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How 'Paper Towns' Turned Cara Delevingne into the All-American Girl Next Door

"She wasn’t going to be a supermodel in my room," says costume designer Mary Claire Hannan. "She was going to be Cara, the actor."
Nat Wolff as Quentin Jacobson and Cara Delevingne as Margo Roth Spiegelman in "Paper Towns." Photo: TM & © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Nat Wolff as Quentin Jacobson and Cara Delevingne as Margo Roth Spiegelman in "Paper Towns." Photo: TM & © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

When the big screen adaptation of John Green's young-adult novel "Paper Towns" hits theaters July 24, critics will for the first time have occasion to comment on how model Cara Delevingne is emoting, as opposed to what she's wearing. Or will they? 

Veteran costume designer Mary Claire Hannan is used to working with some of the biggest thespians Hollywood, including Shailene Woodley and Ansel Algort in Green's tearjerker "The Fault in Our Stars," and Julianne Moore in "The Kids are All Right." But while the aforementioned stars may boast serious red carpet cred (and even posed for a few high-fashion campaigns), they don't necessarily have the intimidating supermodel bullet point on their resumés that 22-year-old Delevingne has.

"Paper Towns" is the British model's first major movie role. She plays the pivotal Margo Roth Spiegelman, the elusive crush of the adorkable main character, Quentin "Q" Jacobson (Nat Wolff).  Set in a faux subdivision, "Paper Towns" follows Quentin and his friends as they search for Margo, who goes missing toward the end of their senior year. It's essentially a coming of age story with a central mystery, love, friendships and quintessential high school movie wardrobes.

Hannan took a break from her current project, the fourth "Alvin and the Chipmunks," to talk to Fashionista about developing Delevingne's character through costume, their working relationship and where she found inspiration to dress the rest of the movie's young cast (spoiler: really good '80s high school movies). 

What was your inspiration in dressing the high school age characters for the movie?

I started watching movies from the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Actually it might have been earlier than that. Any movies, high school movies, from "Footloose" to "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" to just a plethora of successful films from when I was growing up like the "Breakfast Club." It was also important to me to make it look very realistic, like high school is now. So the inspiration came directly from going down to high schools and hanging out with these kids. 

How did you convey the mysterious allure of Cara Delevingne's Margo Roth Spiegelman through costume?

First of all, I was dealing with the character, but I was also dealing with the actor/model. So that was another element to be considered because no matter what you’re going to put [Delevingne] in, she’s probably already worn it. So that brought me to a place where I just started creating costumes for her, if it wasn’t a classic timeless piece, like a pair of jeans or a pair of Converse. I started going into thrift stores and cutting up clothes. 

I found I wanted to describe her inner self through her outer clothes, so what I tried to do was create masculine and feminine, like the yin and the yang, the soft and the hard. So, for instance, there was one outfit that I went into a thrift store and I found some silver jeans and I cut them off and I made them shorts and I thought that they were kind of disco and I liked that. That’s how old I am, right?

And then I went into another thrift store down the road and I said to them, 'Do you have anything Victorian by any chance?' [Delevingne] hasn’t worn anything that old, right? I found bloomers with a camisole. They’re not rompers, but an early American undergarment where the bloomer is attached to the camisole so you step into the whole thing. So I bought it and I cut the bloomer part off, so now you just had the top petticoat undergarment — the camisole top — and I put that with the silver jeans that were cut off and I threw a punk belt around her waist. 

So you had soft and you had hard and you had a little bit of a risk-taker disco girl, runaway-edgy and a little bit of rock 'n roll in there. The punk belt was hard and the petticoat little camisole top was soft and feminine and then I stuck a burgundy bra on underneath just to give it a little bit of color and a little bit of sensuality which was also part of her. So it was important to me that we saw this inner turmoil in her, like this runaway kid. It’s almost like a boyish quality in her, how aggressive she could be, but yet [show] the vulnerability inside.

"Wait, so Karl Lagerfeld is the creative director for Chanel AND Fendi?" Photo: TM & © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

"Wait, so Karl Lagerfeld is the creative director for Chanel AND Fendi?" Photo: TM & © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

That actually sounds like something Cara Delevingne would wear in real life. The skinny jeans and hoodie outfit in the trailer also looks like something she would wear. Did Delevingne have much say in her outfits?

Oh yeah, that’s so important to me, because [Delevingne's] the one that carries it. She’s the one that’s in front of the camera. So I got to know her a little bit. You get a feel for somebody really in the first five minutes, so I could see that boyish quality in her. So I knew that I could do a sports bra — it didn’t have to be a girly bra.

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She just loved, she really loved this stuff. She was, with her British accent, going, 'This is sick! I just love this, this is it, we’ve got it!' and she’d run out of the trailer. Because she had never seen this stuff before. She sees me cutting up early American petticoat bloomers and me going, 'Put this on with this burgundy bra.' It was fantastic for her [for me to be] creating stuff and cutting up stuff and finding stuff for her. 

What was it like working with someone with a modeling background?

I have to really approach whomever I’m dressing as a person. So she wasn’t going to be a supermodel in my room. She was going to be Cara, the actor. I lived in Paris for many years and worked with models and that was a very different thing. They stood there, they really didn’t have anything to say. You put clothes on them and it was all about the clothing. Whereas when you’re working with the actor, it’s about the actor. The clothing is second. So when I was in the room with Cara, she would just talk to me about who she thought the girl was and you have racks of clothes in there and you just start pulling thing down off the racks and start cutting stuff up. And you’re listening to her and you’re talking to her, you know? And before you know it, you’re makin’ soup! You’re makin’ pie!

"Is that vamp?" Photo: TM & © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

"Is that vamp?" Photo: TM & © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Delevingne is also known to be kind of a jokester. Were there any funny pranks or moments in the costume room?

Oh, there were lots of those. She’s really got an edge and she’s a really, I mean, she was the character on many levels because she really is a risk-taker, she’s really creative and innovative. She’s not just a pretty face and she’s really, really smart and she’s also a very polite, well-bred English girl. When she’s gone too far and she’s kind of exhausted your patience, she’ll turn around and go, ‘Oh, sorry, I’m just having a good fun. Let’s get back to work.'

I think she’s really got quite an acting career ahead of her. She was beautiful. If I had come from the place of, 'Oh my god, I’m dressing a supermodel. She’s seen it all, she hangs out with Karl Lagerfeld, I’m just me, I can’t do this, I’m not that fashionista person' — if I went into that space — it would have never happened. It’s better for me to just go, look, it’s much more profound, it’s not just surface, we’re taking it from the inside. I’m a costume designer, we’re — me and you — in a room having a conversation. And you have to forget about all the stuff you hear or read or whatever.

Lookin' good, Quentin. Photo: TM & © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Lookin' good, Quentin. Photo: TM & © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Where did you find inspiration to costume the lead character, Quentin (Nat Wolff), and his friends?

It basically comes from a vision at first. It arrives in my head and you get that just by talking to the actors that they’ve cast. Like with Nat Wolff, I thought about who’s really, really smart but who’s really low key about it. And you think of that person that you know and I went from there and I said, 'He wears these kind of shirts.' Once you have that idea in your head, then you go out shopping. I was at Ben Sherman a lot, I was at Rag & Bone and James Perse. Bloomingdale’s carries a lot of really good lines of clothes, like Joe’s Jeans or Hudson Jeans. One character was very trendy so I ended up going down to Topshop and getting inspired by that. 

So Halston Sage, who plays Margo's best frenemy, Lacey. I feel like she’s a star on the rise. How was it costuming her character?

She’s amazing. She’s got this rockin’, hot, sexy body. We wanted to show that off, so we did little tanks and little shorts. But we wanted to show that she wasn’t cheesy. We didn’t start putting her in lots of hot pink or baby blue. Because at some point, she says she’s going to Dartmouth, so I wanted her to be a hottie, but in a smart, classic kind of way. She wore a lot of Rag & Bone booties, t-shirts, shorts. Her tank tops weren’t hot pink, they were grey or off white. She is definitely on the rise. She was really cinematic and she played a marvelous character.

And how different was it creating costumes for this movie than "The Fault In Our Stars?"

Well, I mean, the character Quentin has a wanderlust for this girl, so we were doing things that spark. In doing "The Fault in Our Stars," I was coming from a place, from a girl, who didn’t feel good. So the whole approach was actually sad clothing, clothing that is even more sad that just a t-shirt. So sad that today you think you’re going outside for a walk and you have to go home and throw up and go back to bed.

And then Ansel Algort, the main lead guy, he was like the iconic leading man in the leather jacket, very James Dean to me, with the cigarette in his mouth or Marlon Brando. The jeans and the leather jacket were very different from Nat Wolff  — I wanted [Wolff] to look just simply classic and understated and not like the leading man. Like the guy who doesn’t actually get the leading girl. He and his buddies are all in the background and they’re all talking about girls they’ll never get to have. So even though they were the stars and supposed to be in the front of the camera, I created them as though they were in the back. Like atmosphere.

This interview has been edited and condensed.