After Karl Lagerfeld set his spring 2012 couture show for Chanel on a plane, in which models walked down an aisle rather than a catwalk in modern yet mod takes on classic Chanel suiting, more than a few commenters thought there might be some Pan Am influence at play. In fact, the first comment after a post on Chanel's couture show went up, from James Abbott in France, was "Someones [sic] been watching Pan Am!" (which has since been "liked" by five more commenters). ABC's new Christina Ricci vehicle about the glory days of air travel set in 1963 may not be a ratings smash but the costumes are spot on. So we hopped on the phone with Ane Crabtree, the show's costume designer, to talk Chanel's in-flight couture, '60s inspiration, where to find the best vintage from that decade, oh, and how to get her job.
Fashionista: So what made me want to talk to you was Chanel Couture--what was your reaction to the show? Ane Crabtree: I screamed out loud. I won't lie. I was a fashion girl first. I was a stylist, I studied fashion, I ate it up. When I grew up in the middle of nowhere Kentucky, the only designer people had heard of was Chanel. You heard very little, but still. When I saw the images of the show I went mad crazy and especially the whole idea of using a plane, which was a big joke for me, because I always felt, the aisle of the plane is a runway--and the girls walked that way. What are you going to look at when you're sitting in your seats--they didn't have movies back then [in the '60s], you looked at the girls. Everything was happening in the aisle. So that, to me, was brilliant. I thought the collection was so beautiful and modern even though it was indicative of the '60s. Of course it reminded me of the girls in their uniforms but it also reminded me of Margot Robbie as Laura in Berlin. I don't want to put words in Karl Lagerfeld's mouth but I kind of hope, secretly, that he was inspired by that look--which was a young Bardot-inspired look. I hope he saw it. [See the look above.]
The show is set in 1963. Who Inspired you from that time? Balenciaga. Yves Saint Laurent. Courrèges. And American designers were becoming hugely important in '63 too. Oleg Cassini and his designs for Jackie Kennedy. Chanel. Those guys really got me. Those guys were not only important during that time but I loved their designs too. Oh and Givenchy was huge, too.
That moment in time was awesome for women's fashion. I was born in '64 so I love the '60s. Even though it was a year before I was born I wanted to investigate that time. So much was change happening with youth, with music, with politics and I knew we'd touch upon those things so that also drew me in.
Did you look to any women known for their style at that time too? Who inspired each character? Of course, Jackie Kennedy. She doesn't cease to inspire. But also Jean Shrimpton, Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot and Julie Christy. For Maggie, Christina Ricci's character, certainly a young Liz Taylor and a young Natalie Wood--they had adventurous spirits. For Kate, who is Kelli Garner, a young Romy Schneider and Kate Hepburn because they had this subtle, more handsome look with masculine tailoring, which fits with what she does for a living on the side. For Margot Robbie who plays Laura Cameron it was Grace Kelly, of course, because she looks like her, and Jean Shrimpton--because if they had a baby that would be Margot. And for Karine Vanasse who plays Colette, she's the only French girl, so I looked to French couture at the time--but also a young Shirley Maclaine from The Apartment and Francoise Hardy.
How did you become a costume designer? What was your trajectory? I was a kid in Kentucky in the tiniest town. It was embarassing for me to say when I was a design student at FIT in the '80s--I think I never said I was from kentucky because it never fit the mold. Now that I'm 47 and looking back it has inspired me in really cool ways for everything I do. I had a paper route and I would save my money for any fashion magazine I could get my hands on--which was only Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. I would pull images out and say to my mom, 'Just make this! It's not hard.' From there, I went to study art history in England and it had nothing to do with fashion. Then I got inspired by British fashion because it was '82 and it was an awesome time for the whole punk, Westwood, everything. From there I went to FIT because I didn't think I could work as a painter. Then I worked as a stylist for American Elle.
One of my first jobs was at Bonwit Teller which was so glamorous for me because Andy Warhol and Salvadore Dali did windows there. It was an exciting moment. Bill Cunningham was there, and I didn't even know who he was and he used to take pictures of me and my friend and we would run. We thought he was this madmen.
In '89 or '90 I wanted a bigger visual. So I started doing music video and very indie films and got into film and then TV. That was the route. In a very roundabout way.
What's your advice for someone who wants to do what you do? I really love to surround myself with young interns and PAs because they keep things fresh and their enthusiasm is awesome. I'm pretty young at heart and the thing I tell all of them is as you get older that everything that was original and individual about yourself was really important and that you always stay who you are. When you're young you kind of feel like an odd ball and your approach to creativity or design is not like anyone else and that maybe it's a detriment. The thing to remember is to hang on tight to your originality because that's what is going to matter 20 years down the line. I can say that now. I always thought, 'I'm such and oddball, I'm such a freak, I don't see things the same way, I'm inspired by drag queens.' Well, the world is inspired by drag queens now, who knew?
The other thing is, always stay open to influences from your world that you think wouldn't be typical. I think you should read everything you can about your heroes so you can get inspired. I just read the McQueen book and I thought, 'He was so inspired by nature,' and that's what I was inspired by in Kentucky. I didn't know it would become cool and edgy to be inspired by nature in fashion. SO just be who you are, be open to your influence, and know that it all matters. Keep a book with you and write everything down--draw it, paint it, because you won't remember everything. Nothing is throwaway as an inspiration.
Where do you find the clothes? Where do you look for vintage? The people that I always used for the show was this barn in the Catskills called Right to the Moon Alice and it's filled with beautiful vintage clothing that they rent for film and TV. They have such beautiful stuff that when they had a vintage show in New York the Missonis bought some of their original pieces back for their archives. I also used an antique store, also in the Catskills, called Lee Hartwell Antiques and they have the most incredible jewelry that I used for all the girls. And then there's a really cute vintage store in Red Hook, Brooklyn called Bopkat. And Ten Cent Single in Williamsburg was also great. We started out with proper girdles but we went to spanx a lot--spanx was our friend to create a lean line under the pencil skirt.
Click through for more photos of Crabtree's work for Pan Am. Pan Am photos: ABC/ERIC LIEBOWITZ