It's no longer a spoiler: Yes, Taylor Swift, in period costume, breaks into a tune in the ’30s-set dark comedy-mystery Amsterdam. As Liz Meekins, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, she kicks off the action and intrigue after imploring two World War I veterans, doctor Burt (Christian Bale) and lawyer Harold (John David Washington), to look into the sudden death of her father. Behind the scenes, Swift’s casting amped up the suspense, too.
“It was sort of hush-hush, top secret,” says costume designer J.R. Hawbaker, because the casting of the “All Too Well” singer happened as filming was underway. (Oscar-winning 91-year-old Albert Wolsky began prep, twice over, and established signatures for certain characters, like Burt and Harold. Hawbaker then took over costume designing the David O. Russell-directed project during the Omicron surge.)
Liz’s en vogue circa 1933 emerald green dress and netted fascinator, framing her perfectly applied makeup, immediately telegraph her posh status without saying a word. Her wispy curls and bangs — that become more undone as the pivotal day progresses — indicate her bereft and frantic state. As the movie trailer reveals, Liz’s impending demise propels Burt and Harold on a mission to clear their name. They reunite with captivating artist and former WWI volunteer nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie) and encounter a sprawling lineup of enigmatic personalities, including chilly society wife Libby (Anya Taylor-Joy).
Along the way, the period wardrobe, spanning 1918 to 1933, and hair and makeup, are rife with character and international mystery-filled Easter eggs — not to mention inspo to take into your own 2022 adventures. Ahead, Hawbaker, makeup department head Nana Fischer, and hair department heads Lori McCoy-Bell and Adruitha Lee take us through key moments in the film.
Taylor Swift’s “Femme Fatale” Surprise Songstress Look
“She’s part of an elite social circle,” says Hawbaker, who conjured the image of Liz before Swift’s name was even attached to the role. Evoking “that elegance of a femme fatale,” Hawbaker created a complete immaculate ensemble, from a “bereaved daughter” fascinator to an open yoke-neckline dress in Liz’s signature green palette. For the latter, Hawbaker opted for a knit fabric, which is period authentic to 1933 East Coast societal fashion trends — and efficient to quickly fit onto Swift in the tight time-frame. Hawbaker custom designed and built the vast majority of the leads’ costumes, but Liz’s distinctive brooch is a genuine ’30s Bakelite piece. “It has that deco era architecture and geometry to it,” she says.
When Liz encounters Harold and Burt later in the rainy evening, she dons a frog-closure-detailed mink capelet, which is actually fake fur. “[Swift and I] really wanted to just push the faux elements,” says Hawbaker. The high, structured collar also emphasizes Liz’s defined lips — a mix of orange-red shades topped with a Chanel le Rouge Duo Ultra Tenue gloss in Daring Red (47) — and wispy curls signaling vulnerability. “We wanted to give her a little sweetness too, with her soft, beautiful voice singing,” says McCoy-Bell. Using Swift’s real hair, and not a wig, she camouflaged the singer’s longer locks by forming three separate ponytails at the nape of the neck to twist into a low bun.
The very profesh Swift also happily let Fischer pluck and shape her brows into a more ’30s arch and learned her song on the fly — which turned out to be a treat for Hawbaker. “We were doing the little final finesses to make sure [the dress was] just sculpted perfectly to her body and she was practicing the song in the trailer with just me,” says Hawbaker. “I got a Taylor Swift concert, like a private concert, while she was practicing a song that David just handed her that morning.”
Margot Robbie’s “Avant Garde” Amsterdam Aesthetic
Turns out that Liz has a connection with Valerie, who, in 1918 literally nursed Harold and Burt — with pretty gnarly battlefront injuries — back to health in Belgium. After the war ends, the now-tight trio head to artsy, cool, and progressive Amsterdam and move into a massive apartment in the canals. Like the adventurous, free-spirited character herself, Valerie’s all-black palette, bishop sleeve and peplum blouse silhouettes, and envelope-pushing pants take inspiration from groundbreaking women artists of the pre-surrealist Dada movement: Think Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Hannah Höch, and Alexina Duchamp.
‘They're really the wild innovative roar in response to traditional artistic format,” says Hawbaker. “They took the bizarre and the unruly and the irreverent and they made it beautiful.” Kind of like Valerie’s outlook on life and her art, for which she upcycles and reimagines bullets and shrapnel extracted from WWI soldiers into beautiful multimedia pieces.
Valerie’s trademark smoky eyes and matte lips, courtesy of the ’90s-beloved MAC Spice lip liner and Chanel Rouge Allure Matte Velvet in a mauve-y Libre, also “hit the Bohemian avant garde look of the 1920s and 1930s,” says Fischer. She subliminally communicated Valerie’s nonchalant I-woke-up-like-this attitude through period authentic kohl eyeliner and Paw Paw oil smudges, as edgy-cool women of the time would do. Plus, “Valerie wouldn’t have really bothered with plucking her eyebrows, like society girl Liz.”
Valerie’s Spontaneously Repurposed Tango Dress
Like Swift’s last-minute song inclusion, a brief, but memorable tango scene — in a montage of Valerie, Burt, and Harold essentially living their best lives in Amsterdam — was also an impromptu idea from the director. “It's like a Project Runway challenge,” says Hawbaker. “I have 14 hours to come up with a look [for Valerie]!”
Knowing the characters inside and out (and how to roll with the punches), Hawbaker went into Valerie’s head; imagining the resourceful artist would improvise, too. Hawbaker also delved into to her deep well of fashion history: The period’s “avant garde thinkers, artists, musicians and world travelers” would inventively repurpose their opera scarves into dancing dresses. “Margot and I joked [about it] and we called it a ‘Society of the Scarf,’” says Hawbaker, who happened to have a large sunburst patterned and fringe shawl in Robbie’s wardrobe. (“Kismet,” she says, also because a sunburst became a motif throughout the film.)
Hawbaker recalls running up to Robbie with a large scarf and a grand idea the night before shooting: “‘Margot, tomorrow this is going to be a dress,’ and she went, ‘Great. I trust you. It’s going to be great.’” The web-like straps, draped off-the-shoulder, are actually the scarf fringe.
Lee, who’s worked with Robbie previously on projects like I, Tonya, designed Valerie’s evolving hair arc (using three wigs), featuring Old Hollywood finger curls and an almost subversive-feeling straight middle-parted lob in Amsterdam. The quick change in style also expresses Valerie’s restless and intrepid nature, while staying period correct with drug store product Tres Flores Three Flowers Brilliantine hair oil. “This product has been around for 100 years,” says Lee.
Valerie’s Hollywood Siren-Meets-Modern-Day-Rocker Outfit
The carefree days in Amsterdam couldn’t last forever. First, Burt returns to his responsibilities at home in New York, followed by Harold, who heads to Columbia Law School. In between, Valerie leaves the apartment without a trace. The three meet over a decade later in her family mansion in New Jersey. She’s not well, but becomes invigorated as she joins forces to prove Burt and Harold didn’t kill Liz — and uncover an international conspiracy. Obviously, Val is dressed for the job.
“I might have called it the ‘Katherine Hepburn [Guns N’ Roses guitarist] Slash’ look,’” laughs Hawbaker. In my notes, I actually wrote “Jack Black spy outfit,” also referring to Valerie’s flat-top, low-crown and wide-brim hat. The worn-in topper tracks back to Valerie’s wartime days, as Red Cross nurses did wear similar hats. Plus, it celebrates trailblazing women artists Georgia O’Keefe and Virginia Wolfe. Fischer and Lee looked forward to Old Hollywood legends, like Audrey Hepburn, for an elegant, fresh-faced look. Myrna Loy informed Valerie’s now-side-parted finger curls — which were actually done using the real “rag rolls” method of the ’30s.
Valerie’s flared black riding coat is actual vintage from the late ’30s and early ’40s — again, illustrating that she’s not fashion sheeple. “She’s the innovator who makes the looks for the future,” says Hawbaker. “She's that far ahead of her time and thinking about modernity and where culture’s going.”
Anya Taylor-Joy’s Formidable Color Palette
Libby, who turns out to be Valerie’s slightly terrifying sister-in-law, literally stomps onto the scene to reluctantly allow Burt and Harold into her Jersey mansion (and bully a now reclusive Valerie). She’s an intimidating presence in her trademark brick red palette, from her precise ’30s blouses, below-the-knee skirts, and bias-cut dresses, to her meticulously-drawn lipstick. “It’s almost like a uniform,” says Fischer, who exactly matched the lip shades to Libby’s costumes, like MAC Creemsheen Lipstick in Dare for her intro.
“I call it a ‘sanguine’ color, like the deep blood red,” says Hawbaker. “It hits you in a place where you feel both inspired, but also a little maybe unsettled. But it’s breathtaking and it’s a very unapologetic color.” Unlike Valerie’s rebellious trousers, Libby’s silhouettes stay true to ’30s high-end fashion trends. “She’s adhering to societal fashion in the most elegant and aspirational way that only that level of society can achieve: velvet, silk, silk velvet — all the luxe fabrics,” says Hawbaker.
But, Libby’s stacked milkmaid braids, which bring Sound of Music or Heidi to mind, are not a “mainstream” hairstyle of the era, explains McCoy-Bell, who expertly twisted two long plaits of Taylor-Joy’s own hair (and not extensions). “But for her character, we thought, ‘This is great,’” says McCoy-Bell.
Libby’s Floral-Accented Red Ball Gown
Libby’s red color scheme — and striking tiara-like up-dos — culminate at a gala: the age-old archetype to spark the climatic reveal, while also creating opportunity for some stellar evening looks. Libby’s crimson low-plunge and open-back gown boasts a cascade of handmade silk florals on one strap. In the ’30s and ’40s, high society women wore extravagant amounts of fresh or silk florals to accent their ball gowns. “I call those the ‘scorched orchids,’” says Hawbaker, about Libby’s. “They also started to represent a little bit of that darkness and beauty of the Dada tradition.”
Fischer matched Libby’s gown with Rouge Dior lipstick in the aptly-named Iconic Red, while Chantecaille Future Skin Gel Foundation enhanced Taylor-Joy’s already luminous complexion. McCoy-Bell made oversize pearl ornaments, which gleamed, almost angelically, throughout Libby’s twisty update of her earlier milkmaid braids. “I always wanted to keep the crown, the halo look of royalty — and loyalty — and she wears it so well,” says McCoy-Bell.
Valerie’s Art Deco Referential Gala Moment
Valerie’s Dada inspirations and world-traveling narrative hit a pinnacle for her spectacular gala look, which also has a pretty epic story behind-the-scenes. While conceptualizing a gown for Valerie’s climactic finale moments, Hawbaker instinctively drew from her own interest in Egyptian assuit cloth. Originating in Turkey in the 19th century, the now-collectible pieces are shawls made from hand-hammered metal pieces embroidered onto netting fabric.
“I was like, ‘This is the most perfect thing ever because Valerie loves metal. She’s a metal artist,’” says Hawbaker, who envisioned Valerie procuring some on her post-war adventures or travels with her rich family. Hawbaker sourced three vintage assuit cloths, while sketching out a flowing silhouette. “That halter neckline [felt] unapologetic, strong, and very, very free-spirited,” says Hawbaker. “Valerie was open to joy, even though she has that dark place.”
Valerie’s screen siren waves, tied into a low chignon at the nape of her neck, exemplifying her return to happy times with Harold and Burt. “We brought her part back to the middle to influence the early grounding that she had with her two friends,” explains McCoy-Bell, about Lee’s styling. Valerie’s makeup also honors to her artistic talents, especially the two dots of strongly pigmented MAC Russian Red lipstick near the inner corners of her eyes. Fischer based the “cherry on top” accent on an art deco painting she found. “[Robbie] really, really wanted to use it,” says Fischer.
Hawbaker also discussed with Robbie how to attach the gleaming silver metal-encrusted assuit design onto the hammered silk black gown. The costume designer originally needed to split the vintage piece into two to make a second dress for the stunt double. But Robbie fell in love with the entire piece. “She’s like, ‘J.R., don’t cut it. I want it all. I definitely want it all on me — all of it — don’t cut it,” remembers Hawbaker, who complied.
In front of a “tiny mirror,” the two strategized how to optimally drape and showcase spectacular embellishments onto the gown. “I liked the diamond shape at the front of it. [Robbie] discovered this really cool cascading shape to the sides,” says Hawbaker. “It was a true collaboration.”