ESQ&A: The Hollywood Costume Designer

Esquire talks to Steven Noble, the man behind the outfits in The Theory Of Everything and Under The Skin

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After working his way up from styling magazine shoots and music videos, British costume designer Steven Noble was instrumental in perfecting the jaded drug chic of Trainspotting before going on to style Eddie Redmayne in The Theory Of Everything and helping to make Scarlett Johansson cinema's most desirable killer alien in Under The Skin

Currently shooting A Monster Calls in with Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and Liam Neeson on location in Barcelona, Esquire caught up with Steven to talk difficult actors, eating pumpkin pie with Hollywood starlets and dressing a seriously ill Viggo Mortensen

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What’s the starting point when you're putting together an outfit for a new film?
I read the script and take a lot of notes. It’s a very organic process. You might not end up doing what you wrote, but I always find that a first reading is very important. Then you have a meeting with the director and the producers. You hope that you’re offered the job and it goes on from there.


How much say do actors have on what they wear onscreen?
They do have a say, but that completely depends on who they are and how much they trust you. I’ve had first fittings with an actor where you’ve pulled lots of stuff together for them to try on, then they come in and pick out something completely off the wall and you think “God, I didn’t see that coming”. Sometimes a designer may be wrong and the actor is right. It’s a bit of give and take.

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Do you stick to certain style rules in your costumes?
I have a saying that “costumes should be seen but not heard”. I tend to stick to a palette where I don’t use bright primary colours unless it’s needed - it’ more subtle on the eyes of the audience. If everything’s in harmony and balanced, it should all blend together and take the audience on the journey they’ve paid to go on.
 

[Above: Steven Noble. Image by Agatha A Nitecka]


Do you go back to certain films for inspiration?
It depends on the job, but one thing that comes to mind is Never Let Me Go. Quite a lot of the inspirations on that film came from bumping into Helena Bonham Carter who was in for fitting on another film late at night. She walked in looking great and it just pinged, it was like “that’s it!” 


You recently explored the 1960s in The Theory Of Everything. What would you say was the most stylish decade?
I certainly don’t think the 90s was the most stylish decade. I didn’t like the 90s at all. The 1930s stand out. You’ve got the oxford, brogues, loafers. People say that fashion circulates every ten years so who knows what’s to come?


What was the best part of working with Scarlett Johansson on Under The Skin?
Scarlett’s absolutely gorgeous. Very committed. I remember she invited twelve of us over to her apartment for a Thanksgiving dinner and cooked a turkey and pumpkin pie.


Who’s been your favourite actor to work with?
Viggo Mortensen was a delight to work with on The Two Faces Of January. There was one occasion where I had a fitting with him in Barcelona but Viggo had just come down with a fever and was completely delirious. He was sweating buckets and he confessed to his girlfriend afterwards that he hadn’t a clue what he was trying on, but he remained professional to the core. I wasn’t aware how bad he was until he confessed to me later that he could have been trying on bin bags for all he’d known.


Do you have trouble with actors “misplacing” certain items?
Misplacing, yes. It does happen. 

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MORE ESQ&As:

Cillian Murphy
Joel Edgerton
David Cronenberg
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