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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Arianne Phillips, 2000


Angelina Jolie may have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Girl, Interrupted, but if it weren’t for Arianne Phillips she would have gone through the movie buck naked. That’s because Arianne designed the costumes, as she has for a string of recent movies including The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Replacement Killers, The Crow, and Mod Squad. She’s also worked as a personal stylist for two of our more demanding, image-conscious stars, Courtney Love and Madonna, and you know that no one stays in their employ unless they’re really good. But Arianne’s story about how she got her start in the business is a classic of the genre, and she tells it here for the very first time.

Amra: That’s some outfit you’ve put together for yourself.
Arianne: [laughs] Boys pajama bottoms and a t-shirt.

Amra: Uh-huh ...
Arianne: I’m not working today.

Amra: Maybe we should start at the beginning?
Arianne:  Well, growing up, the mother of my best friend was a hairdresser. This was in Santa Cruz in the late ’70s-early ’80s, when it was quite an exciting time for hair — hair weaves and pink mohawks. I was in eleventh grade, and I wanted to go to art school, but I knew my parents couldn’t afford it. So I thought, “I’ll go to beauty school without them knowing” — because they would never approve — “and I’ll get my license and I’ll work ...” I figured I could become a hairdresser and put myself through art school to go on to bigger and better things.

Amra: Good plan.
Arianne: I would leave school early and go to Wayne College of Beauty, which was right down the street from Santa Cruz High. I didn’t tell my parents for the first six months, my dad, being an English teacher, and my mom, being a writer. I was afraid they wouldn’t approve of a white trash career — which they didn’t. But I became a hairdresser and moved to San Francisco. There I was, living the wild life of an eighteen-year-old. Then I got in a car accident and I ended up right back in Santa Cruz for six months of bed rest.

Amra: Oh my God. I didn’t know that.
Arianne: My very best friend, Ralph Negron, who’d gone to London, called me up and said, “I know what you should do, you should be a stylist.” And I’m like, “What the fuck is a stylist?” And he explained that it’s someone who gathers clothes and puts them together for photographers. So he came back and we made a mock portfolio with all my friends from various bands, dressing them up in clothes from the Goodwill and that really great place where you could buy clothes by the pound ...

Amra: The Bargain Barn.
Arianne: Yes, Bargain Barn! So I decided to move to New York, because I had never been there ...

Amra: And you took the mock portfolio with you?
Arianne: Exactly. And I have a really amazing “how I got started” story that I’ve never told anyone. I didn’t know one person in New York, and I had this pseudo-portfolio with bad photos of my thrift store clothing. But my sister knew a girl who’d been discovered by Ford. She was sixteen and she was modeling in New York. She had a list of photographers that she’d tested with, and I just started calling them. And these fuckers wouldn’t even hire me to test!
[both laughing]

Arianne: So then my mom came to visit, and one day we went to have coffee with a friend of hers. The woman asked, “What is it you want to do?” And when I told her, she said, “I have a friend whose ex-boyfriend is a fashion photographer. You should call him up.” And it turned out to be Arthur Elgort. I didn’t know at the time, but he’s like Bruce Weber.  He’s a super-established fashion photographer.

Amra: Right.
Arianna: So I called him up, and instead of saying I was a friend of a friend who got his number, I just cut out the middle person and said that I knew his friend in Santa Cruz — which I didn’t. I thought, “What the hell.” And he immediately invited me over to his studio. I put on my best thrift-store clothing, and I went over ... in Bargain Barn clothing!

Amra: [laughs] Yes.
Arianne: And to this day, it’s still the most impressive photo studio I’ve ever seen. Four backdrops were set up, and Paulina was there. This was 1985, and she was the brand new model; she had just done her spread in GQ. And every one of his assistants had long, flowing hair. It was right when boys started having long hair again. All of a sudden I realized that this was the real deal.

Amra: And you’d bluffed your way in.
Arianne: Oh, yes. Arthur invited me in to his office to look at my portfolio, and he was so gracious. He said, “Well, I can see you’re a very creative person ...” [laughs] But he said, “I’m quite established, and the best thing to do is start with people from your own generation and come up in the business. I would recommend, if you want to be a stylist, you should do an internship at Condé Nast.” I didn’t even know what the fuck Condé Nast was. I think the last thing he said to me was, “Don’t be shy. Walk straight, walk proud.”

Amra: That’s so sweet!
Arianne: I remember going home and calling everyone I knew, asking them if they knew what or who Condé Nast was. Then I went out and bought Vogue and Mademoiselle and Seventeen ... I went straight to the mastheads and got all the names at the top, people like Polly Mellon and Jade Hobson. And I thought, “Fuck it, I’m just going to call them.” So I called Jade Hobson’s office and got her secretary. She said, “Can I help you?” I said, “Yes.  Arthur Elgort referred me and told me to call.” And I didn’t realize that that was like ...

Amra: A big deal.
Arianne: Like the Pope ... I had no idea. I said I was an old friend of Arthur’s, which was a lie. I was hating New York so much and I was so lonely, I just thought, “What do I have to lose?” They immediately set up a meeting, and I met with this woman who was like the chic-est woman I’d ever seen. She was so beautiful and elegant.

Amra: What made her that way?
Arianne: Well, she just reeked of — no offense or anything —  but she reeked of a Sarah Lawrence or a Barnard education. She had beautiful lightly gray-streaked hair, and beautiful vintage rings. She just had a lot of style. And obviously, it was her business. But she was really nice — with that “any friend of Arthur’s is a friend of ours” thing. So I’m in her office, and Polly Mellon bounds in, and they start having a big discussion right in front of me about the cover. All of a sudden we’re looking at pictures of Kim Alexis, and I’m thinking, “Oh my god, I’m an imposter; I’m going to jail.”
     So then she looked at my book — the same pathetic book I’d shown everyone else — and she said, “I have two things to say to you, one good and one bad. The bad is, you’re not right for Vogue. The good is, you’re perfect for Mademoiselle!”

Amra: Oh my god!
Arianne: I liked Mademoiselle better anyway. It was more my age. Then she called up, right when I was there, to the head of hiring, and gave me this glowing report. When I filled out the application, I totally lied. I think I put down that I went to Columbia.  They were all so well-educated. It certainly wasn’t a place for a Northern California hippie girl.
     They didn’t have any openings, but they said, “We’re going to get you started. We love to support young talent,” blah blah blah. A week later I got a call from a woman who said, “Don’t accept any jobs unless you talk to me first, because we’ll probably have an opening in the next month.” At that point, I thought Condé Nast was probably the wrong place for me. I was more connected to music, and fashion was just not as inspiring. I was trying to figure out ways I could get into music or film. Then I got another phone call — this story is almost over — from a woman named Marjorie Kalinsky, who’d gotten my name from the Condé Nast people. She was working on a show with Sandy Pittman ...

Amra: Who is that?
Arianne: At the time, she was married to Bob Pittman, who founded MTV, and she was starting up a show called “Fashion America” for the Lifetime Network. It was a precursor to these shows we see all the time now. No sooner had I taken the job, I get a call from the woman at Condé Nast, she’s really upset, and there was practically a bidding war over me. [laughs]

Amra: All this spinning out from your little deception.
Arianne: All of it. Anyway, I went with “Fashion America.” The stylist on it was Robert Turner, who used to be the creative director at Vogue. He introduced me to some of the heavyweight stylists at the time — Paul Cravaco, John Duka, Kezia Keeble, who are legendary, and Tina Bossidy, Wendy Goodman, Tonne Goodman, and Barbara Dente. It was really a great show, way ahead of its time, and because of that, it wasn’t renewed for a second season. But I went on from there to assist some stylists, and that’s how I got my start.

Amra: From such humble beginnings.
Arianne: Well, they were. I was doing little things like pressing Peter Gabriel’s clothes for Good Morning, America, and powdering his nose at the same time — whatever I could get.

Amra: And how did you get into film?
Arianne: I started doing music videos, and I quickly realized that this was the way to go. When it was a narrative video or a heavy conceptual video, involving characters, I was able to do costuming. By then, I’d already done a lot of fashion, and I knew that I didn’t really have the patience or the desire for it. I needed something more challenging than models! [laughs]

Amra: What’s the difference between coming up with a concept for a person’s image, and an overall concept for a film?
Arianne: The thing about working with a pop star and their image is it’s never really as calculated as people might think. Madonna or even Courtney are good examples of a constant metamorphosis — change is all organic for them. It’s like a natural progression. And as a stylist, the most important thing is to have a willing, inspired, and interested subject-artist to work with. I have to connect with something about their music or their art in order to style them, so I feel like my work is going to flower with them.

Amra: And what would some of those connections be?
Arianne: It could be anything from a book we’ve both read or a film we’ve seen to a political situation in the news — it could be anything. It could be a color. So it’s not about calculating an image. It’s more about being true to ideas, being bold, and not second-guessing ...

Amra: And in terms of film?
Arianne: Everything comes down to the script. It’s the first thing I get before I meet the director or the actors. First, I have to like the characters or think the story is of value, or fun, and then it has to have costume-interesting elements for me. I need to see characters that are well developed and go through an arc of change. Then I can show growth and change with the costumes. The characters start in one place at the beginning of the story and they actually go somewhere.

Amra: And it usually makes for a better movie.
Arianne: Oh, totally. But even if it’s just an out-and-out entertaining film, like The Crow or Tank Girl or Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman, it’s got to have a lot of style. The cinematographer and the production designer and the director have to have an aesthetic that I feel akin to.

Amra: How closely are you working with them? And how open are they, especially the directors?
Arianne: The relationship with directors is similar to the relationship that I have with pop stars. We need to have an understanding of a common aesthetic, and some kind of a match of the intellect. There’s got to be a chemistry there. The director has the vision, but he also hires the cinematographer, the production designer, and the costume designer to carry out that vision. They are all essential to doing good work. It’s a creative think tank, in a way.

Amra: Have you ever had perfect chemistry?
Arianne: Even though it was an experience on a film that ended in such horrific tragedy, The Crow was perfect chemistry.

Amra: Brandon Lee died on the set of that film.
Arianne: It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life because the whole production team was working with a totally shared vision. But it was also one of the worst experiences of my life — and for that reason it has made me really wary about choosing who I work with. But I have to say, when the chemistry’s perfect, and I hate to sound grandiose, it can almost be a spiritual experience

Amra: What was it like working on Girl, Interrupted?
Arianne: It was one of those experiences that you hope and dream for, but it was a hard shoot. We were in a mental institution in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in the dead of winter, which by itself would have been enough! And we were dealing with heavy material. It’s a book that I love. And the kind of story that I’ve always been drawn to. When I was thirteen, I was obsessed with stories like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Sara T.: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic, and Born Innocent. You know, the grand tradition of troubled young women ...

Amra: Have you meet Susanna Kaysen?
Arianne: Yeah, she came to the set. It’s really hard when you’re doing a film about someone who’s still alive. It happened on The People vs. Larry Flynt as well. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the actors to have to see the real person that they’re playing. I mean, even as someone who’s only costuming the character, you want authenticity. It’s nerve-wracking to meet the person. They might just go, “What the hell is that? I never wore anything like that.” But I think that Suzanna Kason and — believe it or not — Larry Flynt understood that it’s cinema.

Amra: What was it like working with Jim Mangold?
Arianne: When I found out that he was going to direct Girl, Interrupted, I really wanted to work on it. He did Cop Land and Heavy. I was so excited, because I knew that the subject would be dealt with in a real and beautiful way. The process with him was incredible. As a costume designer, the most important thing is access to the director during prep time, and he was always available and had incredible ideas. He really pushed my work to a higher level. That’s what you always hope for in a director. And I think it’s a really important film.
Amra: Mental health — especially with young girls — is still a hard subject for people to deal with today. And this film is set in the ’60s.
Arianne: There’s a character in the film who’s a lesbian, and another who’s anorexic. The movie makes you realize that back then, when families didn’t know how to deal with these girls, they would send them to a private mental hospital. They would just push them away. Had I seen a film like this when I was eighteen, I think it would have made a huge impression on me.

Amra: What was eighteen like for you?
Arianne: The punk rock scene in Santa Cruz was happening — hot on the heels of my early teen years with Rocky Horror. It was all about identity and connecting to a subculture through the music you listen to, and the way you dress and wear your hair, and thus belong to something special. I was creating an identity for who I was going to be in the world, with that feeling I think every teenager has about being different and misunderstood. [laughs]

Amra: What were some of your style obsessions?
Arianne: I’ve always been obsessed with English pop culture from the ’60s and ’70s, with rock n’ roll culture from the ’80s all the way up to now ... and even the English pop culture of Henry VIII. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with English history. I think it was the pageantry and the grandness of it. So give me any bad costume drama about Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn and I’m there. There were lots of these films in the ’70s when I was a kid, and I saw them all. They made a huge impression on me. St. Francis of Assisi, Romeo and Juliet — those Zeffirelli films. They were period films, but they completely had the flavor of the time in which they were made.

Amra: Have you ever done costumes for a period film?
Arianne: I worked on an eighteenth-century period piece in England, and I got fired! Actually, period pieces are the films most recognized in terms of awards, like the Oscar. It’s easy to say the costumes are good. It’s easy to go to the library and look at what people wore in the sixteenth century, but to articulate character and subtlety in a contemporary film is quite a challenge. If you think about the way people dress now, it’s so J. Crew and Banana Republicked out that there’s a lack of individuality.

Amra: What period do you most want to design for?
Arianne: Well, I’ve done ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, '80s, and ’90s so ... [laughs] I’d love to do the ’20s and the ’30s. That’s my dream. And maybe the sixteenth century.  I love everything! [laughs] As long as it’s a good story and the characters are interesting, I’m down for it!

Amra: What do you think every girl should have?
Arianne: That’s such a good question! That’s a lot of pressure! Every girl should have an attitude.

Amra: Who do you think looks great all the time?
Arianne: Quentin Crisp did, but he’s gone now.

Amra: What clothing item to you is most important?
Arianne: Shoes. I never really pass judgment on people for the way they dress, but I am constantly inquisitive, and I’m a total people studier. The first thing I look at is a person’s shoes, because I think it says a lot about them. And when I’m working, it’s the first part of a costume that I focus on.

Amra: I love that you start at the bottom.
Arianne: It’s all about how they walk, and that’s where their attitude comes from. Laurence Olivier, who is not a method actor because he was an English actor, once said that the first thing he did was get his shoes to form his character. That made a huge impression on me. So thank you, Mr. Olivier.



© index Magazinearianne phillips
Arianne Phillips by Sheryl Nields, 2000


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