“Killers of the Flower Moon” is as close as Martin Scorsese comes to making a western, even if it’s set in 1920s Oklahoma, where oil money is the final frontier still to be fought over, and the men – including Leonard DiCaprios Ernest Burkhart and Robert De Niro’s William “King” Hale – are anything but heroes. In fact, both men are part of a long-running conspiracy to enrich themselves from the oil claims of members of the Osage, including Burkhart’s wife Molly (Lily Gladstone). Still, costume designer Jacqueline West took a bit of inspiration from stars of classic Westerns when it came to creating the fashions that Burkhart would adopt as he made more money.
When West was putting together the “Killers of the Flower Moon” costume team, she turned to Diana Foster of United American Costume. “She is an old friend of mine, and her father was too Luster Bayless, who just passed away,” West told IndieWire. “He’s in the Cowboy Hall of Fame because he dressed John Wayne throughout his career. He founded United American Costume in Los Angeles. And Diana shared her father’s secret stash of incredible suits [the period].”
Foster also brought suit samples that were used for Wayne’s collaboration with John Ford – who receives additional praise from Scorsese and music supervisor Randall Poster in the cue used for a Fordian dance scene later in the film. Foster made most of DiCaprio’s suits and “reproduced real suits from the ’20s that her father had used in films,” West said. “She even did some things for Tom White [Jesse Plemons].”
The contrast between White and Burkhart is stark in terms of fashion, with White’s wide and boxy suits oozing with the might of the nascent FBI. Burkhart, on the other hand, switches from three-piece suits to crumpled jackets. West portrays the imperious King Hale with a kind of timeless, wealthy elegance; The fact that he continues to look appropriate regardless of the era is just a small part of his strength in the film. While the set is either drawn from or inspired by classic western films, what West conveys about the characters is specific to each of them and to the spirit of Killers of the Flower Moon.
Storytelling through costumes extends to the main female characters. West knew she wanted each of the sisters — Molly, Reta (Janae Collins), Minnie (Jillian Dion) and Anna (Cara Jade Myers) — to have a slightly different fashion sense. But working with Osage wardrobe consultant Julie Okeefe helped illustrate how much clothing can say about the sisters’ personalities and life experiences.
OKeefe walked into West’s studio and when he saw the floor-to-ceiling storyboards filled with photographs from the Osage Tribal Museum, he immediately knew what story and mix of traditional and contemporary 1920s clothing the film would require. While Molly’s mother Lizzie (Tantoo Cardinal) was growing up on the plains, “she gets married, she has these daughters, and then the daughters are ordered by the government to go to Catholic school,” Okeefe told IndieWire. “So they are taken out of the house. So you have a similar situation to immigrants in our country today. These young women [are] Now they are coming back from school 1697984523 English speaking, but they live in their own home countries. So they are immigrants in their own country.”
Okeefe and West worked to carve out different dual identities for each of the sisters. “You have Anna, who is completely modern in the finest Parisian clothes and beautiful shoes, and you see her embracing this and [leaning] to the world,” Okeefe said. “You see Molly persevering and wanting to keep her culture close to her and carry it. So she goes out and presents herself to the world in her culture. Then there are the other two sisters who wear modern clothes, but both show a piece of their culture that they want to preserve.”
Throughout the film, Okeefe based the different approaches to clothing on a very basic concern. “The whole idea of [their clothes] Are these women still thinking, “How can we stay safe?” And how are we supposed to fit into this world that is being forced upon us? Where do we fit in?’ In this snapshot you can see the human struggle [of different fashion styles]. And the day I walked into Jackie’s studio, I saw exactly what she was doing. She saw that too,” Okeefe said.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” is in theaters now.