saving mr. banks, fashion, costumes

How do you go back in time to the golden age of Disneyland? Especially when Disney itself is your very exacting boss? The costumer for the Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson vehicle Saving Mr. Banks had to find a way.

Daniel Orlandi has designed costumes for Frost/Nixon, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Although previously unknown to the Hollywood insiders who are also Academy awards voters, that is now changing. He was nominated last week by the Costume Designers Guild for his work in the period film, Mr. Banks — an honor which was followed upon quickly by a nomination from the Critics Choice Awards.

The Disney film reveals the amusingly antagonistic relationship between the congenial Walt Disney (Hanks) and prickly Mary Poppins Australian author P.L. Travers (Thompson), who wants absolutely no part of sunny La-La Land. Nor Disneyland either. Ta very much.

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Orlandi practiced psychology to costume Thompson as the buttoned-up, prudish Travers. “When we first see P. L Travers arriving at the airport in Los Angeles, she is holding onto her English traditions,” explains Orlandi. “A nice tweed suit and a nice tweed overcoat. Even though it’s sunny Southern California. “

He employed rich autumnal colors–chestnut, olive, brown, and burgundy — and sourced vintage British tweeds. “We fashioned her costumes on what proper a British woman of her day, and a woman of some means, would wear,” he says.

Walt Disney first meets Travers when she comes to his office, he wears his usual uniform, a gray wool suit and his Smoke Tree Ranch insignia tie. “Smoke Tree Ranch was where he had a home in Palm Springs,” Orlandi explains.

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Now keep in mind that Disney had been expecting a nice little old British lady that he could charm and cajole into letting make a live action/animated musical of her book, Mary Poppins. Instead, he faces a formidable, suffer-no-fools matron, who has some very definitive ideas about what the film should be like.

This steely determination needed to show in her clothing.  “Tweed was sort of her armor. She also carries a big alligator purse, which she clutches to her chest at times. That became her shield. She wasn’t going to give them an inch,” Orlandi explains.

In real life, Travers always wore silver bracelets so Orlandi used a beautiful Georg Jensen turn of the century silver bracelet, generously loaned by the Disney museum. “It became her amulet to ward them all off. I had her wear it all time, even with her nightgown.” He also put a ring on Travers that was worn by her mother Margaret Goff (played by Ruth Wilson) in the film’s flashbacks.

While audiotapes of Travers time in LA exist (you can hear a snippet at the end of the film) the only photo that was taken was of her was at the 1964 premiere of Disney’s Mary Poppins. Rather than copy Travers’s sleeveless gown, Orlandi opted for a more matronly style because he was afraid that Thompson would look too “hot.”

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Orlandi beams when describing one amusing costume moment: “It was my idea to have Richard Sherman [played by Jason Schwartzman] wear a bright red sweater in the scene when Travers announces that she hates red and bans the offending color from the film.”

The costume designer also doubled down with flashbacks to Travers’s traumatic childhood, a prim white cotton eyelet Victorian costumed time in early 1900’s Queensland, Australia. Travers’ father (Colin Farrell) is a hopeless, but charismatic alcoholic, who no sooner moves his young wife and family of three to the hinterlands then he loses his bank job due to public drunkenness.

Orlandi recounts no wardrobe malfunctions, no big disasters. But one of his greatest challenges — and greatest reward — was recreating Disneyland, circa 1961. To do this the park was closed for two days during the fall of 2012– while the filmmakers tirelessly transformed the park until it was exactly the way many of us still remember it.

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“I think that was the proudest moment for me,” Orlandi says. “We dressed hundreds of children for walking around on the day Walt dragged Travers there. Many of the crew brought their kids, wives and husbands, to be in the scene. So, just being there, walking through Disneyland with everyone dressed as if it was 1961…. All of the people that had grown up here were saying, ‘Oh, my God, it’s just like the first time I went to Disneyland with my parents.’ It was a great day”

The only hitch in those scenes was that as all encompassing as Disney’s archives are, they had none of the original life-size mascot costumes of Mickey, Minnie and Pluto. “At the last minute we had to recreate all of the 1961 Disney mascots going by photos but still retain that old handmade look,” Orlandi says. “They looked a lot different back then!”

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