you. So I looked at him and he just started giggling and threw another Tic Tac right at me. And I was just sitting there like, this is fucking happening. This is my life now. I’m having flirty banter with Michael Jackson. It was so crazy.
And these days you're starting to direct?
Yeah, I’m kind of retired from my [costume designing] job, and I’m going to probably do commercials because it’s the easiest world for me to break into. I just did a music video and shot a fashion film. I’m also working on developing this comedy TV show idea, and a comedy horror film idea. Right now I just want to try a bunch of different things, see which parts I like, and do that. There’s a lot of potential.
Last question: what kind of phone do you have, and do you use Siri?
I have an iPhone 5S and I don't really use Siri. It doesn’t work; I try to get Siri to text message for me and it never comes out right. My Siri is a man, I think it’s a newer thing. I got so annoyed with that lady that I felt like I needed a new person. It’s funny because that’s sort of a theme in the film––that these operating systems have identities. But that’s a funny question, because I just realized I got angry at mine and switched to a new one.
My dad has a GPS in his car. He gets a real kick out of changing the voice to the "female British spy."
That’s awesome. I have an aftermarket Bluetooth speaker in my car, and I also have a British woman talk to me. It’s so much nicer when they're British.
I could not agree more.
Shop men's her by Opening Ceremony here
| Shop women's her by Opening Ceremony here
her by Opening Ceremony