Monday, February 22, 2016
“Bridge of Spies,” Steven Spielberg’s true-life story of an American insurance lawyer turned covert negotiator during the Cold War, opens in Brooklyn in the late 1950s with Rudolf Abel, a suspected Soviet spy, being followed by federal agents. But as he descends into a crowded subway station, Abel (played by Mark Rylance) disappears into a sea of fedoras, a staple accessory for men of the day, his own rather ordinary hat providing a simple but effective cloaking device.
“Abel was a man who was supposed to blend into the street, and he did,” said Kasia Walicka-Maimone, the film’s costume designer. “But besides being a spy, he was a great artist, so he didn’t conform fully.”
Through research, she discovered that the real Abel wore his hat tilted slightly back from his forehead, an uncommon style at that time, “so he looked like any other guy on the street, but when you looked closer, he looked different from everyone else.”
Speaking on the telephone from London, Ms. Walicka-Maimone discussed the film’s abundant chapeaus and how style set the characters and their countries apart. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
The hat makes the man To top the heads of the movie’s largely male cast, Ms. Walicka-Maimone gathered hundreds of hats from vintage stores, as well as from contemporary outfitters selling styles that retroactively borrowed from the period.
For Tom Hanks, who plays, James B. Donovan, the insurance lawyer who is asked to defend Abel, she chose a classic Borselino, “a style worn by politicians, lawyers and businessmen,” she said. “This is before brims get thin. Donovan’s was a more classic version, with a wider brim and taller body.”
When Donovan travels to Berlin to negotiate the exchange of Abel for American prisoners, the full-bodied hat accentuates Mr. Hanks’s already imposing silhouette, placing the well-dressed American in stark contrast to the desperate, beleaguered crowds trying to cross the border between East and West.
The Negotiator Ms. Walicka-Maimone was especially interested in the differences between Donovan’s American milieu and the European setting he finds himself in.
“We are trying to portray two worlds: The neatly tailored, manicured look of the secretaries in Donovan’s New York office, and the oppressive quality of Berlin, surrounded by various armies and divided by the wall,” she explained. “His world is precise, peaceful, and then he steps into a moment in time that is so unstable.”
Men’s suits helped distinguish those two worlds. “In Berlin, the suits were shorter, the silhouette was more defined, closer to the body. The waistline was accentuated. American suits were boxy, the shoulders were broader, the pants were wider. It was a more muscular cut.”
A More Interesting Reality: For a film so heavily based in reality, the design team, which included this year’s Oscar-winning production designer, Adam Stockhausen (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), had to gather vast amounts of research, said Ms. Walicka-Maimone, who relied on her longtime researcher, Susana Gilboe. “Those looks were created so faithfully to who those men were and what those men wore, it supported the characters and didn’t need reinterpretation.”
Scenes that took place in offices and schools and required large groups became the essence of thousands of pictures. “I’m so inspired by street photographers, the idea of imperfections, of street scenarios. So I consciously try to avoid things being driven by aesthetics,” she said.
Iconic Colors Women make rare appearances in the film, but when they do, it’s in rich, refreshing splashes of color. “The colors of that era are so specific,” Ms. Walicka-Maimone said. Men represent all the varieties of grays, browns, navys, greens, so it was crucial to have the women in the iconic colors of the time.”
For instance, Donovan’s wife, Mary (played by Amy Ryan), wears chartreuse set against the warm browns and grays of a courtroom scene. A judge’s wife (played by Le Clanché du Rand) answers the door in a glamorous pink printed evening dress, an all-too-brief flash of the day’s high fashion.
Shades of Black Some of the most interesting pieces to create were the prison uniforms, Ms. Walicka-Maimone said. “The American prisons used dungarees, a version of denim that culturally comes from work wear. In East Germany, prisoners wore clothes pieced together from swatches of old military uniforms, with a yellow stripe to cover the seams.”
Russian prisons were the most difficult to research as they were not often photographed. “But we found one or two pictures of men leaving a prison in cotton and wool uniforms, dyed in different shades of black. I think the pieces must have faded from washes, so it was just a ton of black in many different tones.”
The Spielberg Factor “I always call him Mr. Spielberg,” she said, and his infectious enthusiasm kept her glued to the set, even when she wasn’t required.
“I was so used to working with rebels, people of my generation, and then there I was stepping into the world of this incredible master,” she said. “I didn’t know how it was going to go. But then I realized, he is the first rebel of them all.”