‘Babylon’ Costume Designer Dressed Diego Calva’s Character for the Job He Wants (and Eventually Loses)
Gofer and quick-witted fixer Manny Torres (Diego Calva) effortlessly determines how to haul an overstuffed elephant up a steep hill to a Bel Air party, sneak a dead body out of said packed bacchanal and satisfy his producer boss’ black-tie dress code. with minimal financial means.
“It’s actually not even a tuxedo. It’s cobbled together,” he says Babylon costume designer Mary Zophres, who received her fourth Oscar nomination for her work on the sprawling ode to Hollywood. It’s her second nom for collaborating with director Damien Chazelle, after 2016’s La La Land.
Zophres imagined Manny taking precious care of his only white, but now-yellowed, dress shirt, modeled after an original late-1920s button-down with gathers on the sleeves and shoulder yoke. “He hand-washes it. He line-dries it, and he has a way to press it,” she says.
Manny likely resourcefully borrowed the mismatched jacket and bow tie from the producer’s suited henchmen. His shirt cuffs are overexposed from the blazer sleeve, and the point collar is too floppy. But Manny is dressing for the Hollywood job he wants. “He’s very much an observer of where he is,” says Zophres. “There’s not a thing that this character misses.”
With a foot in the door, Manny crosses paths with a legendary MGM studio head played by Max Minghella. “Manny aspires to be Irving Thalberg,” says Zophres. So, the upstart manifests his ambitious dreams to become a studio executive through emulating the mega-producer’s power dressing. “Manny finds out where Thalberg gets his suits made, because all of the studio heads at the time had bespoke suits,” she adds. Zophres fortuitously found a circa 1927 custom three-piece suit, with Hollywood provenance, and collaborated with Serj Costumes and Tailoring to precisely replicate the handiwork.
“Just the way the lapels were shaped and sewn — and the size of them — and where the button placement was,” says Zophres of homing in on the subtle, yet sumptuous, detailing that telegraphed success and power in the era. The formal suiting also illustrates Mexican American immigrant Manny’s code-switching as he breaks into the studio boys club.
Zophres sought out Hollywood’s “secret weapon,” Anto, for Manny’s bespoke dress shirts, with a luxurious weight and weave to emphasize his elevated status. She also progressed Manny into distinguished fine stripes, which were popular at the time.
Previously preceding neckties, Manny debuts the “power tie” of the era, boasting an opulent silk brocade pattern. Zophres found a treasure trove of perfect-condition late-1920s neckwear, which she distributed among the power players: Thalberg, Manny and his previous producer boss. “Manny’s mimicking the type of tie that those two other executives wear,” she says.
But with power comes a price and “the mighty fall,” says Zophres, as Manny loses his way on a moral and professional path. “He starts to strip away these things that he’s gained from his success,” she says about his literal removal of his hard-won jacket and tie. And so Manny is violently chased out of Hollywood wearing another filthy, disheveled shirt.
This story first appeared in a Feb. stand-alone issue of The News84Media magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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