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Janicza Bravo and Maggie Gyllenhaal on the Complexities of Female Director Style

"There's no precedent for what a woman director wears to their premiere."
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Janicza Bravo

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Janicza Bravo

With awards season in full swing, Hollywood has been buzzing with star-studded events this week, including a Women's History Month-themed panel discussion hosted by Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills featuring exceedingly well-dressed filmmakers Maggie Gyllenhaal and Janicza Bravo. Having recently made the transition from actor to director, Gyllenhaal has been navigating how to dress for public appearances while representing this new, historically male-dominated position. 

"There's no precedent for what a woman director wears to their premiere," she observed during the discussion. "There's a little precedent, but we get to make it up. So do we dress like men? How much does femininity play into it? How much does sexuality play into it?"

Gyllenhaal brought up another panel discussion she was on recently with filmmaker Mike Mills, where she was struck by how little thought her male counterparts put into fashion by comparison.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stefanie Tsen Ward, Janicza Bravo

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stefanie Tsen Ward, Janicza Bravo

"Mike Mills just, like, put on...his regular clothes," she shared with an incredulous smile. The audience of women — who had certainly spent most of their mornings primping and figuring out the right outfit to wear for this chic daytime event — burst into knowing laughter.

The discussion, moderated by journalist Melissa Magsaysay, then delved deeper into the importance of female leadership and representation, and how Gyllenhaal, Bravo and Neiman Marcus SVP Stefanie Tsen Ward have navigated careers in male-dominated fields. But when I got a few minutes two-on-one with the talented filmmakers — who have become good friends throughout all the fancy Hollywood events you get invited to after releasing a buzzy feature film (Gyllenhaal's "The Lost Daughter" and Bravo's "Zola") — I was eager to talk director fashion, especially with these two women, whose excellent taste and interest in clothing is undeniable. (Bravo even started out as a costume designer.)

They were excited to talk about fashion as well, more so to each other than to me. In fact, they barely seemed to notice I was in the room (I did not mind!), so engrossed were they in each other's thoughts and ideas around personal style and getting dressed for set and appearances. Up for discussion: the hours women spend in glam that male directors can devote elsewhere; the feminine [director] urge to always wear suits to events; simultaneously having breasts and being a director, and more.

Read on for the 10-minute, increasingly unfiltered conversation, beginning with Gyllenhaal's painful account of suddenly losing her carefully curated set wardrobe before filming "The Lost Daughter."

Maggie Gyllenhaal: We [started shooting] 'The Lost Daughter' at the end of September 2020 — so full Covid, no vaccines. Before we left, we were living in a cabin in the woods, and I was ordering everything online. It was all organized. We go back to Brooklyn a couple of days before we leave for Greece, and our suitcases are stolen out of the back of our car the night we arrive. Everything: comfortable this and the best jeans. Everything stolen. I was like, 'Holy shit.'

I just really quickly bought all these clothes that I thought were sensible. And then I got to Greece and I was scouting, and I just did not feel like myself. I was like, 'This is not me.' I felt awkward and strange. I ended up going one day to a couple of shops on this island, buying a couple of things that felt a little more expressive and a little more like myself, and I felt a lot better. I still think you have to look and feel like yourself when you're getting dressed. 

Gyllenhaal in Rodarte at the 2021 Gotham Awards

Gyllenhaal in Rodarte at the 2021 Gotham Awards

For [formal, public-facing] stuff, it's been a whole trip for me because I do think that doing hair and makeup on some level makes you feel good, but on another level is an extra hour, hour and a half, that Mike Mills and Pedro Almodóvar and Denis Villeneuve and Steven Spielberg just aren't doing... 

I don't know. I think I might be done. I've been really struggling with it the whole time. I always want to feel like myself and I want to express myself with everything I can; it makes me feel better, but it's kind of a lot of work. 

Janicza Bravo: There's this Instagram called @directorfits that I'm very excited to send you.

On my first movie, even on my short films, I was really obsessed with an idea of a uniform: There's a Barbour jacket, there's a hat, and then at its simplest there's a very basic white T-shirt tucked into a pair of jeans or slacks. It can evolve for temperature, and it's also pants that I can sit on the ground in. It's not something I'm self-conscious about.

Bravo in Bode at the 2022 Independent Spirit Awards

Bravo in Bode at the 2022 Independent Spirit Awards

I'm not good at smart shoes because I still care about what things look like a little too much. I did land on a pair of Isabel Marant Velcro sneakers; they're the most comfortable shoe I've ever worn on set, but I'll do a wood clog 'cause I like how it looks. It's the worst shoe though. The worst shoe. 

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MG: I would twist my ankle. There was this woman who basically told me, 'Directors can never wear sandals, because something could fall on your foot or something.' But the way she said it was as if I had never been on a set before, and I was like, 'I spent the last 20 years on sets, and I actually think a director can wear whatever they want. You don't wear sandals if you don't want to wear sandals.' I've seen photographs of interesting directors wearing all sorts of things.

JB: I've had, at the beginning of jobs, someone telling me that I can't [wear something], and I'm like, 'This is good. I'll be fine.'

MG: I'm on a beach in Greece. I'm gonna wear the shoe that I want to wear.

Bravo in Simone Rocha at the 2021 Gotham Awards

Bravo in Simone Rocha at the 2021 Gotham Awards

JB: Like, 'This is the shoe that's gonna make me better at this, you should really get out of my way.'

I have worn suits for so much of my life. And then in 2020, Variety does their 'directors to watch' [shoot] and I found this vintage Kenzo suit. I wore it and then as soon as I walked in, I noticed that all of the other women directors had on suits. I wanted to leave and change. 

I think some aspect of the 'uniform' has some approximation to masculinity. Those before us who have mostly held the job looked great in a suit. And so [now] I'm wearing skirts and dresses more in a way that I hadn't before. I also do actually like wearing pants, but I have made the feminine feel more masc for myself. Last year, when I was promoting the movie, I said to the stylist, 'Skirt suits — that's what I'm into.'

MG: I thought that about the [Independent] Spirit Awards.

Gyllenhaal in Gucci at the 2022 Independent Spirit Awards

Gyllenhaal in Gucci at the 2022 Independent Spirit Awards

JB: Your breasts looked fantastic.

MG: That was also the thing with the Rodarte dress. I was like, 'Wow, what do you do with breasts? You know?' Well, they come with me, and I'm a director.

JB: And sometimes you're not wearing a bra, so it’s like, they'll be what they are.

MG: But on set, I always wear a bra. I actually tuck my headphone thing into the bra strap.

JB: So smart.

MG: I'm really smart.

This interview (if you can call it that) has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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