A romp through ’70s styles

Fash­ion is its own char­ac­ter in Amer­i­can Hus­tle

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - SANDY CO­HEN

LOS AN­GE­LES — From Chris­tian Bale’s bur­gundy velour blazer to Amy Adams’ plung­ing se­quin hal­ter dress, Amer­i­can Hus­tle is a cin­e­matic romp through the over-the-top styles of the 1970s.

Set in New York and New Jersey in 1978, the film tells the story of a pair of con artists (Bale and Adams) forced to work for a cocky FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) bent on bring­ing down power bro­kers and politi­cians. This deca­dent world of power, crime and big money comes to life through os­ten­ta­tious fash­ions and ou­tra­geous hair­dos. All the char­ac­ters are rein­vent­ing them­selves, and it shows in their clothes.

“They had ideas, they lived large and they took risks,” cos­tume de­signer Michael Wilkin­son said of the ’70s styles that in­spired his de­signs. “Clothes were less struc­tured, had less un­der­pin­nings — it was like peo­ple didn’t give a damn.”

Though the Aus­tralian-born Wilkin­son said his childhood was drenched in Amer­i­can pop cul­ture, “I ap­proached this as a re­search project, just like you would study about the Greek ru­ins or outer galaxy.”

He scoured Cos­mopoli­tan mag­a­zine, along with ad­ver­tise­ments, movies and TV shows of the era. Good­fel­las and At­lantic City were par­tic­u­larly in­flu­en­tial films.

“And Satur­day Night Fever from 1977,” Wilkin­son added. “(That) had the most per­ti­nence to Bradley Cooper’s char­ac­ter. He’s a guy from the Bronx, and he lived life as a black-and-white moral shooter work­ing for the FBI, and wears a cheap polyester suit that doesn’t fit him so well.”

The char­ac­ter ups his fash­ion game af­ter meet­ing the dap­per con-cou­ple.

“He ends up in a silk shirt and silk scarf, which are pop-cul­ture ref­er­ences,” Wilkin­son said. “And then he wears a leather jacket to the FBI.”

The de­signer rel­ished Hal­ston’s vin­tage vault, to which he was granted ac­cess for the film, and he dressed Adams in au­then­tic pieces from the ’70s.

“The lines (of cloth­ing sil­hou­ettes) of the late ’70s, with de­sign­ers like Hal­ston, were rein­vent­ing the wardrobe of women,” he said. “It was about be­ing com­fort­able in your skin and walk­ing tall.”

Hair is so prom­i­nent in Amer­i­can Hus­tle, it’s prac­ti­cally another char­ac­ter. Lead hair­styl­ist Kathrine Gor­don stud­ied old is­sues of Play­boy and high-school year­books from the ’70s for in­spi­ra­tion.

She and Bale worked to­gether to cre­ate his char­ac­ter’s elab­o­rate comb-over, com­plete with fuzzy, glue-on hair­piece. The film opens with a scene of its care­ful con­struc­tion.

“I came up with this idea to stuff it,” Gor­don said of the com­bover she cut into Bale’s real hair. “And then (di­rec­tor) David (O. Rus­sell) rewrote the script, and I taught Chris­tian how to do it on cam­era.”

Adams wears styles rem­i­nis­cent of disco par­ties, Stu­dio 54 and “the Breck girl” ads of the era. Jeremy Ren­ner, who plays a New Jersey politi­cian, has a fluffy bouf­fant. Jen­nifer Lawrence, an un­happy wife in the film, wears bouncy, sex-kit­ten up­dos whether she’s go­ing out or not. And Cooper rocks a tight perm: He’s shown wear­ing curl­ing rods in one scene.

Wilkin­son, whose film cred­its in­clude Man of Steel, Tron: Legacy and The Twi­light Saga: Break­ing Dawn, Part II, said he es­pe­cially loved play­ing with fab­rics, colours and prints for Bale’s charm­ing con-man.

“I’m re­ally proud of Chris­tian Bale,” the de­signer said. “It shows the pos­si­bil­ity of an ex­pres­sion of per­son­al­ity in menswear. He ex­plores his char­ac­ter in his clothes and he’s a man of the world. He mixes prints!”

Pho­tos: Fran­cois Duhamel/Columbia/The As­so­ci­ated Press

Os­ten­ta­tious fash­ion and elab­o­rate hair­dos trans­form Amy Adams, left, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Ren­ner, Chris­tian Bale and Jen­nifer Lawrence into a vi­sion of New York and New Jersey style circa 1978.

De­sign­ers had ac­cess to Hal­ston’s vin­tage vault to give Amy Adams an au­then­tic wardrobe.

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