How Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard’s Costumes in 'Allied' Balance Historical Accuracy and Creative License

The goal wasn't to exactly copy vintage records, says Academy Award-nominated designer Joanna Johnston.
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Photo: Paramount Pictures/Daniel Smith

"Allied" co-stars Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt are both beautiful enough on their own. But surround them with gorgeous scenery, add beautiful cinematography and outfit them in carefully created costumes, and you've got a really pretty two hours in the theater — which is just what "Allied" delivers. The film, out this week, follows the story of two military operatives during World War II who fall in love after pretending to be a couple while on assignment in Morocco. Reunited in London after a successful mission, the couple seems headed for domestic bliss—until it turns out that all may not be as it seems.

Grounding the story in its historical context without losing creative or curatorial vision was important to Joanna Johnston, the film's costume designer. With past credits that include "Saving Private Ryan," "Forrest Gump" and "Lincoln," Johnston is no stranger to creating pieces that feel rooted in another decade or century. But she insists that interpretation when it comes to costuming is key, as the point is to paint a picture rather than create a perfectly accurate historical document.

marion cotillard brad pitt allied

Photo: Paramount Pictures/Daniel Smith

"I wanted to ground it in the time, but I also wanted to give it its own look," Johnston told Fashionista over the phone. " So you kind of pick and mix, in that regard. I think it’s a very attractive period, and it looks good to our contemporary eyes at this point in time, so it's not difficult to make it look good for the film."

As the '40s were a well-documented time photographically, it wasn't difficult for Johnson to find images and film clips to reference as she designed for "Allied." Still, she's quick to reassert that nothing besides the military uniforms seen throughout the film are lifted exactly as they were from historical references. (Check out some sketches in the gallery below.)

"Nothing was a straight copy," she explained. "It was a whole load of different influences or parts that go into making your interpretation for the film." Though Johnston played around with vintage pieces, even having Pitt try on an original service uniform during a fitting, she says that in the end, everything — even shoes — were custom-made for the movie.

The most difficult part of the process had to do with scaling that level of customization for a large cast that included extras and crowded party scenes, but none of the challenges felt insurmountable. And having a close relationship with the film's Emmy-winning hair and makeup designer Daniel Phillips helped make many other aspects of designing for the film go smoothly.

"You need to be tight, across hair and makeup and costume," Johnston says. "I have this proposition to design something in a certain way, then Daniel will come on, we have the conversation and all of that becomes wrapped into the whole. We work very closely and I show him every color I'm using."

Beauty was particularly important in Cotillard's case, as she sports a glamorous curled bob and red lip throughout much of the film. Maintaining that old Hollywood glamour even after Cotillard's character transitions from belle of the ball to domesticated housewife was "all in the cut," when it came to clothing. "She's still Marion, and she wears clothes very well," Johnston commented. "I have to say, you could put her in something that is not so gorgeous and she'd still look beautiful."

Photo: Paramount Pictures/Daniel Smith

Photo: Paramount Pictures/Daniel Smith

All of Cotillard's looks were lovely, from her silky evening gowns to her high-waisted pants. But her lacy, elegant sleepwear stands out particularly, especially in contrast to the leggings and oversize tees many of us will wear to bed at night. So were nightgowns that gorgeous really common in the '40s, or was Johnston trying to communicate something in particular with those gorgeous negligees?

"Both," she laughs. "People really had beautiful underwear and beautiful nightwear, particularly the French, in that day. But I was also trying to communicate something about her as a woman." Something we would all do well to keep in mind before slipping into our pjs tonight.

"Allied" opens on Nov. 23, 2016.

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