Oscar nominated for Mad Max: Fury Road, London-born Jenny Beavan is one of our greatest costume designers. After studying stage design at the Central School of Art and Design, she got an unpaid job on a small Merchant Ivory movie, later sharing an Oscar for the company’s 1985 film Room With A View with designer John Bright.
The Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday will see Beavan in contention for the 10th time, with her film costume roll call including The King’s Speech, Sherlock Holmes, Sense and Sensibility and Gosford Park. Last year, she gifted her working archive to the BFI National Archive.
Costume designer Jenny Beavan's top design tips
Costume designer Jenny Beavan's top design tips
1/5 Silver screen
Angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer with Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great in 2004’s Alexander.
2/5 Special attire
Camden Market’s S&M and partywear shops were a source of inspiration for the Mad Max costumes.
3/5 Costume Oscar nomination
Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road.
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4/5 A favourite market
Rye Lane in Peckham, with its stalls and pound shops.
Jenny has a Polish icon in her sitting room from Spitalfields market.
WHERE I LIVE
I moved to Peckham 22 years ago. The house is Grade II-listed and was built around 1860. It was owned in the mid-Sixties by David Sheppard, the cricketing Bishop of Woolwich, so they’re putting up a blue plaque to him very soon, which is thrilling.
Back in 1993 when we bought the house, the area was very run-down and nobody wanted to live in north Peckham. My daughter’s friends at James Allen’s Girls’ School in Dulwich never wanted to visit. Now of course it’s very cool.
The London Overground line means I can get straight up to Cosprop, the costume-rental house run by designer John Bright in Highbury and Islington, without having to take the car. Our house is a five-storey rambling place so there are always lots of people living here. My daughter, Caitlin, a theatre producer, is in the basement flat with her partner David. Up in the attic we’ve got comedian Joe Lycett.
The lovely couple who owned the house before me had an antiques business so they made it an exquisite monument to William Morris. It was a bit swirly so I had to tone that down. But I’m a fiend in markets. My daughter says: “Oh not more bowls, Mum.” I pick up glass and ceramics.
I’m not religious but I simply love religious art. In the sitting room I have a Polish icon from Spitalfields market and an altarpiece from New York. There are animal figures, including several moose. I’d rather spend money on them or on supporting artists, than on clothes. I’m lethal in auction houses because my hand goes up straight away so I have to keep away from them.
BEST FABRIC SHOPS
I love Joss Graham in Eccleston Street, SW1, who sells ethnographic textiles, costumes and works of art. When I was doing the costumes for Alexander with Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie, I bought a lot from him — fantastic key pieces such as jewellery, belts and fabrics. I will always look in Berwick Street in Soho. I love Jay who owns The Cloth House there, and Martin of Borovick Fabrics. New Rainbow Textiles in Southall is a favourite, with saris and brocades, and there’s an amazing little run of shops in Shepherd’s Bush Market and Goldhawk Road which are sadly under threat of gentrification.
HOW I DESIGN
I always think that costumes are important because they’re supporting the actor’s job and telling the story from the clothing point of view. I will do a mood board with cut-out photographs of actors, historical figures or costumes glued down, often alongside fabric swatches.
HOW I USE TECHNOLOGY
I’m afraid it’s probably my Mac and my iPhone. You have this amazing access to information — from the director you’ve never heard of (and who you’re going to meet tomorrow) to images you can print out, and even the cast list — they can change anything at the last moment and expect you to be on it. I’m always researching things on Amazon. I have just discovered an amazing bookshop run by Joseph Sebag, in Essaouira, Morocco, called Galérie AIDA. I now know that if I ever need anything on the Berbers or North Africa, I can email him and get him to send books.
Did I source any of Mad Max’s post-apocalyptic look in London? Well, I have done a lot of period movies, so it was wonderful to do something so different. I was very indebted to Norma Moriceau, the designer on the original Mad Max films, who had accumulated the most amazing collection of junk which was all in boxes at Fox Studios. I had the whole lot shipped to the Namibian desert where we shot the film.
But we sourced lots of material at Camden Market and in various S&M shops. I used the wonderful British costume maker Jane Law to make costumes for Charlize [Theron] and the girls here. I sourced the fabric for the older female characters from the terrific Hopkins Collection in Holloway who do ethnic fabrics and accessories. Everything is functional in the film, even the way Charlize’s character, Furiosa, wraps her body because it holds her together and gives her strength. During filming we discovered all the actors needed to wear goggles because of the dust in the desert so we frantically sourced them. And I disguised sports shoes for Tom [Hardy] to wear in the film, because he loves Reeboks.
If I need a particular piece I’ll go to Portobello and Camden. But I love Rye Lane, in Peckham, from the pound shops which I find continually fascinating, to the market stalls, and the brilliant shoe mender and key cutter in the indoor market.
The Old Kent Road has some marvellously eccentric shops. When I’m not on location I walk around the area a lot. I love my neighbours, the independent businesses and the sense of real people doing real things.
I absolutely love river walks — such as walking along the Thames to Rotherhithe. I remember going to St Katharine Docks when it still smelt of spices and just breathing in the atmosphere.
Probably the V&A, I love wandering through the old instruments gallery. I’m also very fond of the British Museum, particularly the early Anglo-Saxon stuff and the bronzes.
The October Gallery in Holborn had a fantastic exhibition, Angaza Afrika: African Art Now, a few years ago, and Chris Spring, curator of the African galleries at the British Museum, brought out a book to accompany it which became our bible on Mad Max.
It profiles artists in Africa who do a lot of recycled, put-together stuff. The Nigerian maker Dilomprizulike, known as “The Junkman from Afrika” recycles old clothing found on city streets to create sculptural pieces that are incredibly inspirational. On Mad Max we made a lot of pieces from soda cans, tires and inner tubes.
WHAT I AM WEARING TO THE OSCARS
I’m not very interested in clothes for myself — only when they tell stories. I just want to melt into the background. Jane [Pugh] made me a dark trouser suit for the Oscars a few years ago so I am hoping to get back into that. Or I’ve got a real urge just to dress from Marks & Spencer, accessorised with some great chunky ethnic silver jewellery from Namibia.
The Jenny Beavan collection is available for research. Contact BFI Special Collections.