When your job involves Karl Lagerfeld giving you free rein to rummage through the Chanel archives, you know you've got it good. Suzy Benzinger's role as the costume designer for Café Society, coming out in theaters tomorrow, happens to tick that enviable box. But, as she is quick to point out, there's still a lot that people don't understand about her seemingly perfect gig.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg, and Steve Carell, Café Society is set in 1930s Hollywood and features tons of sumptuous fashion inspired by the decade. While Stewart's character is outfitted in sweet, girly outfits—think headbands, printed dresses, crop tops, and socks-with-sandals combos—Lively's character is a bit more grown-up and glamorous in plunging gowns and feathered embellishments.
We chatted with Benzinger to get the scoop on Lively's and Stewart's amazing costumes, what she learned about '30s style, and more.
Scroll down to read our interview with Café Society costume designer Suzy Benzinger!
WHO WHAT WEAR: Tell us a little bit about your background how you got into costume design.
SUZY BENZINGER: I started doing costume design when I was in college. It's all I ever done, I suppose. I worked for Theoni Aldredge, who won an Oscar for The Great Gatsby. I [worked on costumes] for Broadway with her for many years, including Dreamgirls and Miss Saigon.
WWW: What are some of the brands you included in the film?
SB: Chanel and Schiaparelli. During that time period, there was a bit of a competition between Chanel and Schiaparelli. But I reached out to both brands, and both of them were very forthcoming. Karl [Lagerfeld] let me go through the archives in Chanel and pull out things I wanted to copy for Kristen. For Schiaparelli, I sent them my wish list, and they sent me a whole bunch of stuff used in the film. That time period was the beginning of all the major couture houses, so it's fun they still exist.
Chanel loaned us some very expensive jewelry to use in the film. So the stuff you see in the film is the real deal. There were security guards on the set, and Kristen and Blake both wore jewelry from the ['30s] Chanel collection.
WWW: How did you go about researching '30s style? Did you learn anything particularly interesting?
SB: I looked through photographs and as many magazines as I could get my hand on. Not only fashion magazines, but movie magazines. [At the time], the world took from Hollywood fashion. There was a competition with Paris, so Hollywood moguls told them they need to create the styles because by the time the film comes out, the fashion would be late. It was fascinating how the movies changed fashion and how things became huge, huge trends after movies came out.
WWW: Besides Chanel and Schiaparelli, where else did you source the costumes from?
SB: We went everywhere from Torelli in Rome to Angels in London to Western Palace out in California. The real clothes are 80 to 90 years old and a bit fragile. They are great to take patterns off of, but bodies are so different today—the '30s clothes [were so small] that they barely fit mannequins today. So we bought original garments and then we copied them.
WWW: What is something people don't know about costume designers?
SB: People don't realize that it is a lot of work. We don't have as much time compared to the old days—the [fast-paced] schedule is very, very difficult. Especially doing '30s, because it is not like you can easily pull stuff in like you could if you were doing the '70s.
Are you excited about the movie? Tell us in the comments below, and shop our favorite vintage-inspired dresses at Reformation!