“Killers of the Flower Moon” Costume Designer Jacqueline West on the Power of the Osage Blanket
“It’s a power symbol,” costume designer Jacqueline West (The Revenant) says of the blankets the Osage cast wears in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. “I felt it was some kind of armor against what is being imposed on them and what’s being done to them. You put it on against the world and against evil, and it becomes a real symbol of that.”
The “evil” West is referring to are actual events that took place during 1920s Oklahoma when the Osage Nation grew incredibly wealthy, earning royalties from oil that was discovered on their land (modern day Osage County, Oklahoma) in the 1890s. What followed were catastrophic accounts of extortion, greed, and mysterious murders of their people. Scorsese, along with co-writer Eric Roth, adapted the harrowing story from investigative journalist and author David Grann’s book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and Birth of the FBI.” The film sheds light on a budding love story between Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone) and war veteran Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro), a respected businessman in town, has under his thumb. Unraveling during the 3-hour and 26-minute saga is an emotionally intense drama about betrayal, entitlement, and the selfish nature of human beings.
In dressing the ensemble cast, which included over 40 Osage actors and hundreds of background players, West heavily researched the Osage culture, poring over thousands of photographs and black-and-white home movies from the Osage. “Their home movies were really well shot. There is a certain artistic quality to them, and they’re shot from beautiful vantage points,” West says. “I used a lot of screen grabs from those movies. One particular family, who made a lot of home movies, I relied on.” The photographs and movies opened the door to Osage culture and traditions, outlining their artwork, ribbon work, dances, weddings, and more, adding to the accuracy of the costume designs.
More important was West’s collaboration with Osage wardrobe consultant Julie O’Keefe, who has first-hand knowledge of the events in the film through a grandmother who personally knew William Hale. O’Keefe was instrumental to the process as she could explain period styles, traditional garb, and what color palettes would be worn by Osage family members and tribal leaders. Beyond O’Keefe, a number of Osage artisans contributed to creating wardrobes, jewelry, moccasins, ribbon work, and finger weaving. “We hired Osage women who learned from their mothers and grandmothers how to do the blanket fringe and finger weaving. All were welcomed in our workshop,” West notes.
The centerpiece of the Osage costumes was their blankets, which were procured from a number of sources. The bulk came from Oregon manufacturer Pendleton, who recreated them with depictions of culturally appropriated symbols and patterns from the 1920s. The ribbon work blankets were made by the Osage, while others were loaned by the Osage community. Roughly 1,000 blankets were on hand for the 99 shooting days. Blankets were chosen for characters to match the mood of the scene, whether it was something joyous or sad – their significance was recognized by each actor. “Lily [Gladstone] would not go to the set unless Julie came and looked at how the blanket was placed on her,” says West. “There was a lot of heart put into the blankets, and it was the same with the men and how they wore them. No one left for the set until their blanket was blessed.”
Focus was also put on Mollie and her sisters Anna (Cara Jade Myers), Reta (JaNae Collin), and Minnie (Jillian Dion), as well as their mother Lizzie (Tantoo Cardinal). Their costumes were inspired by photographs of the real women. In fact, West was keen on replicating the actual look of any character based on a real person. “Mollie is very traditional,” notes West. “I tried to keep Mollie more true to the real Osage way of dressing, whereas her sisters are combinations of traditional and modern 1920s style. Everything but Mollie’s shoes when she goes into town which are these beautiful handmade French shoes with a stack healed and her purse are traditional.”
Reta was also dressed in traditional attire, while Minnie leaned more into modern designs. Anna was the fashionista of the group, wearing ensembles favored by the young and wealthy Osage. “Her look was inspired by Natacha Rambova, Valentino’s wife, with the headset braids and the silky silky. But when she arrives at her mother’s house, she arrives with a blanket,” says West.
The guiding light for the wardrobe department was authenticity. “One thing that struck me from the very beginning is that Martin Scorsese has a bar that he’s raised for all of Hollywood because he works within a world where everything is authentic down to the hair and the teeth and everything that goes with it,” O’Keefe remarks. “In bringing in so many Osage, a lot of the community gathered around it – and the community gathered around David Grann when he started writing this story in the beginning. This story is being guided to tell this true representation and authenticity. I can tell you the community knew it, and it is really saying something that we were invited in to help tell our own story.”
Killers of the Flower Moon opens in theaters October 20, 2023.
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Featured image: Jacqueline West standing behind, from L-R: JaNae Collins, Cara Jade Myers, Lily Gladstone, and Jillian Dion in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” premiering in theaters around the world on October 20, 2023. Courtesy Apple TV+.