Interview with Fonzo designer Amy Westcott

Award-winning designer, Amy Westcott, has created costumes for an illustrious list of TV shows and movie blockbusters, from controversial Netflix drama The OA, to the BAFTA award-winning Black Swan. She has recently finished working on Fonzo, the much-anticipated Al Capone biopic, starring Tom Hardy.

She talks exclusively to Lyst about how she brings film and TV characters to life through their clothes.

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When did you first decide you wanted to be a costume designer?

My mother taught me to sew and I spent most of my teens making my own clothes. I got my degree in fashion design but soon realised I wasn’t cut out for the fashion industry. Costume design appealed to me much more. It’s a very different environment to work in – people are a lot nicer to each other!  

How do you decide which projects to work on?

My agent usually comes to me with projects to consider, or I might hear that a particular film or TV show is being made. If it’s something I feel passionate about, I’ll try and get a meeting. Once I’ve read the script, I decide whether it’s something I want to do. I need to love the script and not want to put it down!

How does the costume creation process start?

With lots and lots of research. It’s the highlight of any project for me and can start long before production begins. It’s essential for me to completely immerse myself. Whatever I’m working on, I always read, watch, research and listen to anything related to it. Everything I can get my hands on! I have to get inside the world we’re creating, in order to understand the characters I’m going to dress.

How much input do other people have into your designs?

One of the joys of filmmaking is the collaboration with creative people. My closest creative relationship is with the director, but sometimes producers may be involved too. With a wider aesthetic, I work closely with the director of photography and production designer. Once I’ve done my research, I create mood boards and present these to the director to see if our visions are aligned. I also present sketches showing how I see each character in my head. Sometimes everyone sees them the same way, other times I have to shift my vision.

Do the actors get involved?

Every actor needs to feel comfortable and feel the character they’re playing. So I will always look at what works for them and try to work with them. Occasionally you might get the feeling an actor is insisting on certain things because they want to look good. But that doesn’t happen very often.  

What was it like working with Tom Hardy on Fonzo?

Tom is one of the best actors I’ve worked with. He is so passionate about what he does. We had similar ideas about what how the character would look, so it was magical seeing that shared vision come to life. We were never trying to copy exactly what Al Capone wore; we wanted to make it more interesting than that. A lot of the existing pictures of him are in black and white but we’d learned that he could be quite eccentric in his dress sense. We had fun exploring that eccentricity by using lots of colour.

What makes a garment ‘film-worthy’?

Every costume needs to look like someone could actually wear it. Naturalism is my bottom line and I’ll do anything to get to that place.  I’ve dragged coats along the road behind my car to make them look worn. Most people don’t realise that it takes a lot to make clothes look believable on screen. For the movie Nightcrawler, we made twelve different white shirt variations for Jake Gyllenhaal. Each one was tailored in a particular way, in a slightly different shade of white. We numbered them in the end, so we knew which one was needed when.  It got very complicated!

Which of your costume creations are you most proud of?

I’m proud of them all in different ways. But I think The Wrestler was my proudest moment. We did everything on a shoestring, yet managed to create a world that was utterly believable. I can be my own worst critic but when I watched the movie, I felt totally comfortable with how it turned out.

How did you research the costumes for Black Swan?

I read every ballet book I could get hold of and watched every ballet movie ever made, pretty much! I also spent a lot of time at the New York ballet, talking to the dancers and immersing myself in their world. One of the big challenges was making sure the costumes not only looked good, but also functioned for our dancers. We worked with four colours only and everything had to stand up to lots of wear and tear. We were forever fixing and sewing things up. We all worked very hard to create that stylised world and, looking back, I think we achieved it.

Have you ever created a costume design that’s kick-started trends in mainstream fashion?

When I was working on the TV series Entourage, we used a necklace that then instantly sold out everywhere. The company making it had to call in extra staff to cope with the demand! More recently, the almost identical wolf design we used for a sweatshirt in The OA was spotted on a couture catwalk. That was really cool. I noticed that our reflective raincoat design started popping up in fashion stores too. You couldn’t get them when we were working on the show; we’d had to make them ourselves, from scratch.

What’s your favourite kind of costume to create?

Every TV or movie genre has its own appeal but I particularly love period costumes. They demand lots of in-depth research, which is my passion. When you’re diving into a world that actually happened, you have a responsibility to get it right.

What’s your favourite film of all time for costume design?

Shakespeare In Love designer, Sandy Powell, made every outfit look amazing. It has to be my favourite. You can almost feel the texture of the different fabrics when you watch it and the colours are amazing.

TV versus film – where do you love working most?

Television is an exciting place to be right now. There is so much envelope pushing content being made. The boundaries between film and television have blurred. That said, the satisfaction of creating a specific and complete visual world for a film is an amazing experience.

Thanks for your time, Amy. Looking forward to seeing your designs in Fonzo!

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