Ocean’s Eleven: Costuming the players

In his initial discussions with costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, Soderbergh discussed a heightened reality for the cast’s wardrobe. “We tried to find the line, both in the lead characters’ outfits as well as the background, that made the wardrobe seem theatrical without being unreal,” Soderbergh says. “Jeffrey had his work cut out for him. He had to come up with several different looks for the 11 members of the team, plus Julia and Andy. He was also responsible for the extras. He really had his hands full.”

“Breaking down this script was no different than any others,” remembers Kurland, “except that this film was so big. Because it is a contemporary film, it’s a movie that could have been farmed out. But much to Steven’s credit, he really wanted me to design the entire wardrobe. We sat down and talked about the characters for a while and how he saw them. Then I began to draw. Each actor is playing a very distinct character, which made it a lot of fun. I showed him my entire walk-through of everybody. I also did a drawing of all the characters on one sheet so he could see them all together.”

Similarly, Kurland and production designer Phil Messina discussed the over-all look for the film. “Working with Phil is like working with another arm,” Kurland relates. “We share color schemes and ideas. When I told him that I was going to try to design Terry Benedict with an Asian feeling to him, Phil designed Benedict’s new hotel with a distinctively Asian feel. Then, when he decorated Benedict and Tess’ apartment, he included an Asian feeling there, as well. We also talk about color and what he plans to use as upholstery so that the characters don’t disappear into his furnishings.”

Messina agrees that the collaboration is a profitable one. “Jeffrey and I stay in close touch. I talked with him extensively about the metallic palette for the back of the house and ironically, a lot of his clothing has a sheen to it. I think we both had this idea and tried to make it look slick. Literally, slick surfaces. We also talked about the colors in the art gallery because that is Tess’ world. It’s the one place to show Tess in her environment. Julia’s wardrobe is reflected in the colors of the Bellagio because that’s where Benedict comes from. We both approached her suite as being more Benedict’s world that she has been set up in.”

“The scenes we shot in Tishkoff’s garden and his house were actually filmed in Palm Springs, which we doubled for Las Vegas,” Kurland reveals. “There, we kept to cool, desert colors, punched up a bit here and there. If you look at the 11 guys, they’re in sandy tones and pale colors. Reuben is a little outlandish, of course, but that’s his character. Each location has its own color scheme.

“Every character has a number of costumes and I did individual drawings to show Steven each of their changes,” Kurland continues. “I think the least number was ten, and if I remember correctly, George has 26 changes, Rusty has 24, Elliott has 12 or 14. In addition, I was constantly making and designing clothes throughout the show as things would evolve.”

Kurland began with Danny and Rusty because they initiate the elaborate caper. “Danny is more of a solid character ‘ the classic-looking guy, the Cary Grant of the movie. There’s hardly a thing that George Clooney can’t wear and wear well. While the heist is Danny’s idea, Rusty is the man who makes it happen. So he was very important and has great personal style. Brad really wants to discover the character with you. During a series of early fittings, we came up with a streamlined, sleek effect to his wardrobe. ‘Like a racer,’ is how Brad described it.

“Carl Reiner’s look for Saul comes from an East Coast sensibility. I thought that he would have started out in Brooklyn, and now he’s down-and-out and living in Florida. It was a great transition to transform him into Lyman Zerga.

“The first time I spoke with Carl after he had seen my drawings, he said ‘you’ve given me a character.’ Carl, like Elliott Gould, comes from an old school of theater and live television so they have a different way of looking at their wardrobe.

“Reuben Tishkoff, who is played by Elliott Gould, is old Las Vegas. I suggested the over-sized glasses to Elliott and he loved the idea. During our fittings he would experiment with his voice and mannerisms. By the time we were in our third fitting, he was smoking a cigar ‘ and Elliott doesn’t smoke. Reuben’s jewels also became a character point. We had his jewelry, which are mostly symbols done in diamonds, made in New York. Working closely with Steve Melton, our property master, we made his ID bracelet and ring here. It was great because all I had to do was draw it and Steve would find someone to make it.

“Don Cheadle and Steven had decided Basher should be a Cockney. When Don and I talked, we both had the same idea ‘ that Basher was very militaristic and had probably been in every revolutionary militia in Europe. I took a little from the British rockers of the late 1960s and early ’70s, but pushed it toward the military.

“As for the Malloy brothers, played by Casey Affleck and Scott Caan, their clothing is totally different. One is more conservative and one is racier. Like typical brothers, they are constantly bickering. They’re constantly at each other but they’re a real team. They each have six different disguises and six different personalities to go along with them: waiters, security guards, rent-a-cops, medics, tourists and a balloon delivery person. That was a real challenge.

“The coolest dude in the world is Bernie Mac, who plays Frank Catton. We wanted to make him a really cool, East Coast guy, totally together in the way he looks. You can put Bernie in anything and he looks great. I did lots of colors and layers for him.

“Andy Garcia’s character was also a great one to do. Benedict is totally different from the 11. This man is the king of Las Vegas, has more money than God and he’s got style. Andy also has a great deal of style and he loves clothes.

“Shaobo Qin was great to do because Yen is a Chinese acrobat and it’s never really clear what kind of circus or troupe he works with. Their tent is quite beautiful so I created his costumes to look a little more high-class. I gave him a style that was contemporary but with a strong Chinese flavor.

“Then there is Julia, the only girl in the movie. This is the fifth time that I’ve dressed her and each time it has been totally different. I’ve never designed clothes like these for her before. It’s a totally sophisticated, intelligent, stylish and sexy look. I chose mostly solid colors, gray and black and at one point, a sharp red. For one scene she wears a dress that is made of gold beads.

“At one point we get away from the glamorous look because there’s the Tess Ocean personality, as opposed to the Tess personality when she’s with Benedict. When she’s with Benedict, we added incredible jewelry to the mix. The jewels came from Tiffany & Co. Tiffany’s has never lent anybody a piece of jewelry, they simply don’t lend to anybody. And I usually don’t promote anything, so it was a first for both of us.

“They were terrific. First they sent photographs of various items and then they would send the real piece so I could make a final decision. They sized things for us and altered the hang of certain necklaces, they couldn’t have been more accommodating.

“I was able to select the jewelry and then I showed it to Julia and she and Steven and I honed it down. When Tess is wearing the red suit, she has on a black Tahitian pearl necklace with a diamond clasp and matching earrings. She also wears a yellow, flawless diamond ring with two triangular diamond baguettes on the side.”

Along with the cast, Kurland’s responsibilities included overseeing the wardrobe of all the extras used during the course of the story. This meant dressing upwards of 400 people a day while shooting on the casino floor. And that didn’t include the three days of flashbacks to three different decades. The number escalated into the thousands for the fight sequence at the MGM Grand.

“It was huge,” declares Kurland. “We had our own 6,000 square foot costume shop in Las Vegas with five stitchers and a tailor. We fit hundreds of extras a day ‘ for weeks on end.

“We would ask the extras to bring several different outfits with them. But they have limited resources, and for glamour wear, most of them would bring black outfits so we ended up dressing 98% of them. We had racks and racks of clothes shipped in from Los Angeles.

“I also drew and designed the uniforms for the Bellagio waitresses and bartenders and dealers. We sent them to the hotel for their approval, but it was the only way we could completely control the look of the film. It was all about color and reflective fabrics.”