The Catwalk of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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.

Exhibition | Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s

Fashion, Textile & Costume Librarians

Exhibition – Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s

Place:  Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Dates:  10 July 2013 – 16 February 2014

Description:  “Discover the creative explosion of London fashion in the 1980s in a major exhibition at the V&A. Through more than 85 outfits, Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s showcases the bold and exciting new looks by the most experimental young designers of the decade, including Betty Jackson, Katharine Hamnett, Wendy Dagworthy and John Galliano.”

View original post

Exhibition | ‘Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith’

Fashion, Textile & Costume Librarians

Exhibition:  ‘Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith’        PaulSmith

Location:  The Design Museum, London

Dates:  15 November 2013 – 09 March 2014

Description:  “The Design Museum takes you into the world of fashion designer Paul Smith, a world of creation, inspiration, collaboration, wit and beauty.  Celebrating his career to date and exploring future developments, the exhibition references Paul Smith’s influences and fashion designs, charting the rise of this quintessentially British label which has become one of the leading fashion brands in the world.”


View original post

Exhibition | Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!

Fashion, Textile & Costume Librarians

Exhibition – Isabella Blow:  Fashion Galore!    

Place:  Somerset House, London    IsabellaBlow1

Dates:  20 November 2013 – 2 March 2014

Description:  “This autumn, Somerset House, in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins, is proud to present Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, a major fashion exhibition celebrating the extraordinary life and wardrobe of the late British patron of fashion and art.”

View original post

Jean Paul Gaultier, ‘From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk ’

Linda Rosier for The New York Times

Jean Paul Gaultier — well, a mannequin with a projection of his face — greets visitors at the exhibition of his work in Brooklyn.

Published: November 7, 2013

Jean Paul Gaultier ’s contribution to late-20th-century fashion might be summed up in two garments: the corset and the men’s skirt. Stepping back a bit, however, Mr. Gaultier accomplished much more than that. He was one of the first openly gay designers, and in an era ruled by street fashion, he made being a high-fashion designer seem cool. The army of pop stars who followed in his wake, becoming designers themselves, is evidence of this, as well as the popularity of television shows like “Project Runway” and the smaller contingent of artists who have used fashion collections and runway shows as models for performance-based art works. (Just this week, Rainer Ganahl’s “Comme des Marxists,” an obvious play on Comme des Garçons, appeared at White Columns as part of Performa 13 .)

But first, the corset and the skirt. Quoted in the colossus of a catalog accompanying the exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum , the fashion historian Valerie Steele, who has written a book on the history of the corset, says that it was traditionally viewed as “an instrument of female oppression and a cause of ill health, even death,” but that Mr. Gaultier transformed it into an emblem of women’s “liberation” and “sexual power.” Although, as Ms. Steele points out, one particular woman helped Mr. Gaultier achieve this feat: Madonna.

Mr. Gaultier began working with the Material Girl in the 1980s and has designed costumes for several of her tours — pieces of which are on view here — including as recently as 2011. But the ones he created for her “Blond Ambition” tour in 1990 became a cultural milestone.

Gaultier’s corset was created during the AIDS crisis, the culture wars and the heyday of postfeminist theory, with Judith Butler describing “Gender Trouble” in her book of that name in 1990 and Donna Haraway’s writing “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1991) about hybrid, posthuman bodies. Madonna’s male dancers wearing Gaultier bras with large, conical breasts onstage were a radical pop illustration. (Lady Gaga as heir to both Madonna and Gaultier is mentioned frequently throughout the catalog.)

Regarding the male skirt, which he introduced in 1983, Mr. Gaultier has argued that they have been worn by men throughout history: think Scottish kilts, or the skirts worn by Japanese samurai, or the Parisian bistro waiter’s long aprons. A mannequin at the current show, with Mr. Gaultier’s face projected onto it like a Tony Oursler artwork and offering a somewhat unsettling soundtrack greeting, is clad in a long skirt, suggesting that this is Mr. Gaultier’s most personal and signature contribution.

The exhibition is divided primarily by collection and period, but sometimes these are mixed up. There are collections influenced by art, like “Dada” (1983), “The Surrealists” (2006-07), “Constructivist (Russian)” (1986-87) and “Tribute to Frida Kahlo” (1998); and more tongue-in-check art-themed ones like “Japanese Tourists at the Louvre” (1999) and “Good-Time Gauguin” (2000).

What is emphasized early in the show, organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Jean Paul Gaultier (with the Brooklyn edition organized by Lisa Small, a curator at that museum), is that Mr. Gaultier came of age witnessing the rise of punk, New Wave and cultural and identity politics, and watching television. (“TV was my Bible,” he says in the catalog.) Pieces from his first collection, “Punks” (1977), combine bustier tops with biker-style jackets. For decades Mr. Gaultier sported a spiky dyed-blond hairstyle that made him look like a member of an ’80s New Wave band. And following in the repurposing nature of street-punk fashion, many garments here are made from nonfashion materials: garbage bags, neoprene used for wetsuits, distressed denim or humble wool knits.

In terms of “alternative” identities (that is, alternative to the fashion world), Mr. Gaultier has made clothing for women in sizes that deviate from the matchstick-thin supermodel. He has also held unusual posts — he worked for Pierre Cardin in the Philippines, where he dressed Imelda Marcos, whom he calls a “horror” — and created collections inspired by Africa, India and the Black Power movement (with varying degrees of success).

“Chic Rabbis” (1993-94) was inspired by Mr. Gaultier seeing a bunch of dapper clerics leaving the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. Kurt Cobain even wore one of these garments in a music video, and seeing photographs of him in Gaultier garb is both kind of sweet and sad. (Cobain, who was punk in the original sense — that is, resistant to mass culture and commercialization — committed suicide not long after.)

What becomes clear throughout this show, however, is that Mr. Gaultier is very, very French. Lurking behind every garment is the rigorous history of French couture — in addition to working for Mr. Cardin, Mr. Gaultier cites Yves Saint Laurent and Courrèges as major influences — but also French clichés, like his numerous plays on the striped French sailors’ sweater that his mother dressed him in as a boy, or the Folies-Bergère, another early inspiration. There are even nods to French philosophy in collections like “The Existentialists” and a sound recording accompanying a mannequin in a camouflage-effect ruffled tulle gown (worn by Sarah Jessica Parker at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2000) that quotes Roland Barthes’s structuralist text “The Fashion System” (1967).

Perhaps this is why Mr. Gaultier’s description of Madonna in a wall text is so interesting: “Madonna represents the essence of the American dream, American professionalism, American perfection, American obsession, and American business ambition. But she’s open to the whole world.”

Mr. Gaultier is the consummate Frenchman — what could be more Gallic than a fashion designer? But he too is open to the whole world, even if, like Madonna, Mr. Gaultier’s relevance has waned since the 1990s.

This exhibition follows the blockbuster Alexander McQueen show at the Metropolitan Museum and seems designed to accommodate the same volume of crowds, although it is not as mesmerizing as the McQueen exhibition; not as persuasive in illustrating how everything from accessories to runway shows can be turned into art. Nonetheless, Mr. Gaultier has contributed a great deal not only to democratizing fashion but to promoting ideas of beauty, gender, race and class that challenged mainstream mores. For this reason, it is particularly nice to encounter his subversively but exquisitely crafted objects in an art museum.

“The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” runs through Feb. 23 at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, at Prospect Park; 718-638-5000,

Review | “Miss Anne in Harlem” by Carla Kaplan

Published: September 20, 2013 

Time hasn’t been kind to the white women who participated in the Harlem Renaissance. As philanthropists and activists, authors and patrons, they sought a place for themselves in that remarkable outpouring of African-American art during the 1920s and ’30s. Some, constrained by social expectations, effaced the records of their work. Others made it difficult for historians to treat them with much seriousness. What, after all, can we do with someone like Nancy Cunard, a British steamship heiress raised on a remote English estate, who felt no shame in proclaiming “I speak as if I were a Negro myself”?

The British shipping heiress Nancy Cunard, circa 1932, with John Banting, left, a painter, and Taylor Gordon, a writer.
The British shipping heiress Nancy Cunard, circa 1932, with John Banting, left, a painter, and Taylor Gordon, a writer.

“Miss Anne” — the dismissive collective name given to white women — makes bit appearances in the literature of the era as a dilettante or imperious patron; later, she’s depicted as a thrill-seeking “slummer.” Always, she lurks in the shadows of her male counterparts in scholarly studies of the movement. But she was there, encouraging writers, underwriting cultural institutions, supporting progressive political causes. And many leading Harlem Renaissance figures — including Langston Hughes, Alain Locke and Nella Larsen — had reason to be grateful to her. At least for a while. Like everything else about Miss Anne, those relationships got complicated.

In this remarkable work of historical recovery, Carla Kaplan, author of “Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters,” does well by a group of women who got so much wrong. She resurrects Miss Anne as a cultural figure and explores the messy contradictions of her life, moving her from the periphery of a story about white patronage and boundary-testing interracial liaisons to the center. With a focus on six of the roughly 60 white women active in the Harlem Renaissance, Kaplan delineates Miss Anne as a counterpart to the better known flapper or “new woman” of the Roaring Twenties. But this is really a collection of individual stories, a group biography that lets the idiosyncrasies of the individual women shine through. “Negrotarians,” as the writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston called Harlem’s white patrons, were a diverse crew, full of good intentions, startling blind spots and astonishing self-confidence.

Continue reading “Review | “Miss Anne in Harlem” by Carla Kaplan”

NYT: In search of a gay aesthetic

NYT: In search of a gay aesthetic

Guy Trebay’s review of “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk” exhibition at FIT.

Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion


It’s a shame that we all missed this exhibition at RISD, since it seems that men’s fashion is often neglected. I also recommend you check out the Related Notes to the right of the page.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards: The Absolute Best & Worst Dressed

Serious frivolousness. Enjoy!

%d bloggers like this: