Hearing that Sofia Coppola would be making a feature film about The Bling Ring--that group of Los Angeles teens who robbed a bunch of celebrity homes in 2008 and 2009--was quite possibly the best news I've ever gotten. Sofia + spoiled L.A. teenagers + crime + the inimitable Alexis Neiers?? Sign me up.
Before interviewing The Bling Ring costume designer Stacey Battat--who met Coppola while working at Marc Jacobs years ago--I attended a screening of the film last week. I was a little nervous as I'd heard a few negative reactions. While the film may not succeed on all counts, it does succeed in its portrayal of attractive, bored, celebrity-obsessed teens with a reliable internet connection and no regard for consequences. My 15-year-old self was jealous of their mere proximity to Robertson Blvd. Not to mention the young Hollywood-esque outfits Nicki, Rebecca, Emily, Claire and Marc wore while they strolled into Kitson.
In addition to checking out the celebrity-frequented boutique, Battat flipped through celebrity tabloids for research. "We definitely looked at US Weekly," she told us over the phone. "We got back issues to 2003--there were stacks and stacks of them in the office. In Style I looked at a lot and just Los Angeles is inspiration. I did watch that show Pretty Wild."
One thing that's not entirely clear in the film is the time period. While the incidents the film depicts took place in 2008 and 2009, the technology and music used in the film is more recent, and some of the fashions are actually a bit older. According to Battat, the main reason the film does not commit to a specific date is the ever-important Juicy Couture sweatsuits, which Nicki (inspired by Neiers and played by Emma Watson) and her sisters frequently sport while being home schooled by Leslie Mann: "We really wanted to be able to use Juicy sweatsuits, but it also didn’t make sense to make the movie in this day in age without iPhones and Twitter. So we kind of thought, we want both of those things so we’ll just be a little ambiguous about the time."
Throughout the film, it becomes clear which celebrities the teen characters idolize because of who they talk about and point out in magazines, and, of course, who they decide to rob: Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Lindsay Lohan. Naturally, the characters' style would be influenced by those people. "I looked at those people's style, but I wasn’t married to [imitating them] because all of those celebrities dress very differently. You know, Megan Fox is very different from Paris Hilton."
A distinction that also had to be reflected in what was found in each celebrity's "home."
"We we were very careful with what we planted in each person’s house--Megan Fox had a Rick Owens jacket and Paris had a pink Herve Leger dress and Rachel Bilson had Chanel."
To give each home a realistic feel, Battat consulted with the production designer ("[Filling each home] was definitely too big of a job for one person") about what each house should have in it. "Sometimes I just told [the production designer] which brands to find and put in the house. Other times, I gave her some of the best stuff [the costume department] had to put in the foreground and then they filled up the rest of the house with less important stuff. We did the best that we could to make it look authentic and luxurious in the time that we had."
In the film, each house appeared filled to the brim with luxury brands (Paris Hilton's more so)--the Louis Vuitton in particular was hard to miss. It seemed that at least one character left each crime scene with a monogrammed bag in tow. "The Louis Vuitton, the Dior, I would say a good chunk of it was borrowed," Battat told us. WWD recently attributed the film's abundance of both brands to Coppola's personal relationships. Battat continued, "I’m pretty sure that if we had paid for all the furs and bags and jewels we had in the movie, that would have been the whole budget."
The priciest items, of course, were the jewels--which included Bulgari and Dior Fine Jewelry. Battat recalled filming one scene, in which tables are covered in heaps of expensive-looking jewels and accessories, labeled in "Evidence" bags and covered in "Crime Scene" tape. "There were like 10 guards there [during the taping of the scene]. Each [jewelry company] sends like two guards, so there was a lot of guarding." They had a reason to guard: According to Battat, all the jewels were worth millions.
Battat also used styling and brands to shape the characters and their development throughout the movie. "In the beginning, they wore more generic things like those kinds of girls usually would wear like H&M and Urban Outfitters. They wore Free City; They wore Wild Fox." Later on, as they accumulated more stolen goods, you see them in labels like Herve Leger, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Rick Owens. However, Battat feels--and I agree--that Marc had the biggest character arc. "Marc was kind of a sweet kid that was a little bit lost. He just wanted to be accepted and the rest of them had already arrived in a way, like they were already going to Les Deux, and I just wanted to show that he kind of was a little bit insecure or uncertain of himself and then became more confident. [After being accepted into Rebecca's group,] he finally arrives in a way and I hope that was conveyed."
One standout item in the film is a pair of hot pink pumps illegally obtained by Marc--which actually fit him. They were made custom for the film by Louis Vuitton. We couldn't help but wonder if the character's name was a nod to Coppola's bestie (and Vuitton designer) Marc Jacobs.
And probably not coincidentally, last night's L.A. premiere of the film was co-sponsored by Vuitton, which Coppola wore. Breakout star Katie Chang wore Dior.
While The Bling Ring may not go down as one of the best films of our generation, it's pretty perfect aesthetically (as Coppola's films tend to be) and should go down, I think, as one of the best visual portraits of this generation and its obsession with celebrity culture and wealth. You know you wanna see it. It's out next Friday.