Costume Designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux Brings Vintage Quality To “Brooklyn”

The opportunity to work with director John Crowley on a script written by Nick Hornby weren’t the draws costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux had for working on “Brooklyn.”  She found the young lover’s unjaded sense of adventure and passion in the script mirrored her parent’s post war journey.

“There was an appeal of a story full of ordinary emotion, said “Dicks-Mireaux.  “The feelings were close to my heart.  My mom left Paris to go with my father to England.  They were young and looking for a brave new hope.”

During the pre-production research period, Dicks-Mireaux poured through photo libraries, looking at books containing images of Ireland and New York during the late 40s and early 50s.   Historical archives proved invaluable in isolating the tone of each location: UK collections presented Irish social life studies that, as Dicks-Mireaux explained was “not sad but thoughtful.”  She found fantastic images of the Irish dance halls that illustrated a great deal of fun.  Images in the Vivian Meyer’s archive of late 40s NY street scenes were invaluable to capturing the changing time and the influence movie stars were having on youthful styles. Dicks-Mireaux also turned to her parent’s home movies and stills.  Through these personal references she noticed details such as the frequency of women’s flats and the single suit her father wore.  While the New York styles presented stronger patterns and bolder colors, she discovered the Irish countryside’s residents, despite their limited wardrobe, had well-designed and festive items worn for weekend outings.

Working with a very tight budget and a short, seven week timeline, Dicks-Mireaux determined it would be necessary to source vintage clothing for the film.  Outside of a fully custom-built suit for Jim Broadbent’s character “Father Flood,” Dicks-Mireaux was able to obtain pieces for all other characters.  Using a combination of costume houses and vintage stores primarily in the UK and Montreal, Dicks-Mireaux found many pieces from the early 50s that met her needs.  She’d modify the garments to fit the actors properly, and provide minor embellishments – bits of jewelry or small bows – that fit with the character’s modest means.  One particular point of focus was on hem lines.

“Around 55 the hem lines on women’s dresses and skirts started to go up,” said Dicks-Mireaux.  “Because the stock had higher hems, I had to get the hems back down to the proper length.”

Fabric choices were important to match clothing to location.  The Irish country side was represented with many natural fabrics included hand-knitted pieces, tweeds and wool.  The items had to appear gently worn, for clothing in the Irish culture consisted of durable hand-me-downs.   Dicks-Mireaux also wanted to find pieces that would best represent a limited wardrobe.  This was particularly true for men.  Their suit jackets were very plain and often, much like her own father, they would own a single suit.

“They did not have a lot of cloths. They would buy nice pieces that would last,” said Dicks-Mireaux.

The palette for Ireland consisted primarily of blues, greens and creams, colors she was drawn to during her search.   New York, on the other hand, was not as directly impacted by the war.  The wardrobes were a bit larger and filled with stronger, bolder colors and patterns.

While Dicks-Mireaux favorite find was Eillis’ (Saoirse Ronan) yellow cotton dress (“It was so simple and worked just great for the scene,” marveled Dicks-Mireaux) she had great fun adding a bit of Hollywood glamor into wardrobe of the young New York women.  Noting they’d be influenced by the movie stars of the day, she interjected styles that captured the silhouette inspired by stars such as Elizabeth Taylor.

“These young people would be looking at Hollywood and thinking, ‘I can pretend to be them,’” said Dicks-Mireaux.