Jackie costume designer on getting the iconic, pink suit right
'We needed this to be as historically correct as possible,' Madeline Fontaine says of the biopic's version
With biopics, there’s the pressure to match costumes to what a historical figure originally wore — and that pressure is especially high when the historical figure at hand is style icon Jacqueline Kennedy.
But costume designer Madeline Fontaine (Amélie, Yves Saint Laurent) was up to the challenge of Jackie (in theaters now), which stars Natalie Portman as the former first lady in the immediate aftermath of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Director Pablo Larraín had total faith in Fontaine and her team. “Pablo was very busy during the preparation time, but he gave us his confidence, and I hope we didn’t disappoint him,” Fontaine writes to EW in an email. “He wanted Natalie to incarnate Jackie, and we had to help.”
Research was, naturally, key to making the likes of Kennedy’s red dress that she wore in her televised tour of the White House in 1962 and the pink suit and pillbox hat that she wore on the day of the assassination look authentic. Fontaine explains, “We did such an incredible amount of research with pictures of these people and events, we had to go through to stick to reality as much as possible, and of course to find the way to the period to make it true.”
She continues, “For the pink dress we made it as a copy of the one everybody knows. We had first to settle with Pablo and Stéphane Fontaine, the [director of photography], on the right color according to the choices of the different cameras (for the shooting and the continuity of the footage). Then I made film tests of different colors to get the pink. And then made five of them … Impressive to see Natalie in it for the first time on set. We had to be convinced!”
Fontaine took a similar approach to Kennedy’s mourning outfits, which also needed to have that uncanny resemblance. Then there’s the red dress from her White House tour, which appeared in black and white on television, but there are also some pictures of the original red — so the team made two different pieces; one red for when it appears in color and the other pink, to get the right shade of grey for the black and white video.
Some of the most powerful moments in the film surround that particular pink piece with navy details, like when Kennedy decides to keep it on, despite blood being spattered across it, so that people can see the reality and violence of her husband’s death; as well as when she eventually takes it off and removes herself of the physical reminder of her loss. The original was a line-for-line Chanel copy made by Chez Ninon, and while the costume for the film was made by the production, Chanel provided the buttons, the chain for inside the jacket, and a label.
“We had to be sure to have this be as close as possible [to] the original one,” Fontaine writes. “We needed this to be as historically correct as possible.”
Those costumes needed to match the archival footage — both in color and in black and white. “The challenge was, as ever to make it true,” Fontaine says of that process. “So many scenes are matching with reality and memories, it doesn’t give too much space for ‘going-off’ …We didn’t want to betray the memory people have of her; we tried to be faithful.”
All in all, how does Portman wear the clothes as Kennedy? “Beautifully.”