The most anticipated comedy of the year is finally out in the UK tomorrow! Crazy Rich Asians tells the story of New York-based economics professor Rachel, whose boyfriend Nick asks her to travel to his home in Singapore for his best friends wedding where she will finally meet his family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick is part of Singapore’s richest and most-influential family and the wedding is the biggest high-society event of the year. As soon as they arrive, issues of class distinctions, heritage and family values quickly begin to show. We spoke to the films costume designer Mary E. Vogt to find out more about how it all came together…
It’s the most-talked-about film of the moment, but why do you personally think people should go see Crazy Rich Asians?
Crazy Rich Asians is a big, vibrant, joyful movie that showcases a very talented cast of all-Asian actors, who are very distinctly different from each other. The music is fantastic, it adds to the emotion of the scenes and carries you through the movie on a magic carpet ride. The scenes have comedic elements, drama and romance – so it’s a movie for everyone.
Why are you excited to be a part of this film?
I am very excited to be part of this film because it is a wonderful combination of so many things that just worked. The actors, the cinematography, the music, the sets, the costumes, the hairstyles, the graphics and the editing, all put together by the director Jon M. Chu.
How did you approach the costume process for the movie?
On Jon’s suggestion I collaboration with Kevin Kwan, the author of the novel the film is based on. Kevin explained the origins of the characters to me, as well as the differences between the Old and New Money characteristics. I kept talking to Kevin throughout the preparation of the movie. I put together looks for the different characters, including colour palettes, and discussed them with Jon. There is a lot of fashion in the movie but the characters always came first, so I had to discard several fantastic dresses because they overpowered a scene. The actor is alway the star, not the outfit.
How did you include Asian heritage in the process of making the costumes?
Asian heritage was a big part of the look of the film. Kevin sent me photos of his family before and after they emigrated to Singapore from China. They were a very well dressed and elegant family who wore Western clothes, but always with a distinct Asian flavour. I tried to incorporate Peranakan elements, a mixture of Chinese and Malaysian styles. I also had some wonderful people working with me, who knew a lot about local designers in South East Asia who helped us with the costumes.
What inspired you?
I was inspired by fashion designers – Alexander McQueen, Valentino, Iris van Herpen – and photographers such as Guy Bourdin, Sebastian Kim, Georges Antoni, Juco and Ren Hang. I also think that colour is one of the most important elements in costume design.
The film features actual designer pieces alongside new costumes created by you – how did you choose which looks to design yourself, and which ones to style?
I designed and had pieces made when we needed a specific look for a scene, like the waterproof wedding dress or the gold lamé jumpsuit described in Kevin’s novel. Also the white Gatsby-esque linen suit Nick wears. All the uniforms, servants and airline attendants’ clothes were made in our shop because the quality wasn’t easy to find.
Everything in the movie is brilliantly over the top, did you take this into consideration with the costumes?
In a comedy you can really stretch the boundaries with colour and style. I really wanted each character to stand out from each other, so they were pushed to set them apart. Colour was a big consideration, it needed to be vibrant, work well with the actors and be compatible with the sets. The hair was also important. The hairstyles, created by the wonderful hairdresser Heike Merker, had great variety and gave each actor a very distinct look.
Can you talk about how Rachel’s style develops in the movie and how you tell the story with her clothes?
Jon referenced The Wizard of Oz talking about Rachel in New York. Everything is in black and white, and when she arrives in Singapore suddenly everything is in colour. In New York Rachel is confident in her world, dresses simple but with style and the fabrics are more structured. In Singapore she wears softer fabrics: chiffons and lightweight crepes with floral patterns and a subtle Asian touch. Rachel is more vulnerable in Singapore with Nick’s family and friends – she’s out of her comfort zone, which is reflected in her clothing.
Who was your favourite character to dress?
It’s hard to have favourites with all these great actors, but Nora played by Awkafina is hard to beat.
Crazy Rich Asians is out in UK cinemas 14th September 2018.