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On the Verge: Michael Wilkinson, designs ‘American Hustle’

Lapacazo Sandoval | 1/2/2014, 10:49 a.m.

I hope that Amy Adams, who plays Sydney Prosser in “American Hustle,” remembers to thank costume designer Michael Wilkinson at every single podium! I’m predicting that she’s going to win many awards this year, including the Indie Spirit Award and a coveted Oscar.

The moment she walked into the first frame of director David O. Russell’s cinematic masterpiece, I knew by the clothing choices that I was watching a chameleon of shimmering, layered complexities, all of which are cleverly hidden yet boldly displayed.

“American Hustle” is about the art of the hustle, and Russell reminds the audience many times that hustling is all about “starting from the feet up.”

The Golden Globes recently announced their list of nominated films, and “American Hustle” earned seven nominations, as did “12 Years a Slave,” which many predict will sweep the award season as well.

There is no getting around the look that makes “American Hustle” so hypnotic to watch.Transformation—internal and external—is what shapes a character, and here’s what Wilkinson had to reveal about his work, designers and making a period come alive again.

AmNews: How do these stunning clothes make such interesting characters, well, more interesting?

David’s characters are wholly unique and wildly imaginative. Their costumes require a cliché-free, thorough approach. With David’s script, there were a lot of opportunities to explore different social backgrounds, from the vibrant, racially diverse world of blue-collar New Jersey to ultra-fashionable Upper East Side, Manhattan, to the sprawling suburbs of Long Island.

1978, the year the film takes place, is a fascinating year, because it marks the beginning of a transition away from the truly flamboyant, exaggerated lines of the 1970s and into a more streamlined, early ’80s vibe.

Break it down. This is a character-driven masterpiece. How did you find these people inside so many styles? How many looks were there, exactly?

Around 40 for Irving [Christian Bale] and Sydney [Amy].  

There had to be something about Irv’s clothes that was very appealing—you want to trust him, you want to believe him.  There’s an aspect to his character that wants to fly a little below the radar. It’s Sydney who starts helping him find a way to present himself to the world. 

Sydney is remaking herself from being a small-town girl that arrives in New York. She has a natural sense of style—picks out Diane von Furstenberg dresses, wears Halston and starts really enjoying this new silhouette, this new freedom. It’s super sophisticated and confident.

I’m convinced that Amy is going to win an Oscar from her role, and that’s hard because she’s playing against Jennifer Lawrence, who makes her character equally as fascinating.Beautiful train wrecks! Rosalyn [Lawrence] is a contrast against Sydney, and her clothing is meant to underscore the character as another hustler, a master of emotional manipulation. She really knows how to work a person over, and she uses her sexuality to push her agenda.  Her wild mood swings are reflected in her clothes, from her frumpy house dresses and muumuus to her “dressed-to-kill” evening wear.

I think you made the “wannabe gangster” FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) one stylish nerd!

That character definitely falls under the spell of the con men he lures in. When he started, he cared less about his appearance. He reinvents himself: He goes from ill-fitting polyester cotton blends to silk shirts and stylish leather jackets.

Wilkinson’s designs have been included in such hit films as “300” and “Tron: Legacy.” He was nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award and a Saturn Award for both projects. He is currently designing the costumes for the new “Batman vs. Superman” film.

For more information on “American Hustle,” visit www.americanhustle-movie.com or facebook.com/americanhustle or follow the movie on Twitter @americanhustle.