20 Years Later, Zoolander's Satirical Style Is Right On Time
By Sara Radin
"Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of aesthetics famous male model Derek Zoolander says from a television screen, dressed as a mermaid. The audience sees the commercial at exactly the correct moment: Derek has just returned residence immediately after quitting modeling. He wants to prove to his dad and brothers he, also, can work in the coal mine despite being fully clueless and lacking any categorize kind of physical endurance.
For the occasion, Derek shows up at the small-town bar in a head-to-toe python outfit (matching suitcase included). The irony and juxtaposition of his look against the rough vibe of the mining town are exactly what makes Zoolander —
a 2001 movie about a washed-up supermodel who is brainwashed into killing the prime minister of Malaysia, which celebrates its 20th anniversary today — so special. With its unforgettable one-liners and iconic outfits, including one Galliano-inspired couture look made from literal trash, the film has cemented its cult status.
As Gen Z’s nostalgia for the low-rise jeans
and whale tails
of the early aughts has noticed a place on TikTok and catwalks
’s style, which encapsulated the era’s fashion while also parodying it, is prime for revisiting. That’s why MTV News sat down with the film’s costume designer, David Robinson, to break down its most iconic looks.
Paramount Pictures/Getty ImagesMTV News: What drew you to the story? What was the method of translating the script for you?
I began the job five weeks before we shot because they fired a previous designer and brought me on. There were no costumes. So there was a push to act fast, also it was fun. I actually attempted to take the style aspect of it very seriously. My approach, the initial thing I pitched to Ben [Stiller], was having each scene be a different editorial style.
MTV News: What did that look like?
There was Helmut Newton for the funeral. [Mario] Testino for Hansel's loft. It gave every scene this particular look — very low angle, black and whites. That's still there, although then Ben was like, "No, no, no." At this point, in 1999, teenagers didn't read those magazines. They really did not have that sort of awareness of style. He wanted the jokes and the humor to be contextual. In other words, they would laugh at whether you knew anything about style or not.
I went back to the drawing board and mentioned, for the funeral, it's really about how clueless Derek is. Putting him in all white at the funeral or putting him in a python suit with matching luggage at the coal mine, those became the jokes that we carried through. I think it's why the movie probably survived because, if we tied the style moments or ideas of 1999, it would've just looked dated. Nevertheless the jokes are really not about that. They're about the character and why clueless he is.
MTV News: The funeral outfit was one of the things that I found. So I'm glad you said that. How did you work on the development characters by way of the costume?
With Katinka, Milla Jovovich’s character, Ben clear made it clear she was this femme fatale. Super sexy and pretty, nevertheless also deadly. No one does that better than Mugler. So I went by means of the femme fatales of all his style shows and picked out a few of those. And that became how we approached her.
MTV News: converse with me about Mugatu.
We got to explore the vanity of that character. Ben loved the idea of him routinely having his name on all of his costumes, so we habitually put well known branding on everything, some of which didn't even make it in the movie. I also worked with the set designers, depending on what they were doing. One set is all red, so that's why we get him in black and gray, so he would pop against that.
Paramount Pictures/Getty ImagesMTV News: What about the reporter, Matilda Jeffries?
With Christine Taylor, it was interesting attempting to find things for her that read dorky and out of fashion, although at the same time, it really just looked ugly. So that was sort of the brief on her
As far as Ben went, he really admired an assortment of things. It wasn't just the black Lamaze suit, times 10. He had so several different looks in that movie. There were the boucle hats and red leather patches. We attempted to find different, interesting, fun, vibrant things for him.
It opens with him in that Gucci printed scarf and sweater, which I'm sure made people in the style industry gasp with horror. However it's funny. It was just so naturally very luxurious and expensive and sort of over the best. That was my approach, to find humor in the context.
MTV News: What about Hansel?
Hansel is a very new-age hippie. We made all of his stuff. He was a very fun character for me, and Owen [Wilson] was game all of the way.
MTV News: and you also made some of the costumes and then you sourced pieces for some of them?
For Ben, I think we made pretty much everything. I remember there was one suit from Costume National, which was, I think, the only thing of his that we actually paid for. Actually, the white trench coat was from Gucci. The python suit we made. There was no cooperation from the style industry because they were very down on the MTV video that was the source material. So Whenever I said that's what I was doing, the movie version of that, the doors slammed shut. You know, you really can't make fun of something in case you are in on it, so it didn't bother me.
MTV News: How did you determine what to dress them in for different scenes?
Just looking at the script and the option. A lot of it had to do with the set and the location. It wasn't like a usual movie where you're attempting to prepare it plausible. There was much more about making it a pictorial.
MTV News: What about the scene at the gas station?
Oh my god. You know, that was not CGI. We freaking blew up a gas station in SoHo. I don't think I'll ever have the ability to do that again. I remember once we did it, vehicle alarms went off for three blocks. It was quite an explosion. Nevertheless it was Ben's idea to have them wear bright colors and all different colors. You wanted it to feel like a Pepsi commercial with each person having a wonderful time.
MTV News: Is there anything else you feel is worth mentioning?
I think that the fact that it isn't really about style in 1999, although more just about vanity overall, is why the movie has contained up. I think social media has followed the footprint of Zoolander
to some degree. In 1999, there was no Instagram, there was no Facebook. Yet here, you have Derek Zoolander and Hansel branding themselves and making themselves into these celebrities out of nothing, which right now folks are doing on Instagram and Facebook just out of their own taste or their own imagination. I think that's why Zoolander
has an enduring audience, because people find it funny however, at the same time, they can visualize themselves in it.
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