‘Hunger Games’ fashion on fire

Costume designer ensures Katniss and company are dressed to impress



“The Hunger Games” is a visual smorgasbord of a movie, a cast of hundreds dressed in everything from utilitarian garb with Depression-era grit to glam-gone-grotesque Gaga get-ups inspired by the latest haute couture. Then there’s that dress worn by the young heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) that goes up in flames.

It may seem as if it doesn’t get much better than this for a costume designer. But the pressure is on to please fans of author Suzanne Collins’ YA trilogy, who have purchased millions of copies of the books and have already broken the record previously held by “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” for advance ticket sales for the film, which opens Friday.

“I tried to stay as close to the descriptions in the book as I could,” says costume designer Judianna Makovsky. “When I was doing ‘Harry Potter,’ I changed to an unlisted phone number because I was so terrified I was going to disappoint people.”

The annual Hunger Games require 24 participants, a boy and a girl from each district who fight to the death until only one is left. And the “show” is broadcast live, watched by everyone in the land with the same fervor real-life viewers have for reality TV.

The costumes in the film are wonderful to look at, but they are also an interesting study because of how they reflect today’s fashion world.

The simple beauty of the clothes in District 12, for example, recalls fashion’s never-ending fascination with vintage work wear, authenticity and Americana, which is seen in “heritage” brands such as RRL and L.L. Bean. And the outrageous clothing in the Capitol brings to mind the see-and-be-photographed blogger culture that thrives on peacockish personal style and celebrates the kookiest among us, from Nicki Minaj to Bryan Boy.

There’s also the legion of “Hunger Games” stylists — led by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) — who help the Tributes, as the Hunger Games contestants are known, dress to impress. In the last decade, styling has become an industry unto itself.

Makovsky put as much thought and consideration into the low-key costumes for District 12 as she did for those in the Capitol.

She started her research by looking at photographs of working-class people from the turn-of-the-19th century to the 1960s in Appalachia and other places in America. “We took the basics from that, the simple shapes of the clothes and the colors.”

A pair of striped pants Katniss wears to hunt were made from an 1870s Levi Strauss pattern. Her caramel-colored leather jacket was modeled after 1940s styles plucked from costume houses for inspiration.

The Sunday-best blue dress that Katniss wears at the Reaping, as the lottery for the Hunger Games is known, was also difficult to get right.

“We made dozens of different versions, some sheer, some not. Originally we thought it would be cotton, but rayon looked better. We found the fabric at the Western Costume fabric shop. And we bleached and dyed it to get just the right blue, and put some smocking at the top. It’s supposed to be her mother’s dress.”

For inspiration for the Capitol costumes, Makovsky looked at Italian Fascist architecture and the work of 1930s and ’40s fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli for her “sense of elegance and amusement.”

Filmgoers get their first taste of the Capitol when Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), the ambassador to the Hunger Games, arrives for the Reaping dressed in a bum-hugging fuchsia dress and a pink wig with a vintage 1930s flower hat stuck on. Her gold booties are from Alexander McQueen, whose work comes to mind when looking at the Capitol dwellers.

The stylist Cinna, whom we meet in the Capitol, conceives of the outfits that Katniss and her partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) wear to represent District 12 in the parade that opens the Hunger Games, and help curry the public’s favor. Their glossy patent jackets have flames that shoot out of the shoulders (added in postproduction using CG technology).For the “girl on fire” dress Katniss wears when she’s interviewed on TV on the eve of the games, Makovsky was inspired by Orry-Kelly’s transformative gowns in the 1962 film “Gypsy,” starring Natalie Wood as an awkward tomboy who transforms into legendary burlesque stage performer Gypsy Rose Lee.

“I didn’t want the clothes to overwhelm Katniss,” Makovsky says. “We all wanted to go crazy with the costumes, but sometimes it was better to be subtle. It was important to be able to see the characters through the clothes.”