‘American Hustle’ Designer Explains How He Created the Movie’s Outlandish Outfits

Michael Wilkinson went from designing Superman’s tights to over the top ’70s getups

OscarWrap-4-coverThis story first appeared in OscarWrap: Nominations Preview

Michael Wilkinson had just finished designing Superman’s tights when producer Charles Roven suggested he meet with director David O. Russell, who was preparing “American Hustle.” “We recognized in each other that we shared
an obsession with how people present themselves to the world in clothing and appearance,” Wilkinson told TheWrap.
 Set in the late 1970s, “Hustle” chronicles con men, cops, paramours and politicos — all of whom use their outfits to project the power they have or want.

Here’s how Wilkinson approached five of the central characters:


Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

A dry cleaner moonlighting as a high-
end art dealer professing connections to Middle East sheiks, Rosenfeld “has a very explicit way of dressing; he’s a unique cat,” said Wilkinson. To convey this, the designer dressed Irving with several signature pieces, including an ascot, a vest and unforgettable jackets. One combines stripes, polka dots and paisleys. Another was a paisley velvet sports coat — a detail Russell mandated in the script.

Also read: Inside ‘American Hustle': David O. Russell Takes His All-Star Cast on Wild Ride to the ’70s


Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser

Prosser starts out as a small-town girl with grand hopes and aspirations but ends up the savvy (and cleavage-baring) linchpin of Rosenfeld’s plot. “It was interesting to have this amazing transformation of her gaining confidence with what she wore,” Wilkinson said. “She uses her physicality to get what she needs out of situations, so the more daring necklines are great to express the new power she feels.”


Bradley Cooper as Richie Di Maso

Di Maso, a run-of-the-mill FBI agent, lives at home with his mom and has a fiancée he wants to escape. When he stumbles upon Rosenfeld and Prosser, he senses an opportunity to realize his dreams of being a big shot, so he casts aside his polyester suit, buys
a leather jacket and embraces the best (and worst) of late ’70s fashion. “That was such a great period. It was about clothes that hugged the body and showed the body — a new, fresh, streamlined approach,” said Wilkinson.

Also read: ‘American Hustle’ Style Revealed: How Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale Got Their Crazy ‘Dos’


Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld

“She’s depressed when she’s at home, feeling like she’s hiding from the world. When she goes out in the world it’s the opposite; she’s trying to get attention and to make her husband jealous,” said Wilkinson.
So he dressed her in shapeless muumuus and
house dresses at home but gave her leopard prints, undersized dresses and abundant cleavage when she hits the town “dressed to kill.”


Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito

A mayor with ties to both U.S. senators and the mob, Polito is New Jersey through and through. “When you see him cut a figure with signature suits, high-impact ties and a carefully coiffed pompadour hairstyle,” said Wilkinson, “it’s his own aspirational dressing — with less resources.”