You can’t really miss the references to Citizen Kane (1941) in The Great Gatsby (2013). From Gatsby’s ‘incoherent’ mansion folly to the snowfall imagery and Gatsby’s whispered ‘Daisy’ as he dies, you’re left in no doubt that the filmmakers want you to get the parallels between the two tragic heroes brought down by hubris. There are more subtle references waiting to be teased out, but even the most obvious ones carry layers of meaning, often relayed by the intricate set and costume design that, as usual with Luhrmann and Martin, is the result of meticulous research and flawless attention to detail.
Kane’s secret, Rosebud, symbolising the loss of childhood innocence, blossoms into a full-blown visual metaphor in The Great Gatsby through the profusion of flower imagery. Exotic flowers and other natural iconography are central to the art deco style that dominates the set and costume design; they also echo the nineteenth-century Symbolist and Decadent art movements. Daisy’s black and white peony robe and the headscarf worn during the fleeting, nostalgic afternoon she spends with Gatsby and Nick Carraway recall Aubrey Beardsley’s designs for Oscar Wilde’s Salome (1894), while the oversized corsage on Myrtle’s outrageous red number is like something out of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (1857).
Myrtle and Tom’s fantastically gaudy, colour-saturated Harlem apartment, scene of illicit sexual liaisons and desperate hedonism, overflows with flower imagery (note the Fragonard prints on the pink sofa) – you can almost smell the cheap floral scent mingling with booze and other illegal substances as the giddy party people spiral towards oblivion. Gatsby’s mansion and the Buchanan house are the other side of this seductive vision of decadence: the Buchanan’s place has elegant silk floral wallpaper that whispers ‘old money’ while Gatsby’s overblown flower arrangements and the daisy motif inscribed on his art deco floor advertise his newly-rich status (and his obsession). At the other extreme, the cottage where Nick Carraway lives, also festooned with blooms, appears innocent and idyllic, a haven amid the corruption and decadence that surrounds him.
The sets are designed to conjure up a fairytale world, and it’s no surprise that the film’s floral motifs evoke popular myths and stories surrounding flowers, many of which relate to love. One meaning attached to the daisy is loyal love; at the same time, it forms the fickle centre of the game ‘She loves me, she loves me not’, in which its petals are torn off one by one until the player gets the answer to their question. There could hardly be a more resonant metaphor for Gatsby’s insecure relationship to Daisy. The white roses cascading over Nick’s porch symbolise innocence, but also (appropriately for a character who guards so many secrets) silence and secrecy. A white rosebud invokes youth and beauty: the buttonholes worn by Tom and Nick at Gatsby’s party underline the passage of time and loss of innocence at the heart of The Great Gatsby‘s romantic vision. At the tea party staged to impress Daisy, Nick’s relatively austere place is transformed by Gatsby’s anxiety into a florist’s emporium overwhelmed by orchids, which connote love and beauty, visualising the translation of his excessive (and impossible) desire into things.
In this scene, with Nick as a witness, Daisy and Gatsby’s love is apparently rekindled and hope revived. Daisy’s association with flowers is marked in her lilac dress and gloves made of floral-patterned lace – but what are we to make of the epaulettes and skirt fashioned from drooping pieces of grey fabric that look like fading petals? The motif of dropping petals is echoed in other gowns worn by Daisy: she first appears in a white concoction fashioned from falling petals, and in the Daisy character poster (top of page) she’s wearing a rosebud-pink version of the same dress. This emphasises her own fragility, her elusiveness in Gatsby’s imagination, the passage of time and the inevitability of death.
When Daisy and Gatsby slip away from the party to meet secretly in his enchanted garden they are shrouded in shadow. Blue light picks up the flowers and Gatsby’s suit, echoing the blue hydrangeas on the terrace, one of whose meanings is heartlessness. In contrast to the lush vegetation, Daisy’s dress and jewels glitter with a hard, metallic sheen, intimating the carelessness that Nick finally sees in her. The Tiffany jewellery mirrors the flower imagery, signalling Daisy’s attachment to wealth and status and her brittle outer shell.
The flower symbolism in The Great Gatsby adds layers of meaning to this richly textured film. Together with the haunting music it visualises themes of love, hope, death and melancholy. A distinctive style feature, it’s there in the credits and in the Bazmark logo that appears on screen, marking its importance in the overall design concept.
© Pam Cook
Feast your eyes on the Costume References Gallery for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.
Miuccia Prada Unveils Great Gatsby Costumes
- 21 JANUARY 2013
- ELLA ALEXANDER
MIUCCIA PRADA has unveiled four sketches of her costumes for the highly-anticipated Baz Luhrmann film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which is due to hit cinemas this summer. Prada worked with costume designer Catherine Martin to create over 40 looks for the movie, each inspired by styles from thePrada and Miu Miu archive.
“Baz and Miuccia have always connected on their shared fascination with finding modern ways of releasing classic and historical references from the shackles of the past,” said Martin. “This connection is central to our relationship with Miuccia Prada on The Great Gatsby, and has connected our vision with hers. In the same way Nick Carraway reflects on a world that he is within and without, we have tried to create an environment that the audience will be subconsciously familiar with, yet separated from.”
The designs take the form of shimmering dresses, covered with crystals, fringing and sequins, in shades of emerald, jade, topaz and gold. Fabrics come in luxurious velvets and furs, with the story’s Twenties setting at the heart of each style. The creations will be worn by the film’s star cast, which includesCarey Mulligan as the flighty Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio as the enigmatic Jay Gatsby.
“Our collaboration with Prada recalls the European flair that was emerging amongst the aristocratic East Coast crowds in the Twenties,” added Martin. “The fashions of the time saw the development of a dichotomy between those who aspired to the privileged, Ivy League look of wealthy Long Island and those who were aspiring to European glamour, sophistication and decadence. Our collaborations with Prada reflect the collision of these two aesthetics.”
Prada and Luhrmann have worked together before, creating Leonardo DiCaprio’s suit in the director’s 1996 film version of Romeo + Juliet.
Bazmark’s Facebook page for The Great Gatsby features albums displaying fascinating collections of archive images used in research for Luhrmann and Martin’s upcoming film, as well as other references. A treasure trove.
Sydney journal part three
Thursday 16 June 2005
On my last day in Sydney, I check out of the hotel in Potts Point at 10am after a friendly goodbye with the manager John. After a quick coffee at Paradiso, I get a taxi to the House of Iona and wait in the foyer for CM, who is running a bit late. Meanwhile, Amanda’s assistant gives me the bits and pieces I’d asked for, and takes my details. She says that Amanda wants me to sign another confidentiality agreement covering the interviews, and I ask for it to be sent electronically. Sky then takes me up the staircase to the right of the foyer to CM’s wing, which is painted white and carpeted in cream, very light and sunny. CM greets me warmly, and we go out on to a sunny balcony at the back of the house, which has wicker chairs and sofa with white cushions, and a table. CM, who is dressed in black top and trousers, with her hair tied back, sits on the sofa rather painfully, and tells me that she’s just had a baby boy.
I am totally taken by surprise, and cannot believe that Baz has not mentioned this to me. It all suddenly comes together, and I congratulate CM, and ask if he has a name. She says he’s called William, and that she’d had a crisis about him being called Willy (rhyming with Lilly), but her father had convinced her that it was a good name. We chat about names and parenting for a while before beginning the interview. As she had the baby on 8 June, I am amazed that she is in a fit state to talk to me. Her assistant brings us tea, and we begin by talking about her childhood. She is a bit hesitant sometimes, and is clearly still recovering from the birth. However, she talks revealingly about her background and her working relationship with Baz.
About 45 minutes into the interview, her nanny comes out onto the balcony with the tiny newborn baby in a body cradle strapped to her front. We carry on talking, until Sky arrives at 12pm to ask whether we’ve finished. CM says we can continue for a while, so we carry on talking until 12.30pm, when there are sounds of CM’s mother arriving for lunch. Sky comes back, and I ask if we can just finish discussing the last question. We do so, and Sky comes back after 5 minutes, as I pack up to leave. CM asks whether they’ll see me again, and I say that maybe I can return to do some ‘fact checking’. I tell her that it has been a dream of mine for a long time to talk to her, and she is pleased by the compliment. I say goodbye to her, and to Lilly, who appears just as I’m leaving. Sky sees me down the stairs to the foyer, I say that I didn’t know about the baby, and he replies that that was the excitement last week. He asks me if I have all the things I need, and hopes that I feel the long journey was worth it. The receptionist calls me a taxi to the airport, where I arrive at 1.15pm in plenty of time for my flight back to Melbourne.
I’m left with the feeling that I’ve had an experience that will not only enhance the book, but has enriched my life immeasurably.
© Pam Cook