Dressing the part

Steve McQueen, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Micheal Ward on the costumes in Lovers Rock

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Music legend Dennis Bovell is Milton in Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock
Music legend Dennis Bovell is Milton in Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the New York Film Festival press conference, held on Zoom this morning for Lovers Rock, the Opening Night selection, my question on Jacqueline Durran’s (Greta Gerwig’s Little Women) costumes to director/screenwriter Steve McQueen and the stars of his film, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Micheal Ward, was posed to them by Film at Lincoln Center’s host Dennis Lim, Director of Programming for the festival. Lovers Rock is part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, co-written by Courttia Newland. The film is a fictional account that takes place in London's West Indian community at a sound system house party in the early 1980s. Music legend Dennis Bovell is in a memorable scene during an extended a cappella rendition of Janet Kay’s Silly Games.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Jacqueline Durran’s costumes are a celebration of fabric and individuality. How did the clothes inform your feel for the characters and the time?

Micheal Ward: We’re bringing it back! We’re bringing it back! With the costumes it was just amazing to actually see what people wore at that time. I remember going into the costume fitting and they were showing us images of what people used to wear. It was just ra, people used to dress like that! It was just weird to see that.

Micheal Ward as Franklyn with Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn as Martha in Lovers Rock
Micheal Ward as Franklyn with Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn as Martha in Lovers Rock

Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn: Yeah.

MW: It was just beautiful, they didn’t really care about all of these designers and all of these things, you know. How you put it together was the most important thing. That was amazing.

Steve McQueen: Micheal, it was like, people had big Singer machines, you know, sewing machines and they’d make dresses for the blues [party].

AJSA: They themselves. Yes! Yes!

SMQ: They were gorgeous.

AJSA: Steve allowed me to work with costumes, to come up with it myself, which is really helpful in terms of Martha. Because me being Martha and as Martha deciding my style of clothes, everything, that was really beautiful to work with them to do that. When we had a table read, there was a massive mood board. And I’m looking and I realise my dad is in one of the pictures from back in the day with the sound system, wearing his hat, exactly in the time. I was completely bringing it back, literally being there.

SMQ: I mean we worked with Jacqueline Durran, who of course is an amazing costume designer. A bloody artist, is Jacqueline! So we just did a lot of research and again, what is exciting for Jacqueline is that these images have never been seen before on the screen, you know. This is a history that had never been visualised in cinema. You see the double-breasted suits, you see the dresses that women sewed to go to the blues. It was an amazing sort of discovery for her. But also of course, we loved that we introduced it to her to help us work and make it a reality. It was exciting. I mean, people used to dress to impress. Unlike now.

On Saturday, October 3 at 2:00, Steve McQueen will discuss the evolution of his Small Axe anthology in a free talk with additional participants to be announced.

Lovers Rock will premiere tonight at the Queens Drive-In at 8:00pm and at the Brooklyn Drive-In at 9:00pm.

The 2020 New York Film Festival runs from September 17 through October 11, 2020.

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