Costume designer Melissa Toth recalls what went into dressing Kate Winslet for the 2004 classic
“Meet me in Montauk,” Clementine (Kate Winslet) whispers to Joel (Jim Carrey) as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind races toward its finale. It’s a command fans took to heart earlier this month, as movie theater chain Alamo Drafthouse and Focus Features (which released Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in March 2004) celebrated the studio’s 15th anniversary by hosting a special screening of Michel Gondry’s fractured romance in Montauk, New York.
The event, part of Alamo’s “Maverick Cinema presented by Focus Features” programming, included a brief walking tour of the production locations, a screening of the film that ticket buyers enjoyed while laying on mattresses provided by Casper (a reference to the scene where Clementine and Joel awaken in a bed on the beach), and a special item of clothing familiar to anyone who has seen Eternal Sunshine: an orange hoodie.
It’s worn by Clementine in the film and is notable for being the only reference to costuming in Kaufman’s Oscar-winning script, costume designer Melissa Toth tells EW.
“Those times when something is specified in the script, as far as contemporary stuff goes, it can be a million different variations on that specified piece. The only thing he wrote was that it should be an orange sweatshirt that matches her new hair color,” Toth says. “But then the question was, ‘What kind of an orange sweatshirt?'”
Unlike the Alamo version (“It’s the right color, but … there are different kinds of orange sweatshirts,” Toth says), the hoodie that Clementine dons throughout Eternal Sunshine is much sturdier — more Carhartt than American Apparel. “The one we chose for Clem was super stiff. Almost like an industrial or safety sweatshirt, like a construction worker might wear,” Toth says. “It kind of stood up on its own. It had its own life. It really took up a lot of the frame in the camera. It kind of wore her a little bit but that was okay for that moment. Because we wanted to see that she was wearing something that matched her hair. The sweatshirt kind of stands up to the hair. It doesn’t disappear on her body; it has its own muscularity.”
Fortunately, the hoodie had a practical purpose as well. Gondry shot Eternal Sunshine in the winter of 2003 and temperatures plunged during the beach scenes. “Thank God that sweatshirt is made of 17 layers because that should keep this poor woman warm,” Toth recalls thinking at the time.
Toth, who also collaborated with Kaufman on Synecdoche, New York and most recently designed costumes for best picture nominee Manchester by the Sea, says she worked closely with Winslet to define Clementine’s look — one that required numerous costume changes as the film ping-pongs through Joel’s memories of their relationship.
“Kate wanted to make it real and make this girl believable. Clem does do some nutty things,” Toth explains. “She’s a bit of a loose cannon so I wanted there to be some oddball choices in there while still making it feel like Clem was putting these things on. The unseen hand of the costume designer is paramount to me. I don’t want to make it seem like there was somebody else there choosing all this stuff. I wanted it to seem like Clementine goes shopping and gets all this stuff.”
But it’s what Toth describes as that “throwaway stage direction” from Kaufman that has stood the test of time, giving Eternal Sunshine fans a wardrobe they can emulate.
“My husband and I are the same age. Fifteen years ago, 10 years ago even, if I had said I did Eternal Sunshine, it would be, ‘Oh, I like that movie.’ Now, when you say it to a kid in their 20s, it’s like, ‘Can I touch the hem of your garment? Oh my God, I can’t believe you did that.’ It has become this cult classic,” Toth says of the film. “And I knew it had become this a few years ago, we were watching TV, my husband and I, and one of those cheesy engagement ring commercials came on and it was a total ripoff of the scene in Eternal Sunshine where they lay on the frozen lake. They’re dressed the same. It’s a watered down version. The reason they’re ripping it off is that this age group, this demographic, is now ready to buy engagement rings. They’re appealing to that age group. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never felt so old in my life!”
Head here to find out more about Focus Features’ Focus 15 anniversary initiative.