Catherine Martin, who has won two Academy Awards for Costume Design and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration on the French-themed musical Moulin Rouge in 2001, has two noms for one movie again this year: The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann. The Warner Bros remake based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel garnered Martin nominations for Costumes and Production Design. As with Moulin Rouge, Martin’s sets in The Great Gatsby were wondrously extravagant. The set decorator nominated with Martin is Beverley Dunn. Simply put, the production design was (in combination with the special effects team) colorful, intricate 1920s eye candy. Martin recently won an Art Directors Guild Award for her work on the film.
To design Jay Gatsby’s world, Martin says, she followed her husband Luhrmann’s lead. “He wanted to create Fitzgerald’s New York as creative and exciting as it was for Fitzgerald. He wanted it immediate and how it would feel for him.” The Times Square of 1920, for instance, of the Luhrmann/Martin vision became an exciting, colorful, crowded, roaring party as were the actual parties of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). In one of the pool scenes, an inflatable zebra is seen in the pool, which had people questioning the historical accuracy. In the book, Fitzgerald writes specifically about an air mattress he describes as a “pneumatic mattress,” but as Martin explains, “I researched inflatable pool toys to see what shapes existed and how they were made. When we put the first trailer out, you see girls cavorting with inflatable zebras and that came directly from research. Inflatables had been around since the late 19th century. The Macy’s parade started in the 1920s. What I enjoy about production design is that you are able like a detective you are able to discover and challenge your perceptions.”
She said that Luhrmann and were interested in all the details that makes Fitzgerald’s world as realistic as possible. “He wants specific research, documentary support and wants to see absolutely that what we are doing is about representing the time truthfully, what it felt to be in the 1920s with the understanding that we are also telling a story.” The costuming of Jay Gatsby came directly from the book as Fitzgerald refers to Brooks Brothers; there is also a reference of the pink suit. “Brooks Brothers not only is it mentioned, but Fitzgerald was a lifelong customer with Brooks Brothers,” says Martin. “In the book, Tom Buchanan says that Gatsby [who longed to be part of the Ivy Leaguers] ‘can’t be part of the establishment because he wears a pink suit, for crissakes.’ So this became kind of an obsession. I started looking, and I found it in the Brooks Brothers archives. They had made a seersucker suit in pink since late the 19th century, so we were able to locate it.”
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What Martin also learned about the 1920s in this country was how fashion started to evolve to a more casual dress code. “In the novel — and this surprised me enormously — it says Nick saunters over in his white flannels. … I thought it was a mistake. I thought he would always wear a dinner suit or a tail suit. A tuxedo was considered very casual in the 1920s. In doing the research, it became apparent that the casualization of America was actually starting at this point. And what the flannels established is that you were part of an Ivy League. Tom Buchanan doesn’t get changed for dinner. He is still in his polo outfit when he sits down for dinner. It’s part of the journey of America really claiming sportswear as its fashion moment in the 20th century. It was the barefoot luxury, I suppose. If you were rich enough and powerful enough, you didn’t have to be ostentatious in the way you dressed.”
It took Martin and her team about 14 weeks to build, paint and decorate the Great Gatsby mansion. The film had a total of 42 sets that ranged from a gallery layered head to toe with huge oil paintings and a grand piano and fireplace to a small guest cottage filled with modest belongings like books, an old radio and a Victrola. Martin also is up for a Costume Designers Guild Award for her work. The ceremony is set for February 22 at the Beverly Hilton.