Greek-American Oscar Nominee Mary Zophres on La La Land

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A still from La La Land featuring Oscar nominees Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone wearing the Oscar-nominated Mary Zophres' costume designs. Photo: www.oscar.go.com

LOS ANGELES – Greek-American costume designer Mary Zophres is nominated for her work in the film La La Land, the love story and homage to Hollywood and classic movie musicals, written and directed by Oscar-nominated Damien Chazelle. The film has received a total of 14 Oscar nominations including Zophres’ for costume design and acting nods for stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

Zophres has a long list of credits when it comes to Hollywood. Her incredible range as a costume designer is evident in just a short list of the films she has worked on, including Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, Interstellar, Iron Man 2, The Terminal, and Catch Me if You Can. Born in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Zophres attended Vassar College and graduated with degrees in art history and studio art. Her father was born in Ioannina.

At a young age, Zophres developed a special interest in clothes. Her parents owned a store and she helped out with the clothing, as reported on ellines.com. Zophres first job in film was as assistant costume designer on Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July. She spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the unique look of La La Land and her costume designs.

When asked about her research Zophres said, “I always do a breakdown of the script by hand; it helps me by writing and repeating. In order to explain the film, Damien cut a montage together of romantic musicals and movies. It was such an inspiring piece, it got me in the mood, and it had everything from The Bandwagon (1953) to Singin’ in the Rain (1952) to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (1996) and Strictly Ballroom (1993) to Boogie Nights (1997) and Catch Me If You Can (2002).

Oscar nominees Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in La La Land. Photo: La La Land official website

I went to Vidiots [in Santa Monica] and started renting all the films, and printed up freeze-frame images. Then I went through my books of actresses from other time periods, modern photography — anything that had an interesting image that could be good for a scene. Then, for three days, my team met with Damien and the production designer and set decorator and went page by page through the script exchanging ideas. That became the language of the film.”

Zophres noted that the character of Sebastian, played by Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling, talks about keeping jazz alive and chose the two-toned shoes he wears to emphasize the point. She said, “Ryan loved them and they are so right for the character. That’s how it happened. Dance necessitated it. There’s also a moment when Sebastian and Mia are sitting on a park bench, and their feet are going side-to-side, and I said, ‘They have to wear matching shoes!’ So first, Ryan was wearing them and then Emma. They were on the road in Griffith Park on an incline, so she takes her heels off and puts on the two-toned shoes.”

When asked about where the inspiration for Sebastian’s costume came from, Zophres said, “[Jazz pianist] Bill Evans, Hoagy Carmichael, and James Dean are all people I looked at. And there were two French New Wave films in the montage in particular — The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort — that were most influential. Damien didn’t really have anything specific in mind for his character.

We thought he could dress like a composer, but it wasn’t romantic enough. I wanted women in the audience to be wooed by Ryan, and the men to feel romantic about Emma. We made all of Ryan’s clothes. He wore pretty much one or two trousers the whole movie, and they showed off his feet. They were learning the dance moves, so why not? He had one dress shirt, a couple casual shirts and two or three blazers, that was it. I didn’t think his character was informal enough to ever wear a T-shirt.”

Zophres spoke about Emma Stone’s look in the film, as reported in The Hollywood Reporter, “We designed everything she dances in. She has a beautiful neckline, arms and such a graceful line, so that influenced the silhouette. We wanted the whole film to be classic-looking. The yellow dress even has matching underwear underneath.

Her daytime clothes, we didn’t want them to be so high-end that it didn’t look like she’d buy them as a struggling actress. We did get some pieces at Playclothes, which is my favorite vintage store in Burbank, including a pink A-line skirt, paired with a top I got at H&M for $5.

The poster for La La Land. Photo: La La Land official website

The navy halter dress she wears at the end of movie, that is the one designer dress we used, by Jason Wu. It’s similar to a dress I saw Catherine Deneuve wearing in a photo where she’s looking over her shoulder. I had that photo pinned to my board, and I found the dress at Saks Fifth Avenue. It seemed right to have a store-bought dress for that scene, because she’s at a different point in her life. It’s a mature choice. The white dress in the epilogue is actually my favorite. It’s very Fred and Ginger with the starry night background.

The necklace Mia wears for the majority of the film and her green necklace and earrings worn with the green dress are by Kyle Chan Design, based in L.A. The necklace, rings and bracelet Mia wears in the five-years-later sequence was lent to us by the New York-based fine jewelry designer Monique Pean.”

When asked about the opening freeway scene, Zophres said, “We didn’t build anything for that scene. It was 110 degrees the day in October when we were shooting, and everyone was dancing their butts off at the interchange of the 105 freeway. They were drenched. It was about 40 dancers, and they kept changing clothes in the car. We had costumes in triplicate. It wasn’t as difficult as some of those musical numbers in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but this was right up there.

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