More than three decades after Ridley Scott’s sci-fi noir Blade Runner arrived in theaters, director Denis Villeneuve brought that bleak, replicant-filled world back to the big screen with the critically acclaimed Blade Runner 2049. Joining Harrison Ford in the sequel was Ryan Gosling as a blade runner with a minimalist name (Agent “K”) and sleek coat to match. We spoke to the film’s costume designer about creating the coolest piece of clothing this side of the apocalypse.
The future may be bleak in the world of Blade Runner 2049, but thanks to the costume designer Renée April, its inhabitants have never looked better. When the first photos of Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford as Agent K and Rick Deckard arrived last year, many immediately took notice of K’s coat — how “the internet wants to be in a serious relationship with it,” how to buy ones like it, how it joins the ranks of other cool coats worn by Gosling on screen — and like the character who wears it, it isn’t exactly what it seems.
April, who has worked with Denis Villeneuve on five occasions (including for Sicario and Arrival), said the look of the coat came to her almost immediately. “My first sketch, it was already there — we tweaked it, but it was already there,” she said. “It was like there was nothing else I could design but that coat.”
Knowing it was an item Gosling would wear throughout the entire film, April needed it to be clean-cut, sharp, and able to survive all the elements that would be thrown at it, including rain and snow. At first, she thought the coat might have a hood as a means to protect against the film’s harsh, polluted landscape, but that evolved into a collar Gosling was able to flip up and down.
“It’s so disgusting, the weather [there], the smog and everything, so we wanted a way to hide his face. The first time we see him, I wanted to just see the eyes and that was it,” she explained. “The first one, it had a hood and [I was like,] ‘ugh, not another hood!'” she laughed. “So I came up with [the collar], and then we used magnets for the closure — I didn’t want any buttonholes or stuff like that.”
At first glance, the coat looks like it could be leather with shearling trim at the collar, but the entire piece is actually made of cotton that was treated to help it withstand the weather. “I got the fabric and loved the color and I knew that I would have it laminated so it would survive the rain and everything, help with the water and give it a look a bit sharper,” she said. “And then when it came back, the color was not exactly right, so we painted over it — so it was a long process.”
Gosling “loved” the coat when he first saw it and offered a few suggestions, including the addition of the shearling-like trim at the top. “I think we shortened it because he thought it was a bit long for the action he had,” April said “And the fur, we discussed it together, because it was supposed to be colder and at one point Ryan said, should we try some fur? And I said, well, it wouldn’t be real fur, it would have to be cheap fur, because you know, [the character is] poor, there’s nothing, and real fur would not exist anyway. So we came up with that.”
Ultimately, April’s team made 15 of those coats for the shoot (“I wanted 20 but I couldn’t find any more of that fabric,” she admits), and between the 2049 setting and the intense action scenes K is put through as he stumbles on a long-held secret that leads him to track down Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, those coats went through the ringer. “It survived very well, actually,” she laughed. “It was a well-made coat — and if it had been in leather it would have stretched, it would have dried, it would have been hell. And it would have become so heavy for him considering all the action he had to do. So I think the cotton was the way to go.”
For the movie as a whole, April and Villeneuve looked to the original Blade Runner but didn’t want to simply mimic that film’s look. “We were all struggling at the beginning because we knew that we needed to be true to the first one, that is still one of my favorite movies, but we didn’t want to copy it 30 years later,” she said. “That world is dying, so it doesn’t evolve suddenly. So Denis finally one morning, he came up and he said, I have one word: It’s ‘brutal.’ Everything is brutal. It’s ugly, it’s cold, it’s miserable, it’s brutal. And that was the cue for the rest of the movie.”
Aside from the original film, April looked to cultures from around the world for inspiration, with a priority that everything look realistic despite the futuristic setting. “When we do science fiction, there’s a tendency to go crazy — big shoulder pads, big plastic, big [everything] — and we knew that we didn’t want that. Because it’s a story about identity and we wanted people to be able to relate to it. So I didn’t give him a superhero suit. That was not the point.”
Perhaps the most extreme evidence of that realism was Deckard’s attire: The character was decked out in a gray T-shirt, like Ford himself often is. “There was a lot of discussion about it,” she laughed. “I wasn’t sure — I was reticent, but at the end of the day, there’s no time. A T-shirt is a T-shirt. It’s been here for 75 years and it’s still gonna be here in 50 years, I know it.” And it did fit Ford’s character being on the run for three decades. “It could have a little bit more high-tech or something, but it’s okay because it’s true to the character — and at the end of the day, that’s what is important.”