• Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby
  • Costume and production designer Catherine Martin

With the recent opening of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Tory looks back on what she loves about F. Scott Fitzgerald. We talked to the film’s costume and production designer, too.

“Dr. Eckleburg’s all-seeing eyes. The green light at the end of the dock. Old, mannered East Egg vs. new, brash West Egg. Like so many 9th graders, I once wrote about the symbolism and allegory in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but long after the chapter-by-chapter nuances of my English Lit class faded, the images Fitzgerald created remained.

“Gatsby opened up a new world to me, one that included The Beautiful and Damned, This Side of Paradise and my favorite, Tender Is the Night. The Twenties inspired me — the brassy, energizing sound of the Jazz Age; the revolutionary fashion; the culture and counterculture hurtling toward each other. And there was Fitzgerald himself, who was so glamorous and tragic in the way that only larger-than-life characters can be.

“Anytime anything Fitzgerald- or Gatsby-related comes up, I absorb it, from the 1974 film with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow to the more recent six-hour stage extravaganza Gatz. Last week, I saw Baz Luhrmann’s hyper-stylized take on Gatsby and was transported again, to the vibrant “blue” sprawling lawns of Gatsby’s near-vulgar estate, the bacchanalian Saturday night parties, the incredible costumes.

“You knew you were in the Twenties, but it was relevant to the here and now. Jay-Z’s soundtrack had the spunk and frenetic energy of Jazz Age-era music, but the songs and artists were all modern.

“For the movie, Luhrmann worked with costumer (and his wife) Catherine Martin, to create a style that looked back and forward in the same moment. Tory Daily asked Catherine about her soft spot for Daisy, inspiring strong women and balancing work and marriage.” — Tory

Catherine Martin Q&A

Before Gatsby, did you have any Jazz Age icons?
I really admired Josephine Baker. She’s about a change in thinking. Even though she suffered indignities and great racism, it was the birth of much more freedom of thought. She was a big thinker. The most salient thing about the Twenties is that it was one of the most revolutionary times for women. It paved the way for the feminist revolution.

And then Daisy Buchanan is at the other end of the spectrum…
She was a very interesting character for me. She’s a product of her times. Bred to be a society trophy wife, she achieves that by the time she’s 18 and then realizes that it’s hollow. But she’s not trained to do anything else. She’s a bird in a gilded cage. Daisy has enormous charm and charisma. That bursts out of the screen with Carey Mulligan. You can’t help but see why a boy from Nowheresville is attracted to this enormously sophisticated, attractive girl who is the pinnacle of what he imagines people who live the great life are like.

So you like her.
I like her. I don’t want to be her. I find it frustrating, because I’m a doer. But I think she’d be fun to wile away an afternoon with.

And then you worked with another strong woman, Miuccia Prada, on the film.
How did that come about?

It came out of two things: a very long friendship Baz has with Miuccia, and one of the design precepts he gave me, which was that he wanted the world of New York not to feel nostalgic. He wanted young, visceral and modern, as it would have felt to Scott and Zelda or to the characters. The skyscrapers and hemlines and hair were going up. People were dancing on tabletops. We were in the Jazz Age. And I think that Miuccia and Baz both use historical references in their work, but their work projects to the future. And I thought how interesting it would be to inject the party scenes with that excitement. It was a subliminal wink to the current.

What’s your favorite trend to come out of the Twenties?
>Either beaded fringe or a tango shoe. The tango shoe is sort of strange and beguiling and a weird combo of 20th and 19th Century. It can look enticing.

The key to working with family successfully?
I think it’s arguing a lot. A sense of humor. Which thankfully I don’t think we take ourselves too seriously. And remembering that today’s rooster is tomorrow’s feather duster. Pride does come before a fall. It’s about open dialogue and opinions being shared.

Favorite films (other than Baz’s)…
The Wizard of Oz changed my life because it was such an extraordinary journey to take when I was 10. And I was so scared of the monkeys, and it put me on such a trip. I loved it. I wanted ruby slippers and blue socks. It was so wrong, it was right. And then from a fashion perspective, the movie that changed my life when I was 13 was Gone with the Wind — just the whole design of it.

Favorite Fitzgerald book…
With Fitzgerald, to know the book is to know your firm favorite. I’m sure if I read the others, they would be new favorites. But right now it’s The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby book cover from Paste; movie still and Catherine Martin portrait courtesy of Warner Brothers

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