Wardrobe chat with the Personal Shopper costume designer.

You’ve got a decade’s practice under Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent and have enjoyed a stint working with Karl Lagerfeld, what’s your next gig? In the case of Jürgen Doering, it’ll involve dressing a group of politically charged teenagers (Something in the Air), helping some French feminists into exquisite 70s flares (Summertime), and setting Juliette Binoche up in a fabulous black frock (Clouds of Sils Maria).

On the eve of the costume designer’s new release – his latest collaboration with the French director Olivier Assayas, it was described as a “marmite sensation” following its debut at Cannes in 2016, receiving a full five stars from multiple outlets – Personal Shopper sees one-time Wonderland cover girl Kristen Stewart playing Maureen, an American in Paris providing practical assistance to the fictional celebrity Kyra.

Tasked with picking out phenomenal couture pieces from the likes of Chanel and Christian Louboutin – slipping into them as and when a transcendent figure requests – by day Maureen opts for a casual uniform of jeans, knits and the prevailing leather jacket. We caught up with Doering to learn more.

You’ve worked with Olivier (Assayas) several times previously. What’s the collaborative process like between you?

We always have the same way of working; we didn’t speak that much (for Personal Shopper). We meet after I read the script – I always ask to have half an hour with him and I write all the names of the characters and I ask him to react very quickly with some adjectives for each character, to have a deep feeling about them; even two or three words about them. And then I meet with the actors and ask them what about the part. Then I bring them slowly to a decision, mixing with the images I have in my head too, and my imagination, which comes out when I read at the beginning.

Similarly you worked with Kristen (Stewart) on Olivier’s Clouds of Sils Maria in 2014. What was it like working with her again?

All these people trust everyone together – Olivier trusts Kristen, Kristen trusts Olivier, Olivier trusts me, Kristen trusts me and I trust her – and you know it was very easy, a luxury working between all of these people because it was very simple. I never have a problem with Kristen; when we first met, she didn’t have time at the beginning before the film (Clouds of Sils Maria), so she gave me also some directions over the phone from California, then she came with her girlfriend to try everything on. Quite easy, everything was ok, you know, we had a good connection. She has good taste and she knows exactly what she wants, that makes it easy.

How collaborative is the process between you and the actors; how much is it your saying and their doing?

There was a rack with all the clothes for the scenes that we had. At the beginning I’m not saying ‘oh this pants with this for this scene’, I would first do a complete look on the girl to find the woman, and then we would put the things in the scene. And that’s what comes after, to show to Olivier. It’s more of a complete view, a direction – a proposition – and she picks everything, and tries them on and we compose like this.

Aesthetically the film is drawn to the contrast between Maureen’s relaxed dress sense and Kyra’s high glamour lifestyle. Was either easier to research than the other?

Everything was easy! I was working in fashion before so all that fashion research was fun for me. I know how people in the fashion houses work and react, so it was not complicated. We were more looking to really connect to the script – finding a red dress from a studio in England – not knowing if we need to do one or need to find one; searching in the V&A collection for a really couture look for Kyra, and then suddenly I found the dress for the other thing in the V&A collection, I showed Olivier and he said ‘oh yeah, that’s it!’. So, it’s being very true, my way of looking at it, it’s being really true to what Olivier wants. And then I try with all the things I’m searching, to feel the script.

You mentioned the V&A. Where else did your research take you?

I went to an old vintage place, not worn vintage pieces, it’s old stuff that’s never been worn, sportswear, mainly, and unisex jeans from the 70s, 80s, 90s. I was shopping in Paris and I found a lot for Kristen there, because it’s not old, too worn like we have today – I wanted her a little bit more vintage preppy and active. You know, a little bit boyish but not too much. I took the sweaters that were a little bit softer, more cosy and sweet a little bit.

And did you, personally, have any preference between the eveningwear and the day time looks?

I loved both, I love all the clothes. It’s not that I preferred luxury or hate jeans or prefer jeans and hate luxury no, I’m not like that, I like everything. It depends which kind of look you want to do, it depends… You enjoy more when the woman can wear both with the same pleasure and the same attitude, because sometimes you’re not so happy to be on luxury pieces because you have an actress that is not fitting, not really feeling it. Then it’s a pain!

The fashion houses that feature are quite prominent in the film. How did you go about selecting ‘Krya’s brands’?

We looked to many, many, many things and Olivier stopped on certain brands. He made the choice and I agreed with it. We didn’t have to fight for that.

And the clothes, they’re all very tactile, in terms of how the camera presents them; the mesh of Kyra’s bra for example, the beaded silver dress. Was this something you were particularly conscious of?

Not really. I was conscious more… It’s very important to make it look real, look authentic. Especially with Olivier, because he never gives up on that which I think it right, when he selects something he says ‘I believe in it’ or ‘I don’t believe in it’. Then, especially in this film, you have to find the silver dress you were looking for at Chanel, but it needs not just to be silver for silver, it needs to look very couture to be credible. Then it’s credible but not credible in the way that you would want to wear that dress – it’s heavy. The material is thick. You can’t sit. It’s not so nice to wear that dress but it is very cinematic. So you need to find a good proportion between the believable thing and the cinematic thing. Sometimes you are not so much on the idea of being cinematic, but in a way yes, because even if there’s not a sense of beauty, there is always a kind of aesthetic, when you see a film there is always a sensibility, even dark even ugly, but in everything there is a certain mood and in that mood, in clothes, we may not like it, find it horrible, but it exists.

Away from Maureen and Kyra, what was your research like for the other characters, Vincent for example. Were their looks based on anyone specific?

Not consciously. I must have had someone in my mind but… I love small characters, I always care about if they like it or they feel well in it. I want these people to look true because the clothes really, when people don’t feel well in their clothes, they look terrible. In a photo it’s terrible, but in film it’s a disaster.

The film is set in Paris. How important was this backdrop to the visual narrative?

Paris was really on my mind, because Cartier, Chanel, everything, so you really… I think we had it strong in our minds because even the jeans with the boots – she looks like a student but in Paris, you put the same look on Kristen and you put her in London, not the same.

Personal Shopper is released nationwide on 17th March.

Like this? Buy the Spring ’17 Issue here.

Zoe Whitfield

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