Chatting with Costume Designer Catherine Martin

Whether designing for the eras of the can-can or the flapper, costume designer Catherine Martin has done more than just dress the actors cast in the feature films of her husband, director Baz Luhrmann. Her Oscar-winning work not only turns heads in Hollywood, but also on the runways, as her period-specific costumes onscreen often reroute fashion at large back into the past.

DailyCandy and Tribeca Enterprises awarded Martin with the title — “Fashion in Film Innovator” — the first honor of its kind — at the Fashion in Film Festival in NYC on Sep. 19-20. Three of her designs from Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (specifically, from the very memorable tea scene at Nick Carroway’s house) stood on display at Tribeca Cinemas, ready to peruse between film screenings and panel discussions.

Martin answered a few extra questions upon arriving at the Fashion in Film Festival:

How does it feel to be honored as a Fashion in Film innovator?

It feels slightly surreal because I never think of myself as an influential figure or someone that people are going to be particularly interested in. I’m too busy struggling through every day, trying to fulfill my functions as a designer and a mother to the best of my abilities, so you don’t think about it. It feels very good – it’s much better to be recognized than completely ignored, let’s face it – but I think my naturally fear of hubris makes me turn away from those accolades. I’m slightly uncomfortable sometimes! By the same token, when people reach out and congratulate you, there’s nothing work than just accepting their praise and not being gracious.

What do you wish people knew about the work you do?

I’m really just the top of a pyramid; I stand on a lot of people’s shoulders. When I speak about the work we do together, it vindicates all the people who worked so hard with me for such a long time. You can’t be a shrinking violet; you have to say, ‘Yes, we did this collectively,’ and celebrate it.

You’ve designed for multiple decades throughout your career. Is there a period you’d love to design for, but haven’t yet?

That’s a very good question. I find very early 19th-century interesting, and the 18th century. But really, I’m open to any period; I think you can find anything to be interested in.

What are some of your favorite films or television shows with costume work you admire?

Oh no, I never answer that question; it always gets me in trouble! Whenever you answer that question, you always forget the name of your best friend or someone you truly respect in the industry! But there’s so much great work right now. I’m constantly amazed and surprised.

— Ashley L.

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