Interview With Water For Elephants’ Costume Designer Jacqueline West

In Water For Elephants, costume designer Jacqueline West helps Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz to recreate the whimsical glamour of 1930’s circus life.  Jacqueline, a fashion designer by trade, got her start working with director Philip Kaufman on The Unbearable Lightness Of Being starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Since then she has gone on to design costumes for award winning films including The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. We spoke to Jacqueline about what it was like to run away with the circus and design for the retro style of the era.

Real Style: What were the challenges creating circus and period costumes in Water For Elephants?

Jacqueline West: The main challenge was having to make it all. It just doesn’t exist in costume houses. The genuine articles just didn’t survive. I guess it was all the wear they got in real circuses. Near the end of the shoot though an old friend of mine from where I have a ranch in the Sierra Foothills visited me on set with a stash of maybe five perfectly preserved costumes she found in an old warehouse in Oakland. They were gorgeous. I bought them all and somehow managed to get them into the Weehawken parade scene.

Real Style: What was it like was it working with Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson?

Jacqueline West: It was a treat working with them both. Reese was lovely, collaborative and game about wearing all the very slinky and revealing performance costumes and the very bare thirties gowns and had the perfect body to make them all look alluring. We watched thirties films together and she studied the film goddesses of the era and really got the body language down perfectly. She’s a fabulous actress. It’s wonderful working with good actors! Rob was wonderful. I’d only seen him as a very pale vampire. It was so much fun to see how manly and handsome and period he could become in thirties working class “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” roustabout clothes. He too is very serious about his acting and wore them so well and managed to be so of the period.

Related: Reese Witherspoon Water For Elephants Get The Look For Less

Real Style: You have worked on a lot of period pieces, how do you ensure you get the right feel of each era?

Jacqueline West: I studied Art History at Berkeley. Those years trained my eye for detail and made me passionate about research.  For me it’s all about doing the research and being a slave to it in order to get it right. It’s about seeing the details in the research and then reproducing them. It must have been looking at all those drapery folds in paintings.

Real Style: How do women create their own retro wardrobe at home?

Jacqueline West: I think a woman with style will always be able to find the right pieces, either in vintage shops, flea markets, their mom’s and grandmother’s closets and even in boutiques and department stores, and create any look she wants, look right in it and make the look her own no matter what period.

Related: Copy Reese Witherspoon’s Water For Elephants Hair & Makeup

Real Style: What’s next on the horizon for you?

Jacqueline West: I’m currently doing Argo for Ben Affleck and not sure what’s next. I hope to do The Hatfields And The McCoys with Brad Pitt next year.

Related: Interview With Mad Men Costume Designer Janie Bryant

[Photos courtesy of Fox Home Entertainment]

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