Casey Storm Interview

Casey Storm doesn’t get his fashion inspiration from GQ or whatever's in the windows at J.Crew. He gets it from Michael Jackson, Prince and turn-of-the-century industrial workwear. He’s been Spike Jonze’s costume designer since they first worked together on the Beastie Boys’ now-iconic "Sabotage" video (the mustaches, the wigs, the 1970s-style suits). Their latest collaboration, Her, is an odd yet touching love story about a heartbroken dude (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his operating system. If you’re scratching your head right now, remember that the operating system is voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It’s perfectly logical to imagine a guy lusting after an intangible piece of software if she’s the one doing the talking.
One of the great things about Her, which won Best Director and Best Film by the National Board of Review and has received several Golden Globes nominations, is the look of the film. It takes place in a future Los Angeles, but instead of metallic surfaces, robots and flying cars, you get bright-colored cubicles and high-waisted wool pants. The wardrobe is so unique and specific that it adds a whole other dimension to the movie (time will tell if men start rocking bright-coral collarless shirts and high-waters this spring). 

Storm says he’s just retired from costume design to focus on writing and directing. "I’ve told enough of that story that I never knew I wanted to tell anyway,” he says of a career that’s included films like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and David Fincher’s Zodiac. I talked to him about his personal style, working with Spike Jonze and why you should never say never when it comes to rocking a denim sandwich. 

Gachman: When did your love of fashion start?

Storm: I was always really interested in weird fashion and clothing when I was young, and I was always kind of a standout kid in how I dressed. I remember one whole year where I was obsessed with Michael Jackson, so I just dressed like Michael Jackson for a year. I wore lots of military coats when I was, like, 9 or 10. In sixth grade I only wore black, white and purple for a whole year. I had a purple Members Only jacket and a white fedora. I always liked weird clothes as a kid. 

Gachman: How did you turn that into a career?

Storm: I started hanging out with Spike and he knew I liked clothes a lot. I don’t think I was dressing that bizarrely then, but he was doing the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" video, and he asked me if I wanted to help out by doing the clothes. I was really into hip-hop so I showed up and it was like the greatest day. It was the beginning of how I got started. I just always liked clothes, and Spike found a way to make that my job. 

Gachman: I love the style and look of Her. What was the process as far as you and Spike coming up with the wardrobe and tone of the movie?

Storm: We sat with the script for a long time and Spike had some ideas when he was writing, like the character’s name being a reference to Theodore Roosevelt and that being something that was referencing an earlier time. The process was very conscious of looking backwards rather than looking forwards for reference. We knew pretty early on that we wanted to avoid the word “future.” We didn’t want that to be part of our mood board thing — not that we had a mood board, but you know what I mean. We wanted to try and find our inspirations from different time periods. The '20s and '30s and '40s had some influence on us. It feels like there’s so much '80s and '90s references now in film and in style in general, so we started going backwards. That’s where we got a lot of our inspirations for the shapes, like the collarless look and the high-waisted pants. We just wanted to make it not cheesy and futuristic. 

Gachman: That comes across because you get the sense that it’s a future world, but it also feels relatable. There aren’t any flying cars or machines that deliver gourmet meals.

Storm: It’s in the production designer’s [K.K. Barrett] look for the film — this idea of why have we been so focused on thinking about the future as things becoming to sterile and metallic and clean, when really right now there’s such a huge push for things to be organic and eco-friendly. We wanted it to be a softer, warmer, more personal future.
More with costume designer Casey Storm.

 Gachman: What about creating Joaquin Phoenix's specific wardrobe?

Storm: A lot of the things Joaquin wears in the movie are my clothes. One of the first things I tried on him was the red, kind of coral, shirt that he wears. It’s my shirt and I thought he’d look good in that color. Then we started thinking that maybe his world is very colorful, which is very counterintuitive for me and I think it’s counterintuitive for Spike, too. On this movie, we just decided to go against our instincts and just go for it and embrace it. [Director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema] didn’t want blue in the movie, so we avoided all blues almost entirely. If it shows up there’s a reason. 

Gachman: That was another thing that’s great about the look of the film. The character is dealing with heartbreak and divorce, so the typical look would be blues and washed-out tones. It’s almost counterintuitive that his world would have these bright, happy colors.

Storm: In order to pull that off you need Joaquin. You need someone who can do it and you’re not laughing if they’re wearing bright colors and they’re sad. He can play it all on his face. It gives you a much bigger window to play around in and have faith in him that he can pull it off. 

Gachman: Did Joaquin or any of the other actors have input as far as their wardrobe? Did they have any concerns? Those high-waisted pants are pretty high.

Storm: Right before we started shooting I know Joaquin was really nervous. He didn’t totally understand what we were doing. He was wondering why he was dressed like that and why he was wearing those things. Spike and I have worked together for 20 years so we have a shorthand. I think there was a little bit of hesitation, but at the same time there was trust so the conversation with Joaquin wasn’t, “I don’t want to do this.” It was, “I don’t totally understand what you’re doing, but I trust in you guys and I’m on board fully.”

Gachman: Amy Adams’ character had a style that kind of reminded me of Cameron Diaz’s look in Being John Malkovich — kind of mousy and frumpy. What’s the deal with you guys dressing the female characters that way?

Storm: You’re not the first person to point out the Cameron Diaz thing, but I don’t see it. Maybe it’s the curly, frizzy hair and the fact that she’s disheveled. I think Amy Adams’ character is pretty cool-looking, like she looks like an artist or something. Sometimes Spike and I reference characters in our lives and we’ll draw upon them. For Olivia Wilde, in the film we looked at a couple of CAA agents for inspiration and at fashion magazines. We tried to find ways to make her look really beautiful, which isn’t that hard to do. 

Gachman: Maybe the link between Amy Adams and Cameron Diaz in both movies is just an absence of glam.

Storm: I think I have a career for the most part in the absence of glam. That’s a good term. I like it. I’m going to steal it. 

Gachman: It’s all yours. The collars in the movie looked like they were turned inward, which was kind of interesting. How did that look come about?

Storm: We were using a lot of our own clothes and we didn’t want to ruin the collars so we just turned them down and inside, so maybe that’s why. That’s great — if that’s a thing that’s fine. Lots of our extras have no lapels on their suits. A lot of rules we had were: no denim in the movie, no ties and no belts. Once you create the world with Joaquin, you have to figure out what other people in this world wear.

Gachman: Do you have any style advice for men out there?

Storm: You have to be cautious when you’re looking at trends, because you look like what everyone else looks like if you stay on trend. Stuff that winds up in stores and on the masses probably isn’t what I’m attracted to as much. Right now it’s like a free-for-all and you can wear anything you want and wear more colors and go crazy. When that’s happening, I go the other direction. I find myself wearing khaki pants and a bright-blue oxford shirt, but wearing really special khaki pants. That doesn’t mean they’re the most expensive. Some of my stuff is really inexpensive. 

Gachman: Do you shop at thrift stores?

Storm: I don’t right now. I shop in the places most other people shop, but I don’t pick what everyone else chooses or picks. 

Gachman: What about style “don’ts”?

Storm: I’ve had times in my life where I’ve thought I would never wear something, but then five years later I would find I would be wearing it. Denim on denim was a big “I’d never” for a while, and then I started really loving some kinds of denim on denim. Tucking in is something I’d never do, but then I’d find myself liking it. Some of the most interesting things right now are things that seem like such bad ideas, like wearing a dress shoe with socks. Everything has a way of looking good if you just tell the story correctly. 

Article by:  Dina Gachman

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Career Magazine: Casey Storm Interview
Casey Storm Interview
Career Magazine
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