Hustling is all about “starting from the feet up,”as David O. Russell’s new film American Hustle reminds its audience numerous times. Between Amy Adams’s plunging necklines and Christian Bale’s terrifying, come-over, clearly the catch-phrase was referring to one’s look. American Hustle focuses on transformation, both internally and externally, of the characters as they embark on a series of scandals in the midst of the glitz and glamour of the 1970s. Amongst the characters performances are decadent costumes, over-the-top wigs, and too much leather, fur, and slinky cuts to count. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson and lead hair stylist Katherine Gordon tell The Daily Beast what it took to make American Hustle’s characters come to life.
Sydney Prosser (played by Amy Adams)
Wilkinson: I fell in love with Sydney; she had such an incredible and powerful arc and personal journey throughout the film. She has about 40 costumes in the film and they chart this amazing journey she goes through. She ends up in this very high end, iconic late ‘70s New York fashion. She picks out Diane von Furstenberg dresses and starts really enjoying this new silhouette, this new freedom. We worked with Halston and were given access to their archive and found several pieces that really helped set the tone for Sydney. Halston, out of all the designers, really encapsulates that new American silhouette that was evolving in the second half of the ‘70s. She wears an amazing original Halston leather dress in one scene, and a couple of silk blouses and outerwear. We also partnered with Gucci who helped supply some accessories: handbags, jewelry, and shoes.
Gordon: Amy had so many different hairdos. She sometimes changed her clothes and hair ten times in one scene. It was very difficult on the actors. I was doing hair changes on Amy in less than thirty seconds. I like the curly hair look when it’s fuzzy—it’s the fuzziness that gives it the sexiness—when it’s sort of imperfect. I also love the look when she’s in this big gorgeous fur coat on her way to Studio 54. She’s crossing the street and they go dancing and her hair falls, which is what hair would do.
Wilkinson: There was a particular moment when a new scene was invented and we had to come up with a new costume for Amy. We were given the task of creating a fantastic exotic dancer costume for her. We found this Agent Provocateur ensemble, very amazing beaded panties and sequined pasties with tassels, that really helped get across the sort of slightly faded glamour and seedy quality of that moment in Sydney’s life.
Irving Rosenfeld (played by Christian Bale)
Wilkinson: You have a sense of a man who came from the suburbs and is now mixing with high-powered hustlers and businessmen. He has to put on a show. He combines fabrics and textures and prints in a very expressive way. There’s stripes, there’s paisley, there’s cravats and ascots, there’s silk ties and printed shirts and textural fluting. We created a few costumes entirely from scratch for him, including the blue velvet three-piece tuxedo that he wears to the casino party. We also made a couple of other velvet suits for him: a burgundy one and a chocolate brown one.
Gordon: Christian’s hair is really a very technically complicated hairstyle. It’s not a toupee. It’s his own hair and I used three different tools. And he and I worked out how we were going to do the back story because the hair has to do something. What happened was that Christian incorporated this idea into his character throughout the film. In the script, David wrote that he wanted the character Christian Bale played to have a comb-over. And Christian gained 30 pounds for this character.
Rosalyn Rosenfeld (played by Jennifer Lawrence)
Wilkinson: Her character is such a powerful manipulator and has such wild mood swings. We see her depressed and frumpy, at home wearing printed muumuus and housedresses and men’s slippers, and then we meet her when she goes out and is dressed to kill to get attention and make her husband jealous.
Gordon: [Jennifer Lawrence] has an up-do. 1970s hair is like a modern day 1940s. It’s a modern day Gibson basically. That’s how you really look at it. That’s what was really popular in the ‘70s.
Richie DiMaso (played by Bradley Cooper)
Wilkinson: He starts off as someone who doesn’t care so much about how he looks. He does things like perm his hair, but he doesn’t have a very finessed approach to what he’s doing. When he comes into contact with Irv and Sydney, it has a huge effect on him. He re-invents himself: he goes from ill-fitting polyester cotton blends to silk shirts and stylish leather jackets.