Spike Jonze’s new film Her, about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his Siri-like OS (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), takes place in a future devoid of hovercars and shiny jumpsuits; instead, the minimalist look of the film feels like a carefully curated throwback, best exemplified by the old-fashioned, high-waisted pants worn by Phoenix and other male characters. “Have you ever worn high-waisted pants?” asks Jonze with a grin. “When we were doing wardrobe fittings, I tried them on, and I was like, ‘Oh, these feel good! They feel kinda like you’re being hugged.”
Call it retro-futurism, a style scheme that filmmakers sometimes employ to make their futuristic worlds feel more persuasive — like in the 1997 film Gattaca, which was set decades into the future but costumed its characters in sleek, timeless forties fashions. The past, then, can serve as the secret ingredient when imagining an onscreen future that will never seem dated, a world totally unmoored from the present in which it was conceived.
“We really don’t need to show it’s the future by putting people in crazy-shaped hats or epaulets,” explains Casey Storm, Jonze’s longtime costume designer, who huddled with artists like Jonze, production designer K.K. Barrett, and Opening Ceremony co-founder Humberto Leon when designing the look of Her. “When we were making rules for this world we created, we decided that it would be better to take things away rather than add them. When you add things that aren’t of this era, you wind up noticing them and it becomes really distracting, so our rules were more like, there won’t be any denim in this film, there won’t be any baseball hats, there won’t be any ties or belts. Even lapels and collars will almost disappear. I think the absence of those things creates a unique world, but you can’t quite put your finger on why that is.”
And to hear Storm tell it, emulating those uncomplicated, retro looks is something we’re already starting to do. Dip into present-day Williamsburg, for example, and you’ll see plenty of young men with long Civil War beards who brew their own beers and stock their iPhone 5s with the latest fiddle-heavy chart toppers, a vivid mishmash of old and new. “For people who aren’t sure about how much they want to embrace that technology, the reaction might be to go in the other direction and start finding comfort in things from time periods gone by,” says Storm, who reached back more than a century for Her: The tapered-leg, high-waisted pants that Phoenix’s Theodore wears are based on a mid-1800s pair that Storm found in a costume shop, and even the character’s name is retro, since Jonze conceived it with turn-of-the-century president Theodore Roosevelt in mind.
For certain scenes, Storm outfitted Phoenix with collarless shirts straight out of his closet, and he admits of the film’s retro-futurist look, “I think maybe I myself had been trending that way anyway, in pieces here and there.” Now that the chic boutique Opening Ceremony has introduced a capsule collection inspired by Storm’s work on the film, he predicts that the high-waisted men’s look will start going mainstream. “I think that is coming for sure, and other forward-thinking fashion people are probably just about to start heading in that direction,” Storm says. “If this film gives Humberto the opportunity to do a collection that people notice, it probably moves that trend forward a little bit faster.”
But is that past-the-navel pant a style that Storm himself would rock? “I actually own a pair of pants that we made on the film,” he laughs. “I took it with me. But I have to say that mine are much sleeker and a little bit more hip than Joaquin’s: They’ve navy wool and real thin and real fitted. It feels good to wear them, but you have to be in kinda good shape, or you look ridiculous. I had been juice-cleansing when we made the movie, so I was real skinny at the time, and yeah,” he laughs, “they looked good.”