Meet Marilyn Vance: The Costume Designer Behind Bonnie & Clyde

She outfitted Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, gave Ferris Bueller his leather track jacket, and slipped Molly Ringwald into that iconic pink prom dress. Now? Costume designer Marilyn Vance is bringing her touch to the small screen. Here, she tells all.

Bonnie and Clyde Lifetime

Rue La La: What made you want to do the Bonnie & Clyde miniseries?
Marilyn Vance: When my agent told me about it, I said – oh my god, I would love to reimagine that. Because it’s so different than what you saw in the 1967 feature film with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Which was fabulous, by the way, and made such great fashion statements for that time. But this was really a biopic – their whole true-to-life background, from the time they were born. And this script was just remarkable.

RLL: Since it’s based on a true story, how did you ensure the costumes were historically accurate?
MV: We took them out of the newspaper headlines and recreated them. The way the suits fit Emile. (You know, he was a small guy, that Clyde.) That heavy garrison belt. How he had his guns. I wanted to be as authentic as I could for that period.

RLL: For Holliday Grainger’s Bonnie, too?
MV: Yes, I searched around through old costume houses. Looked at the newsreels and how Bonnie presents herself. We wanted to go into her personality. She was a narcissist. She collected items and carried a suitcase full of mementos – headlines about them robbing banks. She even had these photographers take her photos and she would send them to Hollywood. She was constantly rejected.

RLL: Was there one piece that inspired you most?
MV: For Bonnie, I searched old costume houses and discovered all these knit suits. I started pulling them down, thinking, this is actually amazing. Because I was researching and going through this hardcover Vogue from 1931, and they were featuring these very same suits. And that was my inspiration – this one picture. It was a sketch, actually. The black beret with the pink blouse. That’s how we began.

RLL: Did the cast have input in what they want to wear? Say, for example, Holliday Grainger doesn’t want to wear one of the outfits you put her in, and you have to tweak it. Has that ever happened? 
MV: It could have happened, but it didn’t because I think we were spot-on with her. The minute she walked into the dressing room, she was already speaking like Bonnie. She’s a Brit and has a wonderful accent – and she came in as the character. I made her a board of all the looks from that Vogue of the knit suits and such, and she vogued the Vogue. It was amazing. Amazing. Holliday. What an actress.

The one person who hated her dress, though, was Molly Ringwald.

RLL: For Pretty in Pink? The pink prom dress
MV: Yes! She wanted to be Madonna. You know, she wanted to be in a strapless. She wasn’t even 18 at the time. And I said, You can’t. The other girls are all like that. You’re all on your own. You’re doing vintage fabric, making your own clothing.

RLL: Well, it was definitely worth sticking to your guts there. You’ve had some other pretty incredible past experiences as well. Like Pretty Woman and that amazing red dress Julia Roberts wore.
MV: The red gown was inspired by Madame X. Originally, they didn’t want it red. They wanted black and Garry [Director Garry Marshall] wanted a ball gown like a princess. I had sketches I had to do over and over again to make them understand what it was. They wanted to do a more commercial-looking film, and I wanted to stick to the kind of character she was.

In Ferris Buellertoo – I made him that leather jacket, it’s sort of a cross between a school jacket and a moto jacket – because he was an unusual character and I had to do something quirky. I had to fight for that, too.

RLL: Have you run into other challenges in your career?
MV: What’s crazy about costume design is that no one really knows what goes into it. They just look at it like fashion. But we serve the character. The action. In Bonnie & Clyde, we had to make the clothing you saw coming through the windshield, catching on fire. God knows I wrecked a lot of suits from 1930. In Die HardI made 17 of those T-shirts – one is in the Smithsonian and one is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Crazy, right? I had to have various stages of degradation. And, The Rocketeer – I had 40 jackets!

RLL: Does it feel different to do TV than a feature film? 
MV: Time-wise, yes. It was like doing two feature films. And it was much more intense because of the pace and the action. Fortunately, I’m very used to doing action. That came in handy. But I never thought we were going to go into such depth with Bonnie & Clyde. This script was extraordinary. It was so exciting to get into it, but also very challenging.

RLL: So, how quickly did you have to put everything together? 
MV: It all depends on when we’re shooting. Sometimes we’d shoot the end of a bloody shoot-out first, and then go back to the beginning. When you’re working out of order, you have to have it all ready anyway. Because they’ll call for the middle. They’ll call for the end first. We did that with Bonnie & Clyde. We didn’t do the end at the end.

RLL: What did you film at the end? 
MV: We had the speakeasy scene, which we were all looking forward to because those would be my best clothes. The most dressy, besides Bonnie’s wedding. Beautiful dresses and a lot of authentic jewelry and hats and gloves and purses and shoes. There was great detail involved, even though it was pretty dark. You get the feel that it’s all there.

That’s the thing with film – you do it from head to toe. Even if the camera isn’t focused on it, it’s there. Whoever it is. An extra. A main actor. That helps them feel what they’re doing. I mean, if I came to you right now and tried to put saddle shoes on you, I don’t think you’d be that happy. They wouldn’t be you, right?

RLL: Oh, I’d pretend to be happy. 
MV: Look – then you’re a good actress!

Want more? Go behind the scenes of Bonnie & Clyde with Marilyn in this exclusive clip, then check out our Style Inspired by Bonnie & Clyde Boutique on Wednesday, November 20, at 3PM ET.

By Joanna Berliner, Editor 

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November 20, 2013