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Damien Chazelle's 'Babylon' Chronicles the Complexities of Hollywood's Golden Age Through Meticulous Fashion Decisions

by Sadik Ghita

Released in 2022, Damien Chazelle’s Babylon encapsulates the pursuit of stardom during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Presenting the madness, the euphoria and the exuberance of the world of Hollywood, Babylon featured a cast of six main actors, over 100 speaking roles, and around 250 cast members - not to mention the numerous background actors. 

In total, the costume and wardrobe department painstakingly crafted 7,000 costumes for the movie, with the majority of them being handmade.

This attention to detail alongside being Best Costume Design nominee at the 95th Oscars, Mary Zophres’ style choices for Bablyon had to be recognised. 

Zophres initiated her research a complete year ahead of the production start date, following a challenge from Chazelle to move away from the overused flapper dresses and cloche hats associated with the 1920s. 

Her task was to discover historically accurate yet unexpected sources of inspiration. To do so, the designer meticulously curated countless albums brimming with movie posters, publicity stills, and candid photographs from that time period.

At the heart of the story are Jack Conrad, a superstar with an oversized ego, and Nellie LaRoy, a beginner actress whose sensuality is burning and attracts all the men who approach her. Each with signature styles that reveal all (in more ways than one). 

Nellie LaRoy, played by Margot Robbie, notes that “you either are a star or you are not” - and what you wear could make or break that decision. 

In fact, each costumes perfectly conveyed the arcs of the characters.

The most memorable look from Nellie was her red outfit for the opening party sequence. Wearing tap shorts and a scarfed top made of 1920s silk, Zophres' concept was that the outfit would look almost like Nellie made it herself.

In opposition, Nellie dawns a very modest mint green gown later in the film as she attends a more well-to-do party thrown by William Randolph Hearst in an attempt to rehabilitate her public image.

Forget the retro charleston dresses with fringes, in 'Babylon', Margot Robbie aka Nellie Laroy, is adorned with mid-thigh dresses with dizzying necklines or even mini skirts and crop tops with sequins. She embraces a fashion that goes against the normal in the 20s.

After the First World War, the 1920s represented a breath of fresh air, as far as fashion was concerned. 

Symbolising found freedom, dresses got shorter and bodies were revealed more and more - an idea that Damien Chazelle took literally.

And while female figures have a prominent place in Chazelle's work, it is impossible to miss the famous Brad Pitt who embodies the character of Jack Conrad. 

His wardrobe embraces jackets, tuxedos, bow ties and suspenders - the essentials pieces of the time to flirt with the gratin of the cinema and to make a place there.

The film encapsulates the reality perspective of cinema, and the tragic journey through decades of filmmaking. 

Damien Chazelle takes the viewer on a crazy adventure where, with flabbergasted creativity, he reconstructs the Homeric filming of the time, the crazy parties where elephants are invited to the dance floor and the ill-famed scenes of an industry where low blows and bloody dramas are very common.

Edited by Emily Duff

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