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'Rush' designer on Chris Hemsworth's 'raunchy informal' costumes

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Rush Costumes 02
Jaap Buitendijk

How do you create the costumes for a film set in the 1970s without making them look too dated? Call in wardrobe designer Julian Day.

“I wanted to make [them] look timeless,” Day told EW of dressing Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde, and the rest of the cast of the Formula One racing drama Rush. “I didn’t want to go over the top with patterns… I used a lot of primary colors — and lots of ladies in hot pants.”

In addition to watching hours of archival footage and pouring over books and photographs, Day was also able to draw upon his own memories to shape the aesthetic. “I was around when this was happening,” the costume designer said of the rivalry between drivers James Hunt (Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), which took place during the 1976 racing season. “[In the ’70s] my father sponsored a Formula One car that actually appears in the film.” 

Day’s idea that race car drivers are “modern-day gladiators” also helped set the tone for the actors’ costumes, which included everything from custom-made OMP racing suits to custom-made designer clothes from Gucci and Ferragamo. They might have been all business on the track, but when it was time for them to put on their play clothes, Day’s vision was “raunchy informal.” That meant asking questions like “How many shirt buttons should be left undone?”

“There’s a scene where they’re in a nightclub and most of the men and the women have their [shirt or dress open] pretty much down to the navel,” remembered Day. All the better to see Hemsworth’s pecs necklace. “[James Hunt] was a real hippie. I found loads of African beads and used them on necklaces that [Chris] wore.”

Day worked with Gucci to create several original pieces — like jackets in velvet, suede and leather — for Hemsworth’s character. “Gucci was really happy about making clothes for Olivia and Chris,” the designer said of collaborating with the Italian luxury label. “We looked through their archives and chose pieces and fabrics, buttons, shapes, and they reproduced them for us.”

Day particularly enjoyed collaborating with hair and makeup designer Fae Hammond to create the look of Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). “There are some costume designers who get totally involved and try to push their weight around with the hair department, but Fae is an extremely experienced designer and I didn’t want to [impose]. We talked, I explained my theory behind Suzy’s look, and we went with it,” he explained. “We felt that Olivia’s character was a jet-setting lady who would have spent a lot of time in the Caribbean. She’d have a certain glow about her.”

Wilde showed the costume designer her commitment to getting Suzy’s look just right before filming even began. “She flew over [to England] for one day to come to a fitting,” he remembered. “Olivia was fantastic to dress and she looked great in the clothes.” Among the pieces her character wears in the film — a custom Gucci coat and hat, a reproduction of a 1970s wedding dress, and Piaget diamonds that were so valuable they came with a team of security guards.

Day said the actress even took notice of the little details, like what she wore — or didn’t wear — under her costumes. “She really got into the spirit of the 70s… and the freedom of not wearing a bra!”

–reporting by Lindsey Bahr