Tom Ford’s ‘Nocturnal Animals’: Why Costume Designer Arianne Phillips Had Toughest Job

TheWrap Oscar magazine: Famed fashion figure didn’t want any of his own designs in the film, Phillips says

Nocturnal Animals
Merrick Morton/Focus Features

A version of this story about “Nocturnal Animals” costumer Arianne Phillips first appeared in the Nominations Preview issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

Tom Ford is credited twice in press materials for his stunning “Nocturnal Animals,” as both its director and screenwriter. But equally as revealing has been the job he opted not to do on his second feature: costume designer. That credit went to Arianne Phillips.

“This is Tom Ford the director, this is not an advertisement to sell clothes,” said Academy Award-nominated costume designer Phillips. “This experience is another arm in his creativity.”

This marks Phillips’ second collaboration with Ford following his debut, “A Single Man,” a film heavy on Ford’s menswear, womenswear, accessories and beauty line. But not “Nocturnal Animals.” She tried to sneak a pair of the designer’s sunglasses on set for star Amy Adams and they were immediately bounced.


“Maybe I’m overly sensitive about it, but I’m very serious about movies,” Ford said. “I didn’t want it to feel like a Tom Ford commercial for anything. So no Tom Ford products, nothing. You’re watching the end credits and it’s every other company in the entire world but mine.”

But don’t be mistaken — the film very much has Ford’s steely and militant glamour, especially as it relates to Adams’ character Susan, a gallerist and Los Angeles society type whose marriage is on the brink of collapse, and who interprets the manuscript of a violent novel by her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), as a metaphor for their own failed relationship.

“The thing that’s so essential to her story is that, here’s a woman who is not unlike George Falconer,” Phillips said, referencing Colin Firth’s buttoned-up character in “A Single Man.” “She’s heading toward a serious midlife crisis. She’s in an unhappy marriage. She’s isolated and filled with regret. At the same time, she works in a very presentational, high-echelon world. Creating that veneer is what she can control.”

Nocturnal Animals

In the film’s present day setting, Ford has some fun with the archetypes of the jet set — creating a luxurious dandy in Michael Sheen (a purple dinner jacket steals the show), an Auntie Mame eccentric in Andrea Riseborough and an L.A. nightmare in a museum curator played by Jena Malone.

“Costume design is not fashion,” Phillips said. “As a creative director, Tom understands the concept of ‘The Woman,’ and who he is designing for, but there’s something cinematic in that job as well. Tom always says his favorite part of designing is editing.”

As “Nocturnal Animals” also depicts the action happening in Edward’s novel, West Texas becomes the backdrop for an unspeakable crime and a quest for revenge. It’s here we see Michael Shannon’s brilliant, gritty turn as a detective (control-freak Ford cut Shannon’s hair himself on set, the actor said recently), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a highway robber, rapist and thug.

“That was the best part of the experience for me, the signifiers we put in,” Phillips said. “Aaron wears a birthstone ring on his pinky that we thought he might have taken from a girl he attacked. Like a trophy.”

Read more from the Nominations Preview issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

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