15 Nov ’13
When you are costuming the biggest franchise release of the year and creating a capsule range to run alongside it for a major online retailer, it is clear a normal approach to the task is not going to work. Ex-stylist and one time assistant for Michael Kaplan, Trish Summerville, one of the fastest rising names in the industry, has purposely sought out what many costume designers shy away from: co-collaborations with new and established fashion designers and, in several cases, pulling clothes directly from the runway. Summerville is smart and savvy with a feel for contemporary trends, though by not designing and making key items for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire personally she may attract the scorn of her peers. But perhaps this is the new way for costume design, the future of the industry? While those around her fight to retain what they consider is the essence of their craft, i.e. direct authorship, Summerville is leading the way for a new era of costume design, that of the costume ‘director’.
The narrative purpose of clothing in Catching Fire is obvious to even the untrained eye. Those in the Capitol parade 1980s inspired, fussy and extravagant fashion, while those in the districts wear practical and functional garments made to last. The difference is rich and poor, privileged and exploited. Yet Catching Fire is a sci-fi story (based on novels by Suzanne Collins) set in a post-apocalyptic future. Even the ordinary we expect to look somewhat unusual. Summerville has been careful to communicate that, although we may relate to the clothing seen in the districts, it is only familiar in so much as it is different. Right from the film’s first scene we can see the contrast. Protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) wears a cowl neck scarf, purposeful with a homemade air, but still a quirk on its contemporary appearance. It is intended to be noticed, as with every costume in Catching Fire, and wowed over.
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. Banks wears several wild costumes and teetering heels throughout. Her butterfly, pink, and lilac ruffle dresses are actual Alexander McQueen selected from the runway.
Every close up reveals how much effort Summerville has undertaken adjusting details to establish setting in the districts or draw attention to the frivolity of clothing in the Capitol. An inverted collar here, an off-centre placket there, skewed button placement, fly-fronts… and this is before we have even considered Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). District clothing is basically pure function. Although, take Katniss’ sleeveless siren suit seen at the Reaping. Realistic in a contextual sense, but still tight and interesting enough to be catwalk ready in real life. Summerville had two jobs on Catching Fire: design for the story and design for the high street; the more of Summerville’s original creations that could be adopted for Net-a-Porter the better. Believable and desirable within the story, yet practical for mass production – not an easy task at all.
This is the crux of the costume/fashion debate, that not everything we see in Catching Fire is designed by Trish Summerville, at least not directly. Possibly due to time constraints, possibly due to studio pressure, possibly due to her own ingenuity, Summerville employed the services of those she admired and respected to collaborate with – 150 garments were created by luxury leather brand Cerre alone (they also made Rooney Mara’s biker jacket for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). More than a designer she directed her role on the film, delegated not micro-managed. Ultimately the final picture is her vision funnelled through other creatives. It is a genuine collaboration in every way that Black Swan was not.
Jena Malone as games winner/contestant Johanna Mason. Johanna is from the lumber district so her introductory costume reflects this by having actual pieces of tree bark scanned onto the fabric. Rather hilariously, Johanna actually hates the outfit.
Although Summerville is not the first costume designer in recent years to work in this way, Catherine Martin and Muccia Prada on The Great Gatsby are another example, she seems to be only one to get the balance just right. Catherine Martin was mentioned in articles about Gatsby, but really it was all about Miucca Prada, “What did she design? How many dresses?” Read articles about The Hunger Games, even in publications that do not generally carry costume pieces, and Summerville’s name is right up front. They are just as interested in what she has created herself as what has been ‘farmed out’ to other designers.
Part of this interest stems from The Hunger Games product, which is bigger than any garment or designer, and part of the appeal comes from Trish Summerville. In interviews she is warm and receptive, clued-up and not shy about giving away details. It’s not “I designed Katniss’ wedding dress”, it’s “I asked Indonesian fashion designer Tex Saverio to design Katniss’ wedding dress”. Humility goes a long way, and shows confidence in her own ability to deputise. It does not hurt that Summerville is cool and gorgeous either. That should not have anything to do with it, but in a world based on image or the perception of image, this facet only adds another tick in her box.
The unusual Maria Dora scarf seen on Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) during the film’s early scenes. The scarf is ideal in context because although quirky it appears homemade and almost random by design.
We do not know what happened behind the scenes with Catching Fire, just as we do not know what happened with The Great Gatsby, not entirely. Thanks to Amy Westcott’s brave refusal to have someone else take credit for her work, we do know what happened with Black Swan . Catching Fire seems to be a harmonious project. Summerville was really up against it, however, with an entire 146 minute movie to costume, not just principals but extras and crowds too, plus designing the tie-in line with Net-a-Porter. The decision to employ fashion designers makes sense, certainly in regards to the wedding/mockingjay dress and Katniss’ cowl scarf and other knitwear by Maria Dona. But taking McQueen pieces (under Sarah Burton) directly from the catwalk for Effie is a risky choice. Apart from seeing actual garments available now in a futuristic setting, which could potentially take us out of the movie and spoil the illusion, there is the added message that high fashion may well be art but, as with Effie herself, is also vacuous and trivial.
Everything about The Hunger Games has been heightened for Catching Fire. A new director, new costume designer, new cinematographer; it is the same world reinterpreted with a touch more razzmatazz. Continuing Judianna Makovsky’s template, respectfully adhered to by Summerville, the overall colour palette is subdued with only the Capitol – primarily through Effie – providing any flashes of colour. As the setting is now grounded enough in our minds, more detail can be prescribed to specific areas. The districts, although only briefly seen, each have their own look, the textile district being arguably the richest in texture and ambience. What Trish Summerville has achieved with Catching Fire represents possibly a new methodology for costume designers, whether they like it or not. Costume is not fashion, but that line is blurring fast and audiences are becoming ever more receptive to the crossover. The future of fashion and costume design may be more intertwined than we ever envisaged.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is released on 21st November.
Further reading: Interview with Trish Summerville at The New York Times
© 2013, Christopher Laverty . All rights reserved.