Mothers' Instinct: Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain film hits cinemas - we discover more about the Sixties costumes

They were created by Mitchell Travers
Mothers' Instinct film still Pic: Alyssa LongchampMothers' Instinct film still Pic: Alyssa Longchamp
Mothers' Instinct film still Pic: Alyssa Longchamp

The psychological thriller Mothers’ Instinct has arrived.

It’s sure to leave you gripped, with stellar performances from leads, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. However, there is another star, and that’s the costumes. They are perfectly of the era, from the pearl necklace that Celine (Hathaway’s character) wears, to Alice (Chastain’s character) and her lame cocktail dress. While, all the men are resplendent in Don Draper-esque suits.

We asked the Los Angeles based costume designer, Mitchell Travers, who’s also worked on films including In the Heights (2021), The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) and Hustlers (2019) to tell us more.

Mothers' Instinct film still Pic: Alyssa LongchampMothers' Instinct film still Pic: Alyssa Longchamp
Mothers' Instinct film still Pic: Alyssa Longchamp

Was it a film you were particularly excited to work on?

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Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain in a Sixties mother-off? COUNT ME IN!

Tell us about the design process

For the first time in my career, it began as a playlist. When I started reading the script I began collecting songs that felt right. There was Peggy Lee, Nancy Sinatra, and Henry Mancini and I kept playing their music as I gathered my visual research. This included vintage mail-order catalogues and gossip magazines, department store images, church bulletins, beauty ads, etc. It became a huge source for me to pour over as I began hunting for vintage clothing, shoes, foundations, and gloves to create our world. My research did include images of Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, etc, but it also pictures of ordinary mothers from old family photographs. We were trying to find the right balance of hyper-stylized womenswear to match the film's tone.

Mitchell Travers Pic: Christian Horan PhotographyMitchell Travers Pic: Christian Horan Photography
Mitchell Travers Pic: Christian Horan Photography

What’s your background/training?

I studied Costume Design in university and began working as an intern on film sets aged 18. I slowly worked my way up through the industry learning so much along each rung on the ladder.

Is that era one of your favourites, style-wise? It’s very different from Hustlers.

Yes it's quite a ways back from Hustlers. But I adore period costumes so the opportunity to explore the early Sixties through this lens was divine.

Was the wardrobe all made from scratch or did you source any vintage pieces?

I like working with vintage clothing as much as possible. Of course, the nature of filmmaking requires us to have multiples of certain pieces, so it was a nice mix of true period garments, and custom-made clothing for our ladies. Having assembled a small library of vintage garments allowed us wonderful source material to turn inside out to ensure that our recreations were hand-finished appropriately. I was so lucky to work alongside our tailor Dain Kalas who was able to produce the most extraordinary pieces from my dreams. Sometimes the ladies couldn't tell what was custom-made and what was vintage clothing. That’s the highest compliment.

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Did Jessica and Anne have any input and, if so, what were they like to work with?

Of course! Costume design is impossible without genuine partnership from your actors. I had worked with both women previously so it was nice to have a foundation to build upon. Each project and character is so different that you must start each like it is the first time because in so many ways it is. Annie is such a thoughtful creator and truly relishes the discovery of her characters in the fitting room. She's the kind of actress who finds inspiration in the drape of a sleeve or the vamp of a heel and shows you how her character behaves in each costume. It becomes your choice on which elements matter for the storytelling. I just adore the way she wears clothes! For her, it's all about the story they’re telling. Where did it come from? Did she buy it? Have it made? Is it something the character loves wearing, or loathes wearing? Every detail counts.

Jessica does so much preparation for each role and almost introduces her character to me each time. Sometimes through a colour or a fragrance, or some other reference but it always feels so real to me. It's like she could answer any question about her character, whether it's in the script or not. She won't fake a stitch, so it all has to be authentic to the character. Her instincts are truly incredible.

Did their wardrobes have to contrast with each other, and did the outfits communicate the characters’ personalities?

I was always fascinated by mourning clothes. I brought the idea to Annie who thankfully dove right into it. Her character had a classic approach to clothes. I thought it would make sense to watch her grieve through black lace, mourn through gray wools, sigh through lavender cottons and try to heal through white bouclé. In contrast, Alice's wardrobe reflects her fractured thoughts and wistful ways. I found this lemon-yellow kaleidoscope print romper for her and it became my anchor for her closet. It said everything I wanted to about the character. She is a woman who wants more from the world, so I loved that her clothing expressed this yearning for bigger ideas.

The men seemed quite neutral, clothes-wise, compared to the women, was that intentional?

Much of that influence comes from the period. Early Sixties menswear wasn't quite experimental in the suburbs, but I also found that these women needed a sense of gravity around their stories. The menswear became an excellent backdrop to paint on top of.

Accessories seemed important, were they?

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Show me the early Sixties housewife who didn't love her accessories! They are always key to characters. A simple shift in the way a woman carries a purse or takes off her gloves can tell a story all on its own.

As we’re The Scotsman, any plans to visit Scotland, or have you been?

I've spent some time in Edinburgh, but I daydream of coming back some day to experience more.



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