Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Is a Love Letter to Sharon Tate

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„Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the ’60s ended abruptly on August 9, 1969,” Joan Didion famously wrote. “Ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

The grisly murder of actress Sharon Tate, orchestrated by convicted serial killer Charles Manson and carried out by his dutiful cult followers, became one of the most pivotal moments of the decade, bringing the free-spirited time to a screeching halt and catapulting the nation into one of the most high-profile criminal trials in history. And when Quentin Tarantino decided to take on the Manson murder in his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—which opens in international theaters this week—he did so with the intention of paying homage to the late actress and the lost Hollywood that once was. Boasting a star-studded cast, including Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dakota Fanning, and Margot Robbie as Tate, as well as different storylines that weave together into one, the director’s latest project attempts to piece together the events of the summer of 1969.

„Just being able to be absorbed into Quentin’s world of research and inspiration, he’s an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to film and television,“ costume designer Arianne Phillips tells CR. „He has a photographic memory, so for me as a costume designer, the real excitement was in the prep process.“

While Pitt and DiCaprio portray fictional characters Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton respectively, Phillips had the arduous task of sifting through photographs and immersing herself in research in order to depict the real-life personas of Tate, Roman Polanski, Steve McQueen, and Jay Sebring. For Tate’s wardrobe, known for its ethereal baby doll dresses, Phillips was given the opportunity by the actress‘ sister Deborah, who also served as a consultant on the film, to look through the archives and actually see Tate’s real-life clothing in-person. In order to stay as true to the decade as possible, the costumes themselves were also made and bought with as much attention paid to accuracy and detail as possible.

„With the star power of Hollywood at the time just in terms of celebrities, there was a rich amount of research to draw from,“ Phillips says. „Costumes tell the audience who the person is, what time it was, and what their geographical, socioeconomic, or political views are. With costumes, it’s very important to give those visual clues to the story.“

Here, Phillips speaks with CR about recreating Tate’s iconic wardrobe, working with Tarantino, and Robbie’s impact on the costumes.

Were the costumes made or mostly vintage?
„It’s a combination. There are certain things that are called for in the script that we needed to create. Sharon Tate was very photographed, but she famously wore a lot of fashion. She wore a lot of Ossie Clark and Paraphernalia, which was a really incredible boutique and line created by Betsey Johnson in the ’60s. She wore Jean Muir and so many different designers. I worked with a lot of specialty vintage dealers to source fashion pieces, not only for Tate but for other characters. I usually start with vintage from stores and costume houses, like Western Costume and Palace Costume. There’s nothing like seeing the real thing. I made 30 to 50 percent of the costumes. It’s a combination of one-of-a-kind and vintage pieces that I bought or rented from costume houses. I really believe it’s important to have the real fabric, because it’s almost impossible to recreate that feeling of fabric and texture that existed at the time.“

What was it like working with Tarantino?
„It was such an incredible experience for me. The way he makes films is very different. He shoots on real film, unlike everyone else, and he shoots with Robert Richardson, an Academy Award-winning, incredible master cinematographer. There’s nothing like working on a movie about Hollywood and the behind-the-scenes of Hollywood. It’s art recreating life or life recreating art. It was super inspiring.“

How did you use the clothing to further the plot of the film?
„The movie is about change and about how Hollywood itself was changing in 1969. Looking back to Sunset Boulevard or Hollywood Boulevard, the people were always a mix of kids from the youth movement, hippies or the Manson family-looking kids barefooted and in cut-offs; college kids in their preppy clothes and love beads; and older people wearing clothes that looked more mid-’60s. Hollywood’s cross-section had an endless amount of variety.“

We know Robbie doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in the film. How did you use the clothing to tell her story?
„Margot’s ability to physically transform along with the work of Heba [Thorisdottir], our incredible makeup artist and Janine [Rath], our hairstylist, we were really able to successfully create this. Margot is so beautiful and she just has this translucent quality. She’s an incredible collaborator; there wasn’t anything that she wasn’t game for. We’d have Margot flip to Sharon through this collaborative effort. Her costumes came directly out of research. Quentin and I spent a lot of time together identifying what would make sense for the film, because we’re not making a documentary, we’re making a fictional film based loosely on real events. I was really lucky that I was able to spend time with Deborah, and she was generous enough to show me some of Sharon’s real clothes that she was preparing for an auction.“

What did you learn from seeing Tate’s clothes?
„They were too delicate to use in the film because at this point they’re 50 years old. But to be able to touch and feel these clothes that were held onto all these years and to see the proportions. It was super helpful for me in my process to see what Sharon’s taste was. Sharon, like Margot, was very petite. It was really great and important visually to help create that illusion with Margot so that the audience can be absorbed into the story. Margot’s a real team player, so we were really able to map out Sharon’s character in front of and behind the camera. Sharon was famous for never wanting to wear shoes, which was really common at the time. Most young people thought it was very fashionable not to wear shoes. Deborah even confirmed that Sharon didn’t really like wearing shoes. There were dress codes at restaurants, so Sharon would put rubber bands in between her toes to make it look like she wear wearing sandals. This is a real love letter to Sharon Tate in so many ways, and we really wanted to honor her memory.“

Do you have a favorite costume from the film?
„I had so much fun doing some of the Western costumes. DiCaprio’s character was on-set in these Western TV shows, and that was super fun for me to be able to create these Western costumes, especially for Tarantino, who is so known for his amazing Westerns. It was nerve-wracking at first, because this is the first time I’ve worked with him. I prepped in March and we didn’t shoot until end of June, so all that time getting to spend with Quentin almost on a daily basis, they really add to the depth of care he puts into the costumes. It’s a real journey and process. I would say being a costume designer is like being a people detective, and as a detective, you have to do a lot of research. This film was unparalleled in terms of the amount of research. We had these really fun movie nights where Quentin would show movies that he really liked that were filmed in Los Angeles around 1969. Every day is like a party on-set with Quentin.“

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