Interview with costume designer Antoinette Messam – The Hollywood Reporter – The Hollywood Reporter
Costume designer Antoinette Messam doesn’t just dress A-list stars in Hollywood movies. Before Jeymes Samuel’s Western Revisionist The harder it is for them to fall, Messam worked as a stylist and designer in the fashion industry. That experience allowed her to bring a modern twist to the traditional cowboy image in the film.
Born in Jamaica to a family focused on fashion – her father was a seamstress and her mother a seamstress – Messam has always been fascinated by the magic of film costumes. She talks about her love of cinema. “I think it’s also an immigrant thing, you know? I mean, we’re coming to a new land that’s not our own and size [up] what we can be and who we can be. ”
Because the The harder it is for them to fall, Messam designed a powerful cast of Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, Regina King, Zazie Beets, and LaKeith Stanfield, all of which draw on direct influences from Western fashion. But unlike previous typical Hollywood westerns, Samuel’s vision places Black cowboys – inspired by real historical figures – at the front and center of the film. his story.
“We are not an accessory, an extension or a person in the movie, we to be movie,” Messam said of the movie. “This is a West that just so happens to have Negroes in it.”
Messam talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the process and challenges behind developing the film’s costume. “I won’t lie to you, there were days when I didn’t know if I could handle that,” she said of working during the height of the pandemic.
Western influences seem to be showing up in modern style today. How much did you take away from what you saw in today’s culture when you were planning your The harder it is for them to fall?
I did it in reverse. I started with research. What did it really look like then? And, of course, it was a learning curve because I knew what Victorian clothing looked like. The outfit, the style, the figure, that’s the basis of my film. But diving deep into the Cowboy West, the Oklahoma, Texas border, was a new world to me. It has been modernized, but the base silhouette is still there. One of my really big inspirations for styles and hats is artist fashion, and they make incredible hats. And [in my research], I’m seeing the same silhouette on black cowboys in the 1870s, 1890s.
So there is a resurgence, but a revival based on reality. Does that make sense? So when I designed the costumes from scratch, and I could – know the direction, the style and the swagger that James wanted for this movie – [I could] Twist the original silhouette to help do that. It was seamless. Finding a contemporary style or accent to match the story I’m trying to build isn’t stressful. It’s right there for me [in history]. ”
What does your research look like? Have you watched western period dramas or read through old history books?
“I have a really great library. I love books. I still firmly believe that I have to touch the book. And you know, of course, now, I have my phone and I’m taking pictures as I go, but I started just sitting on the ground with books scattered around me and going through everything, Not just the time. Victoria, which Also, what’s the difference if I push a few years? So I needed to narrow my span of time and it was very important to research the different styles and designs of men’s and women’s clothing.
And then, obviously, [I researched] Online. I have learned a lot online. I have links and links of things that I didn’t even know about. I suppose I’ll swap faces [in my mood boards] and use illustrations. I don’t have to. I find that Negroes dress just the way I want them to. They dress very eloquently, very elegantly. They are wearing satin dresses that are exactly like their white dresses. And it was wonderful. It was the most interesting thing ever. ”
This movie has such a strong cast. How do you collaborate with them?
Jonathan shared a book with me, The Black West: A Documentary and Photographic History of the Role of African Americans in America’s Western Expansion, and it’s amazing because it has all the characters from the movie, little chapters about them, and other stuff that I didn’t know about. We collaborated from the very beginning on his costumes, especially the hero costumes that he wore throughout the entire movie. And it was great to play with him, you know, there were many hats, shapes and styles until we decided on the one we liked. Jeymes made him a soundtrack, a playlist, Nat loves playlists, and we’re playing it in accessories. And it’s truly amazing that you get to spend time with your actors doing that kind of collaboration.
Zazie’s suit is probably the longest I’ve had in my career. She wanted to try everything, touch everything. It’s also a new world for her, putting on a corset and figuring out which corset we’re going to use and shape. And Regina is an epic. It’s a master class. And I was so enamored with this woman and what she brought to the conversation about personality. I mean, even something as simple as not liking hats because they leave an imprint, and coming up with a scarf and its underlying story – that’s something [her character] collected in her travels, and it’s silk, so it can fly in the wind.
It’s just – oh, you’re taking me back. It’s been a few years. But I mean, I literally threw clothes at Lakeith, I hugged him for an hour on the way to the airport because after COVID, I had a whole new cast; half of my cast has been replaced. So I had to shuffle and rework a few characters like Cathay (played by Danielle Deadwyler). I didn’t even meet her in person the first time – we talked on the phone, on Zoom. I was in LA, and she had to go straight from Atlanta to New Mexico to get on her horse. So my assistant went to see her and I actually simultaneously dressed her over Zoom, which was very new to me. For the first time in 30 years. But we did and I’m really happy that she looks so organic in her outfit. We already have accessories in person. But to not meet one of your main actors face-to-face and have conversations, touch and watch how she moves, [and] doing it through a computer, it’s really stressful.
Is it difficult to work like that during a pandemic?
I don’t even know how to explain how difficult it is from a creative point of view. And then you’re in a city like Santa Fe, [which is] shut down due to COVID levels and you only have Walmart and CVS and Ralphs open. Amazon and Santa Fe Opera saved my life. If it couldn’t be shipped in time, I actually phoned them and begged them if we could come get the needles, buttons, and zippers from them. I can’t get the zipper. We bought fabric from them. We rented. It is quite unbelievable. I won’t lie to you, there were days when I didn’t know if I could pull it off.
And then you’re on set, and some COVID staffer says, “Six feet apart” with a ruler, and I say, “I have to fix her clothes!”
Thankfully, we have actors like Jonathan Majors. His clothes have become a part of him, and it shows. He knows how to fix his scarf the same way every time. We don’t have to go near him, but then other people aren’t used to that kind of training, or are too absorbed in their lines or scenes, and they’re so used to a person wearing clothes coming and doing it. finals or fix things. Those are the ones that I’m looking at now, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, look at this. You are wearing warm-up gloves in front of the camera. I won’t tell anyone. ‘
Costumes have the power to really transform the tone of a movie and bring audiences into this new reality. Have you always been drawn to fashion or clothing that way – specifically in movies?
All of the above. I mean, I’m Jamaican, and my grandfather was a seamstress, and my mother was a seamstress. So I always have clothes and fabrics around me. Textile is my first love. I can drive my crew crazy looking for the right fabric. And I love movies. When I was growing up, my father loved Westerners, so that was the first thing I was attracted to [in The Harder They Fall] like, oh, I’ve never studied the West, and I really love the West.
So that’s interesting. But growing up, I just loved movies. Movies for me at the time were so much about fashion and clothing, not just high fashion. I love layers and textures. So I’ve always had an escapist love. And I don’t want to be a seamstress or seamstress. My grandfather used to be very angry with me because I had no interest in learning sewing. He would be shocked if he could see me now. Full circle. My mother always said this: “You are a terrible sewer, and look at you now.”
What do you hope people take away from the movie?
Well, first of all I want them to have fun with it. Do you understand what I mean? We did [experienced] some heavy moments, and it’s great to stay excited about a movie. I mean, obviously I’m excited about this because it’s my own, but I’m also excited because Sand dunes, as a filmmaker, as an artist, as a costume designer – all of that.
And my Jamaican community is losing its mind because [The Harder They Fall] soundtrack, too. There is a sense of pride attached to this project. And then you realize that the message Jeymes wants you to send is that we were there. There may have been erasures, there may have been no mention of us in the history books you got in school or in our favorite movies, or any of that. . But now, this movie says, ‘Hey, we’ve been there.’ I kept hearing, ‘Oh, this is historically incorrect.’ With that, I said, ‘You haven’t checked your history.’ It is very accurate.
I mean, enjoy the hats. Go out and buy a cowboy hat.
The hats are one of my favorite parts.
Yes, the hats are very special. It’s dark outside, and I can tell you who the people are by their hats. The hats are very special.