Work in Progress

The Baltimore Sun

Designer Jacqueline West had her own stylish and successful women's-sportswear company when director Philip Kaufman tapped her to be a creative consultant on Henry & June (1990) and the costume designer on Rising Sun (1993) and Quills (2000).

After her Oscar nomination for Quills, she turned to movie work full-time. Her credits include Down in the Valley (2004) with Edward Norton and the coming The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, with Brad Pitt. Pitt was to star in her current project, State of Play, but dropped out last week. The film co-stars Rachel McAdams as an investigative reporter and Norton as an ambitious politician.

Scheduled to shoot for six weeks in Washington this winter, much of the movie unfolds in a fictional D.C. newsroom. Although West looked to The Washington Post for inspiration, she also leaned heavily on photos from the newsroom of The Sun to develop their looks.

IN HER WORDS --I visited the L.A. Times to absorb the mood and feeling. I looked at stills of The Washington Post. But I was drawn to The Baltimore Sun; it seemed very much how the [fictional] paper was described in the script. My Sun references were quirkier than my Post references. The result should be a cross between the two.

REGION DETERMINES LOOK --D.C. people dress very different than their counterparts here in L.A. Even when I [lived] in Berkeley, I thought the East Coast was tweedier. The reporters dress more preppy than they do here. Of course, it's partly the weather: There are more sweaters and layers on the East Coast.

AND SO DOES THE PROFESSION --There's a classicism to journalism. The width of the ties or the collars may change, but otherwise I don't see that big a difference between the way journalists looked in the 1970s and how they look today. I found journalism exciting in the '70s, and you can see Watergate parallels now in the exposes of Halliburton and Blackwater. I'm a fashion person, and fashion today is also '70s-driven. I think it has to do with a mood similar to what people felt [then].

THE DIRECTOR AND THE STARS --After I have references for my characters, I start showing the director and he points out his preferred choices. We end up blending our ideas and the look starts being formulated. The next step is showing the actors all the references, usually at their initial fitting, then trying various things on them to see what works on them, but always keeping them in character.

DESIGNING FOR CHARACTER --Anais Nin said it's "the little hanky in the pocket" that reveals a personal choice a character would make that betrays his or her inner riches. When I told [one of my actors] that journalists don't like to have a "wardrobe advantage," and carry their ties in their pockets and put them on only if a person is a lot better dressed than they are, he loved that tiny detail that reveals character.

EDWARD NORTON --Edward is very much the same. Small things matter a lot to him, like the particular patina on a briefcase. He's intuitive about what suits his character, right down to his tie. I predict Edward will go for a quiet tie rather than a rep tie or a bright red or blue tie; Edward will pick something dark navy with very tiny dots: something Obama would wear.

A portrait of costume designer Jacqueline West was credited incorrectly in Sunday's Arts and Life Today section. The photo was taken by Holly Davis and was used by permission of Davis and West.The Sun regrets the errors.
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