Dressing Milla Jovovich

Recently, I had the chance to screen a fantastic independent film that will be released in select theaters nationwide on Oct. 12. "Bringing Up Bobby" is an intimate tale about an Eastern European conwoman, Olive (Milla Jovovich) and her son, Bobby. Directed and written by Famke Janssen ("X-Men"), this is a powerful movie about love, freedom and commitment. You can read my interview with Janssen here. While I loved the film, what also stood out to me (besides the stellar acting, writing and direction) was the costume design by Hala Bahmet. She had Jovovich draped in beautiful vintage pieces. In watching the movie, I quickly decided that I would dress like Jovovich's character every day, if I could. I did a Q&A with the Los Angeles-based Bahmet about the inspiring fashion found in this film, how she settled on such original looks, and why she loves her work.

How did you come on board with "Bringing up Bobby"? 

Famke and I have a mutual friend (Lou Eyrich, the award-winning Costume Designer of "Glee") who introduced us. After reading the script, I was enthusiastic about the project and wanted to meet with Famke to discuss it in detail. To prepare for this meeting I put together a portfolio of images and some preliminary design ideas for the characters. 

In her preparation for the film, Famke had also put together a beautiful book of visuals showing the mood, and direction for the characters, locations, costumes, etc. Turns out that we had some of the exact same images in our presentations. This is when I knew that I had to do the film. We were on the same page from day one.

The fashion in the film is exquisite, especially that of Milla Jovovich—can you describe the "look" you were going for with her clothing?

Thank you! The look we were going for was eclectic and unexpected and a bit iconoclastic—a mix of vintage and contemporary styles, designer items worn with thrift store finds, sexy, playful, and distinctly her own. Her character is an immigrant from Eastern Europe who is living in Oklahoma, is an avid fan of classic Hollywood films, a small time grifter, and a mother who loves her son above all else. I wanted to convey the quirkiness of all of these worlds colliding and residing in one person simultaneously. We wanted to tell the stories within the story so we mixed it up a bit to try to convey her character's personality, history, and unusual lifestyle. 

Working with Milla is a gift for any costume designer for so many reasons. She's a risk-taker and is an artist and designer herself, so we had a lot of fun with her character.

What era did you tap for her "look"? 

I didn't have one era specifically in mind. We used items from the 30s, 40s, 50s and also a number of contemporary pieces. 

Where did you shop to pick out some of these outfits? 

We pulled it together from many different sources. I shopped at vintage stores, at mainstream retailers, and pulled a lot of vintage and one-of-a-kind items from costume houses here in Los Angeles. I also used a few pieces from my personal costume collection and some of Milla's as well. Prada and Robert Rodriguez Collection worked with us to provide a few of her key items which allowed us to create a high-low aesthetic for her character on a tight budget. 

Which of her looks was your favorite? 

It is so hard to choose one favorite! I liked them all equally but for different reasons. It's like picking a favorite color or a favorite song. Impossible to do when you love them all equally but individually.

If someone saw this film and wanted to replicate the looks that Milla is wearing, where would you suggest they could/should go shopping?

I would suggest they do what we did—shop both mainstream stores and vintage stores and be creative with alterations. I think the key to our design success with Milla's costumes was about getting the right fit and altering existing garments to suit the style of her character. For instance, one of the key silhouettes for Milla's character Olive is the tight pencil skirt. This silhouette is currently in fashion and more commonly available in stores today, however when we were prepping the film a few years ago it was hard to find. I think the viewer would be surprised to know that we bought plain, conservatively cut skirts at Nordstrom and J Crew and re-cut them to our desired sexy shape and to Milla's exact measurements. This is a cost-saving technique that people outside of Hollywood can use to create unique items without splurging on custom-made garments. 

Milla's character's style has a throwback, 1940s era type of glamour and classic beauty ... is that what you were shooting for? And why that look in modern times? 

Since her character in the film is heavily influenced by the classic films and the glamorous heroines of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood, we wanted to convey that she had internalized this aesthetic and lived in a bit of a Hollywood fantasy world of her own—a world not rooted in current events with modern, serious consequences.


What's your own background in terms of how you got into fashion styling and costume design for commercials and film?

I studied both Art and Textiles in college but had no knowledge of the film business or styling until just before graduation. I worked at the Guthrie Theatre as a dresser, as a stitcher for a local designer, and sold my own hand-crafted/hand-dyed clothing line in two local stores in Minneapolis while still a college student—but I never considered any of these as a career. I just liked making interesting clothes and was fascinated by the symbolism of dress and adornment in both the theatre and in real life—how we communicate via our wardrobe and what it tells the world about us.

I took an internship at Paisley Park Studios working in the costume department. Prince was just making his last film "Graffiti Bridge" and I guess the rest is history. 

What do you love about your work? 

I love the excitement of a new challenge, a new story to tell, and a new set of characters to interact with. I would go mad working in a cubicle for the rest of my life. 

Working on a film is a collaborative process. The costumes do not exist in a void—they must be in harmony with and a part of the storytelling, the art direction, the cinematography, the locations, the actors' bodies and looks, etc. This is the beauty of working on a film—you get a group of really great artists together and work to make something special and meaningful as part of that collective.

What did Famke and Milla think of the clothing in this film, particularly the looks that you had set apart for Milla? 

I think they were both happy with the costumes. Famke and I have discussed working together going forward and I would love to work with Milla again too.

On your website it says you have a clothing line? Is that line still active? 

My clothing line, Viridis Luxe, is currently inactive but I am getting a lot of inquiries so I might go back to it in a few years. 

Right now I'm excited to be making movies again and have a few eras and genres I want to explore. My current project is a Western thriller set in 1880s New Mexico Territory. I'm surrounded by bustles and corsets and gunslingers and cowboys, and tons of dust and dirt. Where else but in Hollywood could I have such fun?

All images are ©MMXI Bringing Up Bobby, LLC
Courtesy monterey media inc.