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How Ocean's 8's Costume Designer Pulled Off This Year's Most Fashionable Heist

© Warner Brothers

At the heart of Ocean’s 8, the new all-female reboot of the star-studded heist film franchise, is a fashion world scam with outrageously high stakes. Leaving prison after a five-year stint for fraud, Debbie Ocean (played by Sandra Bullock) swaps her regulation orange jumpsuit for a sequined evening dress, then gets to work planning a con that will see her and her gang of criminals steal a multi-million-dollar Cartier diamond necklace from an unsuspecting starlet (played by Anne Hathaway) at the most exclusive event in any A-lister’s calendar: the Met Gala. If this sounds difficult, spare a thought for costume designer Sarah Edwards, who was tasked not only with dressing eight leading ladies (an anomalous scenario in the film industry), but with recreating the most exclusive party of the year, complete with one-off designer gowns, celebrity cameos and, yes, Anna Wintour. So, how did she pull it off?

First, it was a case of carving out a clear fashion identity for each of the film’s eight protagonists: Sandra Bullock’s Debbie, Cate Blanchett’s nightclub owner Lou, bored soccer mom Tammy (Sarah Paulson), diamond expert Amita (Mindy Kaling), washed-up fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), sleight-of-hand trickster Constance (Awkwafina), actress Daphne (Hathaway) and scene-stealing hacker Nine Ball, played by real-life Met Gala queen Rihanna. ‘It’s so important in a heist movie that you can follow each character and know immediately which one is which – especially with so many stars,’ Edwards explains. ‘It was really important that they didn’t cross into each other’s style.’

© Warner Bros

This meant that her daily meetings with the actresses – which, as she’d go from room to room to check in with each, became jokingly referred to as ‘hospital rounds’ – required her to constantly check off each character’s wardrobe against the others’ in her mental inventory, no mean feat when Sandra Bullock had 65 costume changes, and Cate Blanchett 40-odd. ‘If one of them would say, “Oh, can I have a leopard print coat?” I had to say, “No sorry, Cate’s already had that!” she laughs. The actresses’ camaraderie, however, made a potentially difficult job much easier. ‘They were all really great about understanding that I had eight leading ladies to costume,’ the designer says. ‘They really were a team with each other. If I was with Sandy and Cate needed something, she immediately understood that I had to step away; if I was with Cate and then Mindy had something going on, it’d be the same, and so on.’

Debbie, Sandra’s character, is the younger sister of Danny Ocean, the protagonist of the most recent Ocean’s trilogy played by George Clooney. When Edwards looked back at these films to ‘get a feel for the tone,’ she decided to bring a little of Danny’s ‘cool sophistication’ to Debbie, especially in the film’s opening scene, where she leaves jail in a beaded evening gown. ‘That was a very deliberate choice; to echo [Danny] coming out of prison in the tuxedo [in Ocean’s 11],’ the designer reveals. ‘She couldn’t come out of prison in jeans and a t-shirt: we had to start off with a bang.’ Throughout the film, Debbie sticks to darker colours and simple, fluid shapes in luxe fabrics, a deliberate choice from Edwards, who ‘wanted her to be very sleek, polished and minimal, so she could be stylish but move effortlessly, somewhat under the radar but very glamorous.’ Much has already been made online of Cate Blanchett’s character’s rock and roll, androgynous style, inspired by old photos of rock stars and music industry types. ‘There’s a picture of Keith Richards from the early ‘70s in a three-piece suit that Cate and I really loved,’ the designer says. ‘We used that picture when we collaborated with Burberry on making her suit.’

© Warner Bros

It’d be near impossible to pull off a sartorial feat like Ocean’s 8 without the help of the fashion industry, and Burberry wasn’t the only label to get involved. The team at US Vogue, who were indispensable in fact-checking the film’s fictional Met Gala, also helped make introductions to some of the designers who eventually came on board, though the final call was with Edwards. ‘We reached out to a very short list of people,’ she recalls. ‘They had weeks to make these gowns, when often they have a year to do something like that for the Met Gala. It was a really big ask, and some designers weren’t able to commit to the time constraints.’

Luckily, the actresses themselves were often well-placed to pull in a few favours behind the scenes. ‘There were designers who already had relationships with our girls, and were jumping through hoops to make it happen,’ she adds. Givenchy provided a sequined jumpsuit from their archive for Cate Blanchett’s Met moment, while Valentino outfitted Anne Hathaway (just as they have done for numerous real life Met Galas). Given that the film’s plot hinges upon the jaw-dropping Cartier necklace worn by Hathaway’s character, her gown had to showcase that, making Valentino’s brief the most complex. ‘Valentino was really patient as they had a lot to work with story-wise,’ Edwards explains. ‘They couldn’t do a high neck; the front had to be incredibly simple for the huge piece of jewellery, so we had all the drama in the back with the train. We were asking for something so specific, and we were incredibly grateful that they were able to do it in time, and that the result was incredibly beautiful.’

© Warner Bros

Once each of the eight protagonists had their Gala outfit, it was time for Edwards to oversee the styling of the hundreds of extras that populated the film’s gala, including some very high-profile celebrity cameos - think Serena Williams, Gigi Hadid, Katie Holmes and a full complement of Kardashian-Jenners, Kim, Kylie and Kendall. ‘A lot of those cameos were people with very busy schedules – a commitment would often happen very last minute,’ she explains. Though she and her team came armed with rails of designer gowns (sourced with the help of fashion PR agency KCD) in which to dress the extras, in some cases it wasn’t logistically possible to pre-plan their outfits. ‘If they had lines, if they were able to commit far enough in advance, we dressed them, but if not, they’d arrive in their own clothes. We’d meet with them and try and help them out in any way possible.’ While Heidi Klum was dressed head to toe by Edwards’ team, but Kim Kardashian West rocked up in her own (sheer) Givenchy gown. Gala scene aside, the film has another Very Important Cameo appearance: US Vogue’s Anna Wintour. So, did Edwards get to style the world’s most famous – and most formidable – editor-in-chief? ‘She came in her own clothes. I would not presume to dress Anna Wintour!’

Ocean’s 8 releases in UK cinemas on 18th June

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