Download: Costume Designer Ellen Falguiere On Accessing the Sexiness of the '70s for 'Spinning Gold'
Your jaw will drop by the amount of costumes that Ellen Falguiere produced for Timothy Scott Bogart’s Spinning Gold, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the founding of Casablanca Records. Musical biopics are usually a great place to turn when you want to see some period duds, but Gold includes some of the most influential people in the music industry from the 1970’s. Falguiere, to put it quite simply, knocks it out of the park.
Everyone has a different idea of the ’70s when it comes to fashion. Some might think of form-fitting sequin gowns and others might have wide ties pop into their minds. For Falguiere, she loves how the body was on display during this decade.
“I love how everyone was really into their bodies and how people were figure conscious,” Falguiere says. “There’s a lot to love with the silhouettes of the ’70s–the big collars, the tight jeans, the belts, the platform shoes. Everybody was into this sort of elongated look with the bell bottoms and the big collars. It’s really sexy. In my research, the shirts are unbuttoned almost all the way down to the belly button with chains. There was a demand for the chest on men. It was just so extra. I loved it.”
Even though there are many beloved and famous faces throughout, the film itself is narrated by and focused on Jeremy Jordan’s Neil Bogart. We may know, say, Donna Summer or Parliament Funk, but Falguiere did a deep dive on the employees of Casablanca Records in order to truly flesh out the Bogart’s film.
“These are all real people, so, as far as the research goes, I broke down [the script] after I read it,” she says. “That’s pretty much my process. Every single scene is almost like a different story day in a different place in time or a different year–it’s almost like a montage the way that the story is told. For these real people, I wanted to stay true, so, like Neil Bogart, he really looks like that. I have real graphs of him with the velvet suits and the collars out in the gold chains. Joyce, for instance, would pair her leather jackets, her pants and blouses with the prints. The same way that she paired her turtlenecks with the blouse over top or some of the drape-y dresses. With the workers of Casablanca Records, I took a little bit more liberty with because they all were different permutations of each other. They kind of ripped off the same style of each other. I wanted it all to work together on screen when they were all on screen together.”
In an early scene, Jordan’s Bogart and his team march into an executive’s office, and Jordan is wearing an enviable burgundy suit while Jay Pharoah’s Cecil Holmes sports a turtleneck with a jacket on top. Bogart has to be a showman to sell the clients and Falguiere ensures that he never falls out of touch with the time. Jordan looks like he was born to wear a wide-collared jacket with his chest bursting through.
“That burgundy velvet suit was actually in a video that I saw on The Johnny Carson Show, and we made that suit,” Falguiere reveals. “A lot of the velvet jackets we had made, but I wanted to put him in certain colors. That office was brown, and so I thought that the burgundy would play well against a lot of walls in the offices. There were some scenes where I changed the color palette a little bit from the earlier browns to some lighter colors. He was always dressed very well, because he was a record executive. He had a have a lot of business suits, and I put him in a lot of separates. I would mixed up the shirts, and I kind of built him a closet where I reused a lot of the same jackets. If he was having a softer moment, like with Joyce, maybe I would go with a lighter color palette, or if he was in more of a meeting with an executive, then I would go with a darker color. I always started with Neil, and then I would just do these marathon fittings. Neil had 41 costume changes. Joyce had 31. And then Jay and Dan [Fogel] had about 30. Even though all clothes fit them and I had all the pieces there, I was rotating a lot of them so that they would look good in the room together. I would constantly go back to their closet and go back to my rack of clothing that I fit them and all the pieces were tailored for them. It was a constant balance of color choices and how I would pair all the pieces together.”
When you see a film like Spinning Gold, you are waiting for those iconic costumes or specific looks. We want to see KISS with the large, costume-y collars or George Clinton in a red, winged jacket. Falguiere wanted to show the progression of these acts, and it was a lot more difficult than one might imagine.
“KISS was a challenge, because we wanted to show that they didn’t quite have it all figured out,” she says. “We did three different looks of the stage costumes–there was Century Plaza, Cobo Hall, and there was Cobo Hall 2. Part of the fun of the process is the fact that they don’t quite have the makeup ironed out, and we were trying to tell that story–they’re a little bit of a mess, they’re too loud, they’re too noisy, and they haven’t made it yet. They have to grow into the next permutation of their first stage performance, and then they get bigger, louder, and perform more music with more amps and more explosions. The costumes have to kind of match that next level. There’s the final KISS where they’ve actually made it and they’re a huge success and they go all out and they’ve got the glitz and the glam and the feathers. Putting them in the platform shoes was difficult.
Wiz Khalifa was another challenge, too, because he’s already so tall in the platform shoes. The real Parliament Funk flew in and they are the real grandkids of Parliament Funk. It was interesting because those are not just people in random costumes. The Diaper Man with the wings…he was Diaper Man in the ’70s, and his grandson wore it in the movie. He told us, during the fittings, that he remembered his grandfather wearing it.”
Throughout the film, we see flashes of who LaDonna Gaines will become. The silhouette bursts through and we get excited when we see her hair and her shimmering gowns. We never quite see her face as Donna Summer, though, until the transformation is shown on screen. It was a moment that Falguiere was anxious to tackle.
“I loved the fact she was LaDonna Gaines, and in all my research photos, she was very simple,” Falguiere says with a smile. “She dressed conservatively. When Neil discovered her, he basically created her, so, to watch that progression, it was exciting to see what was going to break. Was it going to be KISS? Was it going to be Donna? What will bring Neil success? We kept coming back to Donna, and it wasn’t quite right. When she was in the studio and they were creating her and she was spinning around, I had this vision in my head of the Casablanca dancers taking her from the office to backstage. They create Donna Summer, and I thought they could all wear these wrap around Diane von Furstenberg dresses. They kind of unwrap her out of the dress in this body suit and they drape these feathers and fabrics in the makings of this superstar.
For “Last Dance” at the end of the movie, we made this ostrich feather capelet, and there is a house in New York City that does a lot of Broadway that we got them from. We had them all built on a rod and it cascading down and around–it wasn’t something that we bought. We copied it from a photograph and we designed it and the dress, but we wanted it sparkly. We got fabric and backing and it was just so fun to recreated that. A lot of my inspiration came from Norma Kamali from the ’70s–she did a lot of jersey knits and things but we wanted it to shimmer for the performance. For “Dim All the Lights,” that’s for black and gold dress and that was inspired by a photograph that Donna Summer wore. We did marabou feathers for that one and added some jersey stretch with gold and black. We cinched the waist and did a halter style. That’s an iconic look, and I wanted to elongate Tayla Parx’s body.
There is so much in Spinning Gold that I want for myself. There is an orgy scene (played to the emergence of Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby”) where I could snatch every item of clothing that hit the floor. When I posed the question to Falguiere, however, she answered right away.
“That ostrich cape was so beautiful–I instantly think of that,” she admits.
Spinning Gold is available to rent and own now.