Just days after returning from styling Madonna on her MDNA tour – a certain wardrobe slip-up in Istanbul notwithstanding – Arianne Phillips visited the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York, to see her work celebrated in a new exhibition. ‘Magnificent Obsessions: 30 stories of craftsmanship in film’, sponsored by Italian sunglasses brand Persol, brings together actors, directors and designers deemed by curator Michael Connor to demonstrate “the fierce passion behind cinema”.
Many of the items on display might never have been discovered if Connor hadn’t tracked down the artists and gained their trust. Pages ripped from the diary of actor Ed Harris explain the emotional cost of his transformation into Jackson Pollock for the 2000 movie ‘Pollock’, and complex sketches by Alfred Hitchcock map the camera angles in the desert scene in ‘North By Northwest’. A series of colour charts created by director Todd Haynes to guide the actors in ‘Far From Heaven’ had to be rescued from a box in his basement.
Costumes by Arianne Phillips feature across one long wall. They all appeared in ‘W.E.’ the Madonna-directed drama about the controversial romance between Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, which came out in cinemas in January and immediately flopped.
Despite the film’s dismal box office results, Phillips was recognised with a nomination for best costume design at the Oscars, and won best period film at the Costume Designers Guild Awards.
At the Museum of the Moving Image, she explained the two-year process behind the costumes and jewellery worn by Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson. Simpson received countless gifts of jewellery from her royal husband, all of which belong to private collections. So Phillips found independent jewellers to make Cartier-validated copies for the film.
The crown jewel – a silver bracelet adorned with cross-shaped charms – is on display at the museum, with diagrams showing the original order of each aquamarine, amethyst and diamond cross. There is a replica of the 20.33-carat emerald with which Prince Edward proposed. On one of the mannequins, a striped blue and white day dress is pieced together from four back panels. The stripes are perfectly aligned.
“You might think it might not really make a difference, you might think no one would notice. But Phillips still did it, which represents the level of obsession we’re looking for,” Michael Connor, the curator, explained. “These dresses don’t look like costumes – they look like couture.”
For all the praise, Phillips said it still bothered her that ‘W.E.’ failed to win over audiences. “This film had an elephant in the room being that Madonna is one of the most famous, iconic women of our era,” she said. “Anytime she steps out of her popstar box she’s ridiculed for it.”
Of herself, Phillips said she thinks there are ten good films left in her before the end of her career – which already includes another Oscar nod for the Johnny Cash biopic ‘Walk The Line’ and a BAFTA nomination for Tom Ford’s ‘A Single Man’, not to mention countless Madonna tours and music videos.
And the replica Cartier jewels? They’ll be destroyed as soon as the exhibition ends, so as not to devalue the originals. It seems not all diamonds – or obsessions – are forever.