Behind every pair of retro aviator sunglasses, sequin- and leather-adorned dresses, and fur coats seen in the Oscar-nominated blockbuster hit American Hustle, is costume designer Michael Wilkinson. The man responsible for the ’70s-inspired looks managed to make each piece in the film look effortlessly modern, while taking a unique spin on the outfits. So in anticipation of the upcoming Academy Awards this Sunday we decided to dig a little deeper to find out how he chose the looks for the film, and what it was really like to dress Amy Adams.
“We really wanted to think outside the box and not do your typical 1970’s film,” explains Wilkinson at the 2014 Costume Designer Guild Awards. “David O. Russell had to really encourage me to go very, very deep with my investigation of these characters and to sort of get outside of my usual comfort zone and be a little bold with my decisions. So looks like it’s sort of paying off.”
The film—which stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, and Bradley Cooper—has earned ten Academy Award nominations for the leading stars (Bale, Adams, Lawrence, Cooper), director, costume designer, and the ensemble as a whole. “It was just such an honor to work with five of the most gifted actors on the planet and to create with them, these very idiosyncratic, highly imaginative characters,” Wilkinson added. “We really wanted to make it such a really full‑bodied film that was just surging with life and we’re glad. You know all of these actors are so impassioned. Their triumphs are huge, but their flaws are also pretty huge. And so it’s great to really show that full spectrum of humanity.”
As for dressing Adams in those sexy deep v-neck ensembles (see the gunmetal sequined gown above), Wilkinson was only left in awe when it came to collaborating with the Golden Globe-winning actress—who was also honored with the Lacoste Spotlight Award at the CDG Awards. “She’s the ultimate chameleon. She can play a nun, or a princess and now in our film, she’s just this incredible seductress and hustler. And there’s nothing she can’t do,” he says. “She’s very professional and she was there in the fitting room with me for hours. We had forty costume changes to work out, and we see her in the film transform from a simple small town girl to the most sophisticated dresser in Manhattan. It was great to trot that journey with her.”
Want more American Hustle? Take a style note from Michael Wilkinson’s work and shop ’70s-inspired looks in our gallery!
—Josephine Cusumano with reporting by Brianna Deutsch