What Daisy Wore

Chatting with Costume Designer Catherine Martin

Megan Pruitt Winder
May 02, 2013

The Great Gatsby unfurls in cinemas across America as one of the most eagerly anticipated premieres of our time. All eyes will be on Daisy and Jay Gatsby, dressed by two-time Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin. Megan Pruitt Winder chats with Martin, who divulges details of pinstripes and pearls in a rare silver-screen collaboration with Tiffany & Co., Prada and Brooks Brothers.

What were your sources for this fabled jazz-age classic? When you’re working with a director and you’re trying to interpret his vision for a film, the very first inspiration is always how the director envisions telling the story, and your job is to help support that telling … I looked to original sources that relate to the work that we are trying to bring to life, including photography, paintings, other works by the author, photographic collections and anecdotal descriptions that were written in the period or setting in which the story takes place.

On raiding the Tiffany & Co. archives. Tiffany & Co. was an obvious partner for The Great Gatsby because of its authentic relationship to New York in the ‘20s, the fact that the social milieu the novel deals with is the type of customer the brand appeals to, the fact that it is a quintessentially American luxury brand and also because Fitzgerald was himself a customer of Tiffany … This is the first time that I have been involved in the process of designing jewelry … It’s on a completely different level because you are engineering something so beautiful and so seemingly delicate that actually has to function practically and have inherent strength and longevity … The item that really inspired me from the Tiffany archives was the drawing of the headpiece that inspired Daisy’s party headpiece [named the Savoy]. I felt it defined Daisy’s character and describes the 1920s so quintessentially that I could not ignore it. The extraordinary combination of pearls and pavé diamonds culminates in an exquisite and delicate yet dramatic headband that has become one of the most iconic pieces of jewelry in the film.

Your collaboration with Brooks Brothers called for more than 500 day and evening ensembles, some 1,700 pieces. Why Brooks Brothers and Jay Gatsby, aka Leonardo DiCaprio? It was this most basic and fundamental connection that has made our collaboration so authentic … Brooks Brothers is mentioned several times in Fitzgerald’s writings as representation of the ultimate gentleman’s purveyor of fine clothing to the American man of distinction.

Let’s talk about a golden Prada party gown laden with crystals that reportedly steals the ballroom scene when Daisy [Carey Mulligan] dons it. Our collaboration with Prada recalls the European flair that was emerging amongst East Coast crowds in the 1920s … The fashion of the time saw the development of a dichotomy between those who aspired to the privileged, the 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.

What is it about the 1920s and the flapper era that still resonates today? The Jazz Age is a combination of a look into the future and a variety of styles … much more fashion-led than any other period … The beginning of the Art Deco movement was a revivalist period where people were taking historical styles and rethinking them in terms of the modern world … It is such a fascinating period in a way it never was before, primarily as a result of the wealth that was available to consumers.

How was the jewelry used as a metaphor throughout the film? I turned to diamond and pearl inspiration from the headpiece illustration. It seemed a great way to describe Daisy’s position in society and to underline her situation as Tom’s bird in a gilded cage, adorned by precious jewels. I also found an illustration from the 1920s that showed a bracelet design with a compact attached to it that sat on top of the hand and was fitted with rings. I have a fascination with India and combined the traditional shapes with this idea to create the pavé diamond daisy medallion that is the centerpiece of the hand pieces [the pearl and diamond bracelet worn by Daisy in the film]. All these elements and influences were brought together to create these pieces, that, along with the [Savoy] headband, became the quintessential part of Daisy’s party costume.

I was particularly inspired to use pearls in the jewelry for Daisy for many reasons, including the string of pearls that Tom gives Daisy. In thinking about how we could use jewelry to help express Daisy’s character in her close-ups, Baz suggested I look at a character whose “voice is full of money,” per Gatsby’s description. We feel that Daisy sits within a very pastel, fragile, ephemeral color scheme, which expresses her sparkling fragility, her vitality and her attractiveness. The classic combination of diamonds and pearls came to the fore as a result, with the pearlescent cream and sparkling palette of her jewelry helping to describe her character.

Gatsby’s signet ring with the daisy symbol is our nod to his obsessive love for Daisy. The daisy is a very integral symbol in the film because it has been reproduced in his house, on his person … Everywhere you look in his mansion, he has applied a daisy decoration. The daisy, traditionally a symbol of purity, is meant to signal to the audience his pure obsessive and overwhelmingly powerful love for Daisy.