When a film character first appears on screen, one of the things many of us immediately notice is what they’re wearing. The costume speaks volumes about the character, and especially for a period film, costume design is a huge and integral part of the overall mise-en-scène.
In this For Your Consideration piece, we take a look at Madeline Fontaine’s work in Jackie. Taking on a task of dressing a famous fashion icon in is no easy feat. It’s even more of a challenge when that icon is former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Depicting her tragic moment in history for Pablo Larrain’s Jackie would require recreating some of her most iconic outfits. From the somber black veil Jaqueine wore at her husband’s funeral to the pink woolen suit she wore the day he was assassinated, costume designer Madeline Fontaine transformed Natalie Portman into the First Lady, and through these costumes transported us back to the 1960s.
Portman gives us a captivating interpretation of Jackie Kennedy. Her portrayal embodies every fiber of Jackie’s being, capturing the essence of her demure but determined personality, and Madeline Fontaine’s skill as costume designer helps accentuate that performance to bring uncanny verisimilitude to the narrative we’re watching.
As the Kennedy’s were photographed so often, Fontaine was able to used that documentation to help fabricate every detail of the costumes we see on screen. No single piece tells a greater story than the Chanel-inspired suit and matching pillbox hat that Kennedy wore on that fateful November day. When President Kennedy was shot, Jackie would cradle her husband in her lap, her dress forever splattered with his blood.
Fabricating the dress required Fontaine to pay extra attention to the intricacies of the outfit. With the help of Chanel, Fontaine was able to recreate every detail of the dress, right down to the buttons, stitching, and label that we see on screen. Inside her workshop, Fontaine’s team hand-dyed the nubby wool until they got the precise shade of pink, and once they had everythng right, as is typical with movie costumes, five duplicate suits were made. Here’s a interesting fact, Fontaine was unable to refer directly to the original dress, as it is preserved in the National Archives.
Another costume Fontaine recreated was the famous red wool dress Jackie wore for the White House Tour. Most of us would have only seen that White House documentary in black and white. Fontaine through requisite research was able to find a photograph of Jackie and brought that outfit back in all its bold vivid spirit.
Aside from the alluring and stylish outfits that helped establish the public persona of Jackie, there were of course other more casual clothes she wore away from the public eye. Even those outfits represent Jackie’s impeccable sense of elegance.
Perhaps one of the most searing images in the film is when Jackie returns to the White House after the horrors of Dallas. As she disrobes, her skirt and jacket smeared with blood, we discover the slip and the stockings she wears underneath have also been soaked through. The image contributes immensely to our realization of the depth of the devastation she has undergone, before she steps into the shower and at last washes the blood from her hair and body.
Undoubtedly the most eye-catching costumes Madeline Fontaine created are Jackie’s elegant outfits, but let’s not forget the men and all detailed work that went into their subtle fabrication. This goes for the clothes worn by the young Kennedy children as well, all of which complement the remarkable performances. They are virtually characters in themselves, vital to the immersion the film seeks to maintain, and each piece seems to carry a historic gravity as profound as the shattered figures who wear them. The pure blue coats that the Kennedy children wore to their father’s funeral have particular heartbreaking impact.
As outstanding as the costumes Jackie wore in public, and in her private moments as a mother and widow, no element ever detracts from Portman’s performance. They strike their essential, visceral notes in harmony, all the while allowing us to focus on the incredible performance Portman delivers.
Fontaine’s work is regal, rich, and crucial to Jackie. Through each of these costumes we are transported back to 1963 and get a palpable feel for Jackie Kennedy’s historic sense of style, beauty and glamour. For all their impressive presence, perhaps no other costume seen on screen all year has more jolting impact than that ruined azalea-pink suit, serving as it did as a dreadful canvas for the tragedy of that fateful day, a indelible visual reminder of everything that Jackie Kennedy and the nation had endured. For that alone, Madeline Fontaine’s Oscar nomination and a win would be most deserving.
Fontaine has worked on Amelie, Versailles, Yves Saint Laurent, and Seraphine. This is her first Oscar nomination.
Photos Courtesy of 20th Century Fox