How Allied’s Costume Designer Gave Brad Pitt And Marion Cotillard The Old Hollywood Treatment

allied brad pitt marion cotillard costume

by Katie Rosseinsky |

When the trailer for Allied landed earlier this year, it wasn’t just the chemistry between Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard that caught the eye: equally worthy of attention were the Forties period costumes, with their defiantly old-school glamour. From the pristine three-piece suits worn by Pitt to Cotillard’s languid eveningwear (which rivals that of Keira Knightley in Atonement), the characters’ wardrobes repeatedly steal the scene in Robert Zemeckis’ tale of wartime double-crosses and romantic intrigue.

Such is the skill of Joanna Johnston, the Oscar-nominated costume designer who has outfitted everything from Brit-coms (About A Boy and Love Actually) to imposing period pieces like 2012’s Lincoln and WWII battlefield epic Saving Private Ryan. A frequent collaborator of Zemeckis’, it was Johnston’s idea to take the fashions of the era and add what she describes as ‘a definition, a bit of a gloss’ – to lend Allied’s leads the faintly unreal allure of the principals in an old-fashioned studio movie, rather than, say, opting for the total verisimilitude required of her previous Forties-set projects.

allied costumes brad pitt marion cotillard
Allied costumes ©PARAMOUNT

‘In a way, the war is secondary to this story. It’s not the primary factor. I put it to Robert that I could lift this film up in style, make it a little more glamorous,’ Johnston explains. ‘He was totally up for that.’ So were the two lead actors, who she describes as ‘brilliant. They fully embraced the concept from the start.’ The key to adding this 'definition' was making '95 percent or more' of the principals' costumes from scratch, giving their clothes 'an immediate sophistication. There's nothing more beautiful than something that's bespoke - clothes, shoes, hats, everything.'

A costume designer, Johnston reveals, ‘has to swim very fast very early on,’ and this shoot proved no exception. Faced with a speedy pre-production period, she had little time to devote to research – not that you’d notice. Allied opens in Vichy-occupied Casablanca, making comparisons to the 1942 classic inevitable. Naturally, it became an important point of reference for the designer. ‘Orry-Kelly, who designed the costumes for Casablanca, gave it a look that still feels so chic, even now,’ she says. ‘It’s quite timeless. There’s a simplicity to [Bacall’s character] which I just loved.’ Also in Johnston’s mind was the Bette Davis film Now, Voyager (also shot in 1942), along with a handful of pictures featuring the stars of the day – Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck, Katherine Hepburn and Merle Oberon.

allied brad pitt marion cotillard costume
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in 'Allied' ©Paramount

Fashion plates and contemporary photographs also played their part in Johnston’s research, as did original vintage pieces – the designer credits Portobello Market as her favourite. Giving the film’s wardrobe an old-school ‘lift,’ however, meant that she didn’t have to strive for absolute authenticity: Allied’s take on the 1940s is an interpretation, rather than a facsimile. ‘In this quite heightened world, the costumes sit fine in the 1940s, but they’re not 100 percent perfect 1940s styles,’ she explains. ‘They have something which is agreeable to today’s eye. It’s not otherworldly. I like the fact that you can appeal to an audience through the clothing – that an audience can look at a film and go, “Oh, I’d love to wear that dress.”’

Just one of the pieces you’ll leave the cinema coveting is the pale green evening gown worn by Cotillard’s undercover agent, Marianne, at a lavish embassy drinks party that turns into a full-scale siege. As Johnston puts it, ‘you could easily wear that today. I wanted to do something that was sculptural, but fluid – that’s an idea that went through a few of [Marion’s] costumes. The sculpture comes through the bodice, the peplum and the sleeves, but there’s a fluidity to the fabric. It’s got a strength and a femininity all at the same time.’ She describes Cotillard’s outfits as ‘simple in observation but difficult in construction. You don’t want costume to look too complicated.’

allied costumes brad pitt marion cotillard
Allied costumes ©PARAMOUNT

Marianne, however, is harbouring a secret, and once the film’s action moved to London, a subtle shift in wardrobe was required. ‘In the first half of the story, there’s a sharpness and definition in the design,’ Johnston says. ‘Then when she goes to London, there’s less clarity to her clothes – that very subtly runs underneath the story line.’

While Johnston doesn’t like to play favourites when it comes to her designs (‘You guys always ask me that! It depends on the day of the week…’), she sees one outfit in particular as the unsung hero of the piece – and it’s worn by neither Pitt nor Cotillard. ‘What people don’t comment on in this film, but I’m very fond of, is the baby daughter’s three-piece pram outfit. That pram coat with the matching bonnet – a friend of mine’s mum knitted those in Inverness, up in Scotland. I think it steals the scene.’

Allied arrives in UK cinemas on 25th November.

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READ MORE: Watch Brad Pitt And Marion Cotillard In An Exclusive New Clip From Allied

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