Like production designer Dennis Gassner, Renée April also needed a visual cue about the direction of her costume design from Denis Villeneuve. And he gave her the same description about the dystopian world of “Blade Runner 2049”: “Brutal.”
“He said it was worse than the dark and rainy mood of ‘Blade Runner,’ said April, the go-to costume designer for Villeneuve. “They’re in bad shape 30 years later and the earth is not the place to be. It’s more polluted, it’s colder, it’s really kind of dreadful.”
“So I took it from there and made it tougher,” she added. “Also, we didn’t want to do something science-fiction. We wanted to do it realistic. I didn’t want costumes with [lots of] zippers and plastic. So my job was to make the characters believable.” In other words, it was more about survival than fashion.
Starting with K’s Coat
April began, appropriately enough, with the black coat worn by Ryan Gosling’s K, the new replicant blade runner. Instead of the noirish trench coat worn by Harrison Ford’s Deckard, she chose a simple, inexpensive coat made of laminated cotton with a fake fur high collar to shield him from the pollution. It’s all he needs to protect him from the brutal climate.
“It’s pretty ugly on purpose,” April said. “As you can see, he’s not making a ton of money, and what he makes, he puts into Joi [his holographic companion played by Ana de Armas]. “I wanted a very clean cut look, almost military. And we could destroy it all along the movie.”
The All-Purpose Joi
Speaking of Joi, who’s programmed to please K, she sports an assortment of stylish wear, popping in and out of decades, with both Eastern and Western influences. For example, the yellow plastic coat was inspired by big, colorful rolls of plastic April spotted in Italy.
“She goes from the ’50s to the ’60s to a manga, to anything,” said April. “She’s a fantasy. She dances, she has a cooking outfit, she wears a see-through raincoat to go outside, but her black top and jeans are for ordinary wear. It was a difficult thing because we were never sure when she would change and why she would change and what she would change. She’s there at home, just like his little secret.”
Luv, the Angel
As the femme fatale, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) aspires to be slick and perfect, but wears mostly white and off-white to please her boss, Wallace (Jared Leto), the replicant maker.
“I think that was inspired by the set and the lighting,” April said. “Wallace calls her his angel, so that’s why she wears white with a very stiff line. And you see throughout the movie how it starts to deteriorate a little bit. She’s not as put together for the confrontation at the end.”
Mariette’s Drowned Rat Look
Mackenzie Davis’ replicant prostitute, Mariette, reminds us of Darryl Hannah’s Pris from “Blade Runner,” especially when she wears that incongruous plastic and fur in the rain. “I wanted to give her a sad look,” April said. “That plastic with fur, which doesn’t make any sense. Who would want to wear plastic with fur? It’s totally inappropriate. It’s not good for the rain, it’s not good for the cold.”
She added, “But that’s the world they’re living in. As a replicant she doesn’t feel the cold as much as a human would. And when she comes to [K’s] house, she wears a bubble of fake fur and looks like a drowned rat with long, long legs.”
The Zen-like Wallace
For Leto’s enigmatic Wallace, April was also inspired by Gassner’s Japanese-influenced set and Roger Deakins’ warm, caustic, yellow lighting. “When I walked onto that set with the water and fantastic lighting, I thought of Marlon Brando from ‘Apocalypse Now,'” added April.
“You see him in the darkness and that’s the feeling I wanted to have,” she said. “So it became that kind of black kimono with him on his own island in the middle of the water. It was really precious. He thinks himself as a god.”
The Casual Deckard
And for Ford’s Deckard, who’s been comfortably hiding out in the once toxic wasteland of Vegas, like a latter-day Howard Hughes in his own hotel penthouse, April chose the simplest, most iconic image of all: a gray T-shirt.
“We weren’t sure if it was too casual,” April said. “But a T-shirt like that has been around for a hundred years and is still going to be there for another 50 years. I bought it in Vienna. It’s a heather gray, simple cotton. Everything had to go through a long process in the aging and dying. But the rest we made sure looked worn and a bit more real.”