With No Time to Die firing up the box office, Bond is indeed back with style. And for a 60 year beloved franchise known for its good looks, that style is everything. The look of the 007 franchise has been hugely influential on pop culture as we know it today. And for every iteration of such a legendary franchise, the challenge becomes how to make 60 years worth of style look continuously fresh with every film. That’s where famed costume designer, Suttirat Anne Larlarb comes into the picture!
We had the opportunity to speak directly with Larlarb herself about how she was able to put her own personal spin on one of the most classic looks of all time. Here’s what she had to say:
NOC: It is really an honor to chat with you, and thank you for taking the time to discuss the movie with us! I’m really looking forward to it very much!
Larlarb: You’re welcome! I’m looking forward to it too!
What’s like working on a Bond film? That’s such a huge honor right?
Yes, you’re right it is! It’s funny because always as a designer it’s a pipe dream really. When you start down a path and want to work in film… I never in a million years, would have thought a Bond film was going to be in my future when I first started. I’ve always admired them from an aesthetic standpoint… But I specifically was always drawn to them as an aspiring designer because I always thought they were just uniquely themselves, and quite hard to replicate. There’s a perfect spirit to them as a franchise. I always admired that and I basically, when I was asked to do it, I said “yes” but I also then promptly, the next day or two later thought “now what do I do? I’m doing a Bond film? That’s really heavy! That’s a heavy responsibility to bear.” So it’s easier for me to appreciate the weight of it now that it’s about to come out… people are interested and asking questions. But you live with it while you’re doing it; the intense work of making sure you can do the best you can do with what you have and who you have helping you do it. So you don’t think about the fact that you’re doing a Bond film – I mean you do — but not in the way we’re talking about it, where you’re pinching yourself. More often you’re just hoping that you can get it done. That the ambitions can be met and that you were the right person for the job.
You are crushing it! Ana de Armas’s dress is just iconic already! The movie is already establishing a look for itself just based on your work, that I think is just a standout for a movie franchise that’s been around for 60 years.
On that same note, since we are approaching 60 years of Bond, how do you do it? How do you insert yourself, your style, and your eye into a franchise known for its iconic looks already? From tuxedos to Blofeld’s look — How do you contemporize that and make it your own once you inherit it?
Yeah! I mean you can’t ever deny what came before you. Before I came on to this, I was very well steeped in the Bond franchise. I’d watched all the films several times over as a fan. And when I got this opportunity I then had to go back to watch them forensically, to understand what I had to build on. It’s interesting you brought up Blofeld. You’re the first person to bring that up! This is a good one to be able to talk about my process with how I was trying to respect the other films. I had a great team working with me, but one of the things I wanted to do and wanted us to work on just so we always had an encyclopedia of what came before for different kinds of characters. So I have a binder that was for every Bond villain — every image we could find of all their looks within each film and how that might progress all of time. So with a character like Blofeld, I looked of all of Blofeld, from the dawn of the idea of Blofeld. So what could we use from the past so that we’re kind of paying the right homage to what everybody expects of Blofeld. How could we push it forward, but also how could we make it authentic and specific to the scenes that he finds himself in in our version of it. So there’s all of that, which goes into the planning of what I’m going to then present to the actor when I first meet them. And in Christoph Waltz’s case… I was pretty blown away that I was going to get to meet him. And I’m not — as a professional costume designer, you’re doing your job — so I don’t really get visibly star struck or anything. But he’s an actor who I’ve admired for a very long time. And I was so excited to get to meet with him. So I was quite nervous about presenting my idea. Because I’m also on the one side paying attention to what came before, on the other side, I’m trying to push it forward and come up with something new. So I came to him with this visual mood board of what had came before, my new ideas going down the pipe of sketches — all that stuff. And he was so receptive! Immediately a big “Yes” to everything. It was just fantastic! So I would say he wasn’t the only one. The whole cast, really, were welcoming of my ideas. Very trusting of my process. They could see that I was very serious about it from the outset. So that brokered some trust very early on. So that I could go off and do my thing and bring ideas to the table. Things that were based in the history of those specific characters, history of the Bond franchise, reference points. But also some new ideas so that we could, as I said, push it forward. I think there’s this kind of task you have as a designer… do the best Bond film there is but lay down the gauntlet for the next one as well.
I think you’re definitely doing that. I think it’s interesting how you approach established characters, but one of my favorite things to see are new characters as well, like Safin, played by Rami Malek. Already an iconic look in my opinion because that mask is kind of creepy. It’s got that Phantom of the Opera vibe going on. How did you come up with that? Was it on the spot? Or did you think about ways to put that together and how Rami would look with it on?
Yeah! That was actually when we knew, from script discussions, what the scene would require, when we knew that we wanted to have (without giving away any plot points) when we knew we needed a mask that was going to have to be partially destroyed in some way. I wasn’t thinking about the destroyed version, I was thinking about the full-fledged version. And the weeds of that specific scene were such that I wanted to make sure that I was giving Cary, our director, what he needed out of this scene. So we had a number of talks about what this character meant, and what his background was — his family background – and where he found himself geographically in our film. And so it needed to be something that referenced all of that. So there are sort of Japanese heritage aspects to his character so that when we started going down his path and where we first see him in the mask, in this snowy landscape, I thought of the Noh mask because of the purity of it. And you can’t help but think when there’s a mask requirement in a film project, masks become iconic for good reason and bad reasons immediately. And so you have to think of the afterlife of that mask as well. And because there are so many specific masks out there that people identify with certain films — Phantom of the Opera or V for Vendetta — any kind of film where the specific mask plays a certain role, I was drawn to the idea of the Noh mask basically because that purity of featureless, expressionless look on the mask was attractive to me. Because it meant that depending on the lighting, the action, how the body or human the Rami Malek part of it interplayed with that mask, you’d get a completely different visual out of it at the time. And it would be more pure to what was happening in the scene than if it was a mask that was more expressive with an expression built into it, or lots of detail or color… it couldn’t be quirky. It had to play a pure function. So that was kind of the importance for presenting that idea of the Noh mask. And once we knew how to break it apart, the detail of how we’d do that became interesting too, because Noh masks are made out of wood. So we knew if we cracked it and broke it, that we would want there to be evidence of its woodenness and how it split and all of that. I won’t bore you with all the technicals of how we approached that whole mask, but Rami loved it. It worked well for the scene. And it went very well with the rest of his costume and the environment that he emerges in and the scene that comes to play.
Right now there’s an impeding IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) strike upon the Hollywood landsape involving a lot of technicians, artists, and craftspeople that really make movie magic, such as yourself. With all of this happening, I wanted to ask what your thoughts were and if this has affected you at all?
I can relate that back to the Bond film in a good way, which is that I definitely cannot think of a film I put less than 80-90 hours a week in — 80 hours a week is a short week for me. My hair turned grey at age 27 from the amount of time and stress I put into doing these things. And depending on who’s supporting you in terms of the film you’re working on and the team you have, that can be a very poignant thing in terms of how much you give and how much you feel respected. I have to say this was the first time I felt that I was getting any kind of support in terms of the crew, hours, pay, and rates — that I just felt so appreciated in a way that I feel maybe doesn’t exist in other things that I’ve done. And I know that a Bond film is unique in ways that it’s a family endeavor, a historical endeavor, and a long lasting franchise. And I wonder if that tradition is what makes it such an amazing environment to do this kind of work in. Because you’re working with people that understand what it takes to make a film… A Bond film on the onset, people expect the apex of everything — action, effects, CGI, acting, actors, clothing, design, props, vehicles – it’s like the best on every level. And Barbara Broccoli is so aware of what it takes to do all of this, that I never at any point felt like we didn’t have what we needed to do what was being asked, or push the envelope further. I wish everything was like that. I was spoiled on the Bond film. So for that impending strike, apart from the Bond films, I know that crews are definitely asked to do things that [cause them to be] overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, under respected — all of those things. That’s why I’m so thrilled about having had the opportunity to work on the Bond film, because I know what it can be like when all of those things are right. And I have very little tolerance for when things aren’t in place the way they were for me and my team on the Bond film.
It’s beautiful to hear you had such a good experience. I feel the strike is happening because people haven’t been as fortunate. And when you think of Bond, it’s synonymous with film at this time, and with Hollywood in general. So hearing that some things stay classy and people stay well treated on a franchise like this, it’s wonderful to hear.
Yeah. They really set up a benchmark that I fear doesn’t exist out there in many other ways, but I love that we can talk about it like this on a positive note, on this particular film. I’ve worked on lots of films that I’m very proud of, but I certainly didn’t feel [like I had] the same level of support and understanding that translates to how you’re treated. It was great on this.
I do have one final question. Because I’m a nerd of color, and a nerd first and foremost, I heard you’re potentially going from one iconic franchise with Bond to another iconic franchise set in a galaxy far, far away. Is it true you’ve been working on Obi Wan and how’s that being going from Bond to something as crazy but no less iconic?
I just finished Obi Wan 10 days ago. And I have to say that Bond prepared me because, you said it exactly right, it’s one iconic thing to another. So I think the weight of responsibility for studying what came before and how to push it forward, being very respectful of what the franchise outlines for you, but also needing to breathe fresh life into it, made it a perfect preparation for that. So I take all of it very seriously so it definitely, I hope when you see that, you feel [as excited].
This has been wonderful. Thank you so much! You got me so excited, warmed my heart, and I’m getting so looking forward to seeing everything I’m going to see from your craftsmanship.
Thank you very much, Mike!
You can see Suttirat Larlarb’s work in full display in No Time To Die, in theaters now!