In the period comedy Down with Love, Renée Zellweger plays a self-help writer as dedicated to fashion as she is to feminism. Her foil, played by Ewan McGregor, is a journalist who's a cad but no slouch in the style department. In fact, there's not a person, place or thing in this film that doesn't ring with the snappy, optimistic look of 1963.
"It's a rose-colored view back to the mid-century," says production designer Andrew Laws, who gave Zellweger's penthouse apartment a 200-degree view of the Manhattan skyline and matched its interior to her virginal white and pastel outfits. Adds costume designer Daniel Orlandi, "It's not a historical re-creation of the '60s, but a more inspirational spin on those times."
How do you make a '60s film stand out today, when seemingly every A-line dress and Eames chair has been utilized by Catch Me If You Can or the first two Austin Powers movies? For starters, the Down with Love team stayed away from overused iconographic items (like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chairs). And rather than try to replicate the '60s as they really were, they built a hyper-stylized dream world of that period.
"Today most sets are done the way they would be built in the real world; the basic construct is rooted in reality," says Laws. "Whereas in older movies, sets were more theatrical. So we made this '60s period piece, but with a '40s period scale, with longer stretches of floor between walls."
In cooking up the kind of sex comedies typified by Doris Day and Rock Hudson in the '60s, Laws and Orlandi pinpointed the matchy-matchy look that came after the poufy '50s and before the mod late '60s. "Ladies still wore hats and gloves," Orlandi says, "but everything was modern. We were going to the moon. The look is very pulled together and sleek with not a lot of adornment."
Cristóbal Balenciaga's architectural fashion design of that time was a big influence on Orlandi, who "built" (in costume design parlance) all 100 of the costumes worn by Zellweger, McGregor, and their costars David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Paulson. "We didn't use any real vintage clothes because I didn't want it to look thrift-shoppy," he says. "But we did use some real vintage fabric. I found this amazing houndstooth fabric--that had Lucille Ball's name on it!--that I used for Ewan's sport coat."
So Down with Love is less about what people really wore in the '60s and more about what they wished they wore. There are lots of show-stoppers, like sweeping capes and outrageously structured coats, that make entrances but are quickly shrugged off. "We never wanted anyone to look campy or jokey," Orlandi says. "Nothing is worse than when the clothes wear the characters rather than the other way around."