In the opening scene of Okja, a new film premiering today on Netflix, Tilda Swinton’s character, Nancy Mirando steps into the frame wearing pristine white pumps that match her white summer dress, crisp blonde bob, and porcelain skin. In the mirror, she applies a layer of bright pink lipstick before heading on stage to give a press conference regarding the radical future of her family’s company, Mirando Corporation. And the minute she opens her mouth, it is revealed that this glamorous, powerful CEO has braces.
Such is the slightly off-kilter and always-surprising world of Okja, which was directed by Bong Joon-ho and tells the story of a young Korean farmer girl named Mija, who stands up against the Mirando Corporation for kidnapping her best friend, a giant, genetically-modified pig named Okja. In addition to Swinton, who plays the identical twin sisters, Nancy and Lucy, the film also stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. Johnny Wilcox, a zoologist and TV personality, and Paul Dano as Jay, the leader of an animal-rights activist group, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Lily Collins also makes an appearance as Red, another member of the ALF.
A movie of such fantastical proportions requires equally out-of-this world costumes, and Catherine George was bestowed with task of designing for the Western characters, while Se-yeon Choi handled the more traditional Korean costumes. As the film deals with the issue of animal rights, George felt strongly that all the costumes had to be based in some sense of reality, and even tapped Chanel for a custom gown, which Swinton herself actually first spotted on the runway two years ago.
Below, George opens up about the design process, working with Swinton, and the intricacies of that Chanel dress.
How did you approach designing the costumes for this movie? And did it differ from movies you’ve done in the past?
It always starts with research, reading the script, and talking with the director. I’ve worked with Joon-ho Bong before for Snowpiercer, so we had a working relationship already. But we had to do a lot of communicating over Skype, since he was shooting in Korea. That part was difficult, and the time difference was tricky. Once I spoke with the director, then I would speak with the actors. Then, Tilda [Swinton], Jake [Gyllenhaal], and Paul [Dano], came to New York for fittings.
Do you have any mantras or rules that describe your process?
Whether it’s fantasy or in the future, I always try to keep my work based in some reality. It’s always good to start from there, and then go off and change from there.