Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs—the fashion credits that roll at the end of Tom Ford’s super-stylish new thriller Nocturnal Animals reads like a list of brands any arty fashionista covets—and has—in her well-stocked closet. Seems the only luxury fashion brand not thanked on those end credits is—you got it—Tom Ford.
Even the two pairs of Tom Ford-like oversized geek-chic reading glasses Amy Adams’s high-gloss character Susan dons as she pores through her ex-husband’s new novel aren’t Tom Fords. “They’re Celine,” laughs Nocturnal Animals’s costume designer Arianne Phillips. “I wanted to use Tom’s glasses, but he was really clear he didn’t want the audience to be taken out of the film, that he wasn’t making ‘a branded film’ to sell clothes—to his credit.”
Yes, that’s right. Tom Ford the writer/director/producer of Nocturnal Animals (adapted from the 1993 novel by Austin Wright), his surprising follow up to his 2009 debut, A Single Man, nixed the use of pretty much all Tom Ford apparel and accessories from both his films. In A Single Man, Julianne Moore’s famed 1960’s black and white dress was procured on eBay, and all of Colin Firth’s suits were built by Phillips and team. Of course, Moore, Firth, and now Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor Johnson have appeared in Ford’s clothes at the films’ premiers. The on-screen no no is the off-screen perk.
Of course, Adams’s character Susan, a would-be artist who gave up her calling in favor of a luxe L.A. life, is the perfect Tom Ford woman: milky skin, creamsicle hair, svelte but curvy body—a lover of pencil skirts, chic silk blouses, and requisite heels and sculptural jewelry. And the things Susan slinks around in—black column dresses, ebony large disc jewelry, black trousers with white silk poet blouse, an insane tricolor fur coat, and the tie-neck apple green dress for the film’s finale—look a lot like Tom Ford clothes.
“Surprisingly, Susan’s character does not wear any designer clothes at all,” confides Phillips. “Most of the clothes were made; they’re not Tom Ford nor any other designer. I mean, you would think they would be, because it’s contemporary, and Susan’s part of the cultural elite. She’s very presentational: heavy makeup, precisely waved hair, polished, pristine. It’s a veneer to this inner world she’s struggling with—unhappy marriage, disillusionment. And, as we move into the script: regret, loss, betrayal. The movie’s really about loss and regret, and how important it is to nurture our relationships. Those emotions reflect her inner world—so the costumes had to have this veneer that reflected how she got through her day.”
Ford’s even admitted the film reflects a bit of his own struggle between the materialistic and the artistic: “it’s about the world of absurd rich people, the hollowness and emptiness I perceive in our culture. The struggle with contemporary culture and materialism is one that I’ve struggled with for years. And finally, I think, come to terms with. But you have to keep it in perspective: the important thing is the people in your life.”
Now, Susan’s tricolor fur in chestnut brown, amber, and white was helped along in craft by the Tom Ford atelier’s furrier. But you won’t find it in future TF collections. Nor will ladies likely find that knockout green dress, the standout piece in the film, in his boutiques. “That color was quite specific,” notes Phillips. “It was dyed and made; we labored over getting it the right color for film—and camera tested it. Will it ever be used for a future collection? That’s a question for Tom Ford the fashion designer—we know film influences fashion—but maybe not for Tom Ford the director! “
Meanwhile, Phillips is one of the few major movie costume designers (The People vs Larry Flynt, The Mod Squad, Girl, Interrupted, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (and its musical stage adaptation), 3:10 to Yuma, Madonna’s W.E., Kingsman: The Secret Service) who has major fashion credit: collaborating with major designers like Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci for years, costuming tours with longtime friend/client Madonna—“That is super fun for me! Most designers are super supportive, and make exactly what we want.” She has also styled fashion shows, curated collections, and is considered one of Hollywood’s top fashion-world insiders.
That end credit list of labels applies to a gallery scene with hundreds of extras early in the film, much of which wound up being cut. But Chanel did, in fact, make a very special appearance: “You learn in flashbacks the complicated relationship between Susan and her mother,” explains Phillips. “Laura Linney’s white suit was Chanel, made just for her. That was the time I said, ‘Tom, I need you to pick up the phone and call Karl (Lagerfeld).’ Tom agreed that Susan’s mother, a conservative Texas socialite with helmet-head hair, would wear Chanel, so he reached out. That’s the power of Tom Ford—the perk is the access!”
Ford was so fastidious that even the male characters in the Texas book-within-the-movie scenes were made. In most of those road trip scenes, Gyllenhaal’s Tony wears a red plaid shirt that looks so “ordinary guy,” it should have been easy to just buy.
“But Tom wanted a certain color and a certain fabric,” says Phillips, “and we couldn’t find it. And, we had to have multiples. We couldn’t find that richness of red, so we had to overdye the fabric the right color, for camera. And Jake wore cords, but we could never find the right color, so we made them. That detail works into the color balancing, and it’s all built into the production design and how everything will be lit—even the props. So those kinds of calibration of color really matter. Michael Shannon’s Western-cop costumes, they were all made. His cowboy hat, shirts, pants—his main jacket was based on having that Western yoke rogue cop archetype—those clothes don’t exist anymore, outside of polyester! Tom wanted corduroy. So we made two jackets, tan cord and brown cord. Then we made this ultra-suede and canvas bomber—based on vintage pieces—with a western yoke. And those pants with the western flat front and the western belt detail—all of that just doesn’t exist in the kind of quality we wanted.”
Of course, making all these costumes instead of buying or renting makes a production more costly. But for Ford and Phillips, who have their very own visual story and fashion language (“he is so much more communicative than most directors,” she says), this enhances the actors’ performances. “Also to Tom’s credit,” Phillips says. “Any producer on this film with a director would probably force their hand to buy stuff. But Tom, who directed and produced, wanted the quality of fabric to create our own cinematic world. Aaron Taylor Johnson’s green cowboy boots—we made them, based on a pair of vintage cowboy boots I found at a costume house: they’re crackling green. We thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s just the right thing for him!’ And he wears a little pinky, like a teenage girl’s birthstone ring, that we decided would be a signifier of a girl he maybe raped. It gives the audience story clues, and helps the actors texture their performances. That’s the fun part of costumes—the sleuthing that creates visual clues for the audience.”
And when it comes to the psychological thriller, it’s likely what puts the psychology in the intense suspense.