Cate Blanchett’s fashionable costumes in Blue Jasmine, with her Upper East Side socialite “uniform” of designer labels, tell their own riches-to-rags story.
Certain designer pieces comprise the basic wardrobe of any self-respecting socialite. A Chanel jacket. An Hermes Birkin. A Burberry trench coat. A Fendi baguette bag. A Louis Vuitton suitcase. A Cartier watch. Doubles (and triples) of all of the above.
Costume designer Suzy Benzinger knows this. It’s why she made certain to kit out Cate Blanchett in all the good stuff (minus the Burberry trench) for Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s latest film about an Upper East Side socialite whose husband goes bankrupt, sending her into a downward spiral of mental and financial ruin and forcing her to move in with her hippy sister in San Francisco.
Here was the catch. On a normal film, Benzinger could go out and buy whatever was necessary. Not so with Blue Jasmine, Benzinger’s fifth collaboration with Allen (including Whatever Works, Celebrity and Deconstructing Harry).
With a measly $35,000 budget to fit out the entire cast, as reported by The New York Times, Benzinger had to beg, borrow and steal whatever she could.
Thus most of Blanchett’s wardrobe actually ended up being one-of-a-kind items loaned from leading designers, whom Benzinger had never met; such was their passion for Cate Blanchett and Woody Allen. Think custom-made jackets from Chanel. Bags by Hermes. Clothing from Alberta Ferretti, Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta. Custom-made Roger Vivier shoes.
One birthday party scene required Blanchett to wear at least a million dollars worth of diamonds, including necklace, earrings, bracelet and rings, which naturally called for an armed bodyguard on set. (Almost all of the jewels were on loan from Fred Leighton.)
It also didn’t hurt that Carla Fendi was a friend of Woody Allen’s, so Benzinger could raid the Fendi coffers too. For a scene where Jasmine is shopping with her sister Ginger, Benzinger and Blanchett went to the archive and chose a selection of the famous Baguette bags.
“We went to Fendi initially just to get some bags and a fur coat for her to wear after a gala [in the movie],” Benzinger told Allure. “They let us into the sample room and we saw how fantastic the clothes are. Cate put them on and they were perfect. Luckily, she is a sample size…. You could count on one hand the alterations we had to make.”
Alec Baldwin’s Hamptons style was generously loaned by (who else?) Ralph Lauren. And when it came time to the Hermes Birkin, “we had to have one” Benzinger said to the NYT. “But it was another case of the cost of an Hermès bag is my whole budget.” In the end they borrowed one. “I think I borrowed the PR girl’s bag,” Blanchett told Harper’s Bazaar UK, “but I didn’t find that out until I’d thrown it on the sidewalk for the seventh time.”
The four personalised Louis Vuitton suitcases that Jasmine carts to her sister’s San Francisco doorstep, however, proved slightly trickier to obtain. Without a budget to buy them herself, Benzinger had to beg Vuitton to have them on loan; not so unusual a request, except she couldn’t comply with their “must see the script” policy. Nobody sees Woody’s scripts.
It was Australia that came to the rescue, reported the NYT.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’m never going to get this luggage”, said Benzinger. “But then Cate said, ‘You know, I just opened the Vuitton store in Australia, let’s call them’. And they relented. But first it was a month of begging, begging, begging on the phone.”
Whatever Benzinger couldn’t borrow from then on, she bought at discount. Jasmine’s Marc Jacobs trench coat was bought on sale at Century 21. Her strapless Valentino cocktail dress was bought off the rack at Loehmann’s for $350. Most of Ginger’s outfits came from the Salvos.
The clothes serve as “visual shorthand of what the modern-day wealthy socialite wears”, notes Clothes on Film, who points out the significance of the white boucle wool Chanel jacket with black trim that follows Jasmine from the beginning of the movie to the end. Benzinger teamed it with blouses by other high-end designers such as J. Mendel and Piazza Sempione.
Paired with J Brand jeans, that one item of clothing – a Chanel jacket, a status symbol since 1954 – tells its own story of what is happening to its owner. Namely, Benzinger imagines Jasmine left the matching skirt behind in her haste; but that elegant jacket still says to her “what I had, what I was and what I used to be”.
The story of how Benzinger got that jacket from Karl Lagerfeld (she actually got two copies of the same one) is even better. She sent off a request to King Karl, Chanel’s designer, in the middle of Paris Fashion Week. In other words, an impossible ask.
“So then we called them, we said, ‘We want a Chanel jacket’,” Benzinger told OnScreenStyle. “They said, ‘What Chanel jacket?’ I’m not pouring over fashion magazines all the time — my sister’s eyes were rolling while I was on the phone — I said, ‘Like the iconic one, the one Coco wore’. They asked me to draw what I wanted because I think they were getting frustrated. How embarrassing is this? I didn’t know there were like thousands of Chanel jackets now. So I sent them the drawing, and they said, ‘OK we get it’. When Karl found out it was for Cate, they said to me, ‘Do you mind if Karl shapes it a little bit?’ Of course, I had drawn the jacket that Coco wore in the 1940s, so when we got it back, there was more shape to it. And can I tell you something? A pin never went in that jacket, it was perfect!”
Even when the only thing Jasmine has left are the clothes on her back, she still swans around in that damn Chanel jacket. As Clothes on Film notes, it is then that “the Chanel jacket goes from elegant wardrobe piece to talisman-like security blanket”. She is forced to take a job as a receptionist at a dentist’s office, but Jasmine still has the Chanel jacket draped over her shoulders as if it were any old cardigan.
And when it needed to start looking sullied and shabby from over-use, why, Benzinger had another jacket up her sleeve from the generous Lagerfeld: one for the pristine scenes at the beginning of the film, and the other for Jasmine’s flustered times of financial ruin, at which point Benzinger soaked the jacket in fabric softener and dried it down to roughen it up.
It is a shame Benzinger wasn’t nominated for an Oscar since Jasmine’s wardrobe virtually has its own supporting role in the film, but she was ecstatic to receive her first ever Costume Designers Guild Award nomination (the 2014 awards will be announced on February 22).
As for all her fabulous finds? The Birkin bag is back with Hermes, the Chanel jackets are back with Chanel. “I think [Chanel] was so thrilled that Cate wore them, they wanted to keep them in their archives,” said Benzinger.
More outfits from Cate Blanchett’s designer fashion costume wardrobe for Blue Jasmine!