Jackie's Costume Designer on How She Collaborated With Chanel
When we speak with Madeline Fontaine, the costume designer behind the new much-anticipated Jackie Kennedy biopic, she confides, “Honestly I hope I did not betray the memory of this American icon.” And we can understand the pressure. The stakes are high for Jackie, the Natalie Portman film debuting today—it’s not just responsible for depicting an American style icon but also a tragic and important piece of history. “It is very delicate to be confronted by personalities that have existed and are still living in so many memories,” Fontaine says.
Thankfully, she is just the kind of expert who can tackle such a challenge. With costume credits that include Amélie and Yves Saint Laurent, the French designer walked us through how she went about preserving Mrs. Kennedy's memory. From nailing Jackie O's signature silhouettes and never-a-hair-out-of-place appearance to the historic pink suit she created with the help of Chanel, which Jackie famously wore the day President Kennedy was assassinated, Fontaine's work in Jackie is ultimately an ode to it all.
Scroll down for our exclusive interview.
WHO WHAT WEAR: Was Jackie Kennedy someone you admired before this project?
MADELAINE FONTAINE: I knew her for her elegance, her style, and her smiles. She was an icon of fashion and as First Lady represented the "perfect" look and attitude, but I can not say I admired her. My impression and feeling changed while discovering the person, her fragilities, and her distress. She became human (Natalie brought her to life!).
WWW: What were some of the most surprising things you found in your preparation?
MF: Every project requires research to approach the reality of a period, of a context, of characters. What has been apparent for this one was the enormous amount of visual information. The family has been photographed so often, like no one else, and all the events are immortalized. I have been surprised how perfect looking they were in every situation, and probably they were incredibly conscious that a photographer could steal a picture anytime.
WWW: You mention a high level of perfection in her appearance. What did that take to achieve?
MF: It’s something you can see with luxury [fashion]. The cuts and fabrics might be the best (without being ostentatious). The houses of couture [during the ’60s] used to make an underdress very close to the body, and the dress a bit more loose to live around the maintained body. We did that, too. Then the hats (that I have read Jackie didn't like so much) and the gloves finished the outfit.
WWW: How much of the costumes did you make?
MF: We made all the costumes. They had to match the footage or the pictures of reference. Some pieces we used came from vintage resellers, couture, and jewelers. Nothing was authentic to the [history]—the pink Chanel suit she wore when JFK was assassinated is kept sealed. The pink suit we made for Natalie had buttons, chain, and the period label, lent by Chanel.
WWW: Isn't that similar, if not exact, to how Jackie’s original pink suit was created, with borrowed Chanel materials?
MF: The Chanel press person, Elsa Heizmann, called me when she heard about the project to propose a collaboration. It was not possible for us to lose the control of the process so we made the costumes in our workshop. Chanel chose the choice of the fabric, the color, and the quality of the workmanship, and proposed buttons and a label.
WWW: What details in these costumes still translate to modern day style?
MF: The fashion is still sensible to this period, very feminine. It's still comes back as a reference [in current fashion]—I cannot say if it has to do with the ’60s fashion or more precisely with Jackie. The height of the heel, the length of the skirts and dresses, the proportions very close to women bodies are still referent of eternal femininity.
WWW: Which of the costumes are you most proud of?
MF: I do not feel proud of any look in particular. I hope they all participate to give credibility and sensibility to this Jackie.
WWW: How much of a role did Natalie Portman play in the costumes for her character?
MF: A lot of costumes were decided by the real story, but we searched together for the few others. She was very involved in finding the way to Jackie.
WWW: How do you think fashion plays a role in telling a story about American politics?
MF: Is it the fashion or the charm of Jackie who helped the political purposes of JFK? I cannot say.