For her Oscar-nominated role in Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett required a designer-label wardrobe worthy of a wilted New York socialite. The only problem? Costume designer Suzy Benzinger had a limited, more Nordstrom Rack-esque budget. (In fact, a New York Times piece estimated that the film’s entire wardrobe budget was $35,000, which is often the cost of just one Hermes Birkin bag.)
Knockoffs simply wouldn’t do to truly sell the story of a woman who lost nearly everything except a handful of luxury goods. That’s when Benzinger — who has worked with director Woody Allen since 1994 on projects like Deconstructing Harry, Celebrity, and Whatever Works — took a deep breath and a leap of faith.
She began calling fashion houses like Chanel, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Ralph Lauren to see what strings she could pull.
“I relied on the generosity of all these designers,” Benzinger told EW. “I made a list of things I had to have for Cate’s character in order to tell the story. … Every day, my assistant and I would go through [the list] and I would say, ‘I’m going to call Hermes up. Wish me luck. I’ve got to get this Birkin bag.’ Every day we’d check off things on our list. [When] I got to the Chanel jackets, I thought, ‘Everything is going fabulous and this is where it’ll stop. … I’m not going to get the Chanel jacket. We’re going to try though. Wish me luck.’ When we got that, I burst into tears. I thought, ‘How did I get my whole wish list?'”
The costume designer admitted her experience was far from the norm. While brands often loan to celebrities for the red carpet, they rarely loan to films. “None of my friends who are costume designers have had the same experience that I’ve had,” she said, crediting Cate Blanchett’s personal fashion house relationships as a huge help. “The gods were watching when Woody wrote the script, because I [initially] thought, ‘Oh my God.’ I never thought I would have gotten all these things. I really owe it to Cate.”
With one character down, Benzinger turned her attention to Jasmine’s sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who had a more casual aesthetic that reflected the character’s working class status. For this, the costume designer bargain hunted at stores like Century 21 in New York and Loehmann’s in San Francisco, where Blue Jasmine was shot. The biggest irony? “Sally Hawkins’ wardrobe cost more than Cate Blanchett’s. Isn’t that hysterical? I actually spent more money on Sally then I did on Cate. You have to laugh. But it’s only because of the generosity of designers like Karl Lagerfeld.”
Thanks to her thriftiness, Benzinger is nominated for her first Costume Designers Guild Award. “I’ve been doing this for many, many years. It’s nice to get the recognition on this. My feeling is that it’s for the whole Woody Allen family.”
Read on for our exclusive Q&A with Benzinger to learn what makes a Woody Allen set different from all others, Sally Hawkins’ surprising reaction to her wardrobe, who kept those designer pieces, and what it was like working with Bill Murray on Ghostbusters. READ FULL STORY