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Hollywood Costume Designer Sophie de Rakoff Talks '90s Fashion, Her Legally Blonde Past and the Surf Style of Her New Movie, Chasing Mavericks

When you think of Legally Blonde, it’s impossible to forget Elle’s adorably feminine and very pink wardrobe. From her bunny costume to her magenta sweater dress, Elle’s clothes defined her personality, and that's thanks to costume designer, Sophie de Rakoff. Elle’s memorable Jackie O dress from the second film was even chosen to be featured at London’s pristine Victoria and Albert Museum in a Hollywood costume exhibit, which is on display now.

De Rakoff was born and raised in London and moved to New York in the '90s to pursue writing, but eventually ended up in LA where she found her true calling: costume design. Her resume is  impressive to say the least, including six Reese Witherspoon films and other blockbusters like In Her Shoes and Fever Pitch. De Rakoff’s latest film, Chasing Mavericks, out now, is about a Northern Californian surf legend (played by Gerard Butler) who forms a friendship with a young aspiring surfer (Jonny Weston) while training him to surf America’s most dangerous wave.

While wetsuits and hoodies may not be fashionable in a fancy way, there's no denying that surf culture has its own style. Lucky recently got the chance to talk to de Rakoff and get her expert perspective on everything from Brit vs. American style, to her '90s style essentials.

 

Lucky: Chasing Mavericks is a pretty surfer dude-oriented film. Where did styling fit in with the movie?
Sophie de Rakoff: It’s definitely a surfer movie, but it’s also a movie about Santa Cruz and Northern California in that time period in '94 and '95. I think the key to the costume design was to keep it true to the time period but without making it unpalatable to a modern audience. There is a comment on the nature of urban fashion—jeans, hoodies, T-shirts and trainers—that is still very much a part of fashion today, but it was very different back then because of the silhouettes. So it was about finding the jeans and the trainers and the hoodies and the t-shirts, but the ones that everybody wore back then.

Is this surfer style was something you were familiar with?
What people forget about Northern California is the climate there. When you think about surfers, you think about Hawaii and Malibu. You think about a warm weather climate pieces like shorts, T-shirts and board shorts. Northern California is not like that because it was freezing. So everybody would dress from head to toe the same way that you are in New York in the winter, but then they would strip down and put on their wetsuits and surf. So it’s not traditional surf apparel because that didn’t exist in Northern California because you couldn’t get away with it. You needed to have a beanie, a really heavy jacket, jeans, a pair of boots and a pair of wooly socks because it was so cold. And I think t

You gave us a lot of awesome '90s picks, but if you had to sum up that era's style in three items, what would they be?
I think for this movie the key components are a pair of skate shoes, which is some form of a pair of Vans, a pair of straight-leg jeans but in a bigger size, so basically a 501 or a 517, and a very basic T-shirt. It’s not the skinny narrow cut we have now. The boys wore their T-shirts big and simple, and then the girls wore a boy’s T-shirts but in a much smaller size.

What was your style like then?
I was in downtown New York, and the things were very specific to me. I had a Hysteric Glamour T-shirt with a red strawberry on it. It was a pink ringer tee that had a red strawberry. Hysteric Glamour was a Japanese-based clothing company. Then I had an old pair of vintage 501’s and a pair of these cheap $5 Adidas that I got on 14th St. That was a really big part of my wardrobe. I had a few other things, like a Yohji Yamamoto pencil skirt that somebody gave me. It was more like a tube skirt that was very long and very tight. And then I had a small Levi’s jacket, and that was pretty much what I wore from 1994-1995.

 

A Look From Chasing Mavericks

Congratulations for your outfit for Elle in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde being featured in the costume exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Were you surprised to be chosen?
I knew about it a while ago because somebody I work with is helping put the exhibit together, and they told me. Because I’m English, it’s a really big deal for me. For an English person, it’s like having a costume at the Met. It’s one of the most beautiful museums in the world, and they do extremely good exhibitions. So when I found out about it, I was extremely pleased and so was all of my family.

How did your view of Elle’s style evolve from the first to second film?
I think it evolved a lot. When I did the first movie, it was the beginning of my career. It was the beginning of me doing movies. So I just threw a lot of stuff together. It was very organic, and I just relied on instinct. By the time we got to the second one, I had planned everything out a lot more, and the script allowed for that. It was a much more specific movie in terms of Elle’s journey through Washington. There is a lot of reflection on moments in history and people in history, so I was able to be a lot more focused about her looks. The Jackie O. outfit was very specific, meaning Elle was going to walk up the steps of a building in Washington, and it was supposed to look like the White House. Jackie O. was one of the most iconic female figures, so it was basically a no-brainer to move her character in that direction.

You’ve worked with Reese Witherspoon for six films, so I’m sure you’ve really gotten to know her. To what extent would you say the actors and actresses you dress inspire your picks for their characters’ wardrobes?
I don’t think they inspire the picks, but when you know somebody really well, you know what is going to work on their body type, which is really different from what is going to work for their character. You start with what you want their character to look like, and then you tailor it to what you know is going to work on their body. And because Reese is really small, it’s much more specific about what does and doesn’t work on her frame.

What movie looks are some of your personal favorites?

A movie for me that I think was very important that I saw when I was very young was a movie called Klute with Jane Fonda, When I saw Klute for the first time, I mean, I can still recall nearly all the outfits in that movie. It was a very important moment for me in terms of visuals and how clothes work with characters and help propel a story. I think Klute was probably the first time that I became aware of the fact that how a person looks in a movie is an intrinsic part of who the character was. That has always stayed with me. It’s one of those movies people reference sporadically across the years because it is iconic and it never gets old. And there’s an American costume designer named Ann Roth who has worked specifically with Meryl Streep for very long and also has an amazing resume—one of her first movies was Midnight Cowboy.

Given that you are a British woman who began costume design in America, what are your thoughts on New York vs. London style?
I think British people are not afraid to look ugly, and I think that’s a very big difference between English and American street fashion. The girls and the guys don’t feel the need to look traditionally attractive. They will dress themselves in a way that makes them happy or is attractive to them, and it has nothing to do with what we consider traditional beauty.

 

Read on to shop Sophie's surfer style essentials.

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Sophie's No Cal Surf Style Staples: The White T

“The girls at the time wore very simple T-shirts. What everyone did was they went and got a boy’s T-shirt in a large size like a 12-14, that fell right below the belly button.


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The Puffy Vest

GIrls would would get a little '70spuffy vest, but it would be sleeveless, and then you would put your jacket over it or your hoodie underneath it. You would go and find something from a thrift store that just cost a few dollars. It wasn’t North Face. It wasn’t Patagonia. There was nothing that was remotely sportswear related. It was just some crappy vest that you found somewhere that would keep you warm and would fit you in a snug way to go with your baggy jeans.”
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The Vintage-Looking Coat

“If you needed a big coat to keep warm you would go vintage because a lot more people did back that because there was no Urban Outfitters, A lot of girls would go to the Army Navy store to find something warm and cozy that was cheap and affordable.”
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The Cool Sweatshirt

“Nobody now wants to go and wear a Champion sweatshirt. They’re just not attractive. You need something that’s a bit more slimmed down and fitted, and Creatures of Comfort, meaning the designers that they stock, have a lot of '90s silhouettes, but tailored for a 2012 market.”
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The Retro Jean

“Denim Revival has a really good stock of vintage denim, so they have all the old 501’s, and they’ll have a vintage Levi’s jacket. Sometimes if you’re going to redo it, it’s nice to have a modern influence, but they have all the vintage stuff that is appropriate to a modern market.”
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The Vintage Belt

“I used a lot of from the vintage boutique What Comes Around Goes Around in the movie. Especially on Gerard Butler. They always have really good belts with vintage buckles that are not too western and are just more industrial.
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White Vans

“White classic Vans, they’ve been making them since the '70s. I didn’t want to do Converse because everybody wears Converse now, and I wanted to do something that was of that time period and an iconic piece."
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The Easy Beanie

“If you were from the East Coast or if you were from somewhere colder, you wore a beanie. Girls didn’t wear the baseball caps. That was a very urban thing, so back then it was all about a beanie with a turned up rim."
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Silver Jewelry

“RTH is a really great store in LA. They have a really nice selection of silver jewelry. If you were a regular girl back then, you didn’t wear gold. We all wore silver. We put a little silver bangle on Leven that was a very simple band and that came from there. It’s hard to find the stuff that doesn’t look too hippied out,but RTH has a very nice selection of old silver pieces that are simple and visible but completely appropriate for that time period.”
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A Zip-Up Hoodie

“Again the girls all wore boys’ stuff, but they just wore it in a smaller size. A lot of it was either a pullover or a zip-up that had been shrunken or was just old. That’s another thing that was indicative of that time period. But you can get it from Kmart. You can get it online. It’s just a matter of if you want it new or already worn.”
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“Everybody had a backpack. There’s a JanSport backpack kids still wear now that they wore back then, but it wasn’t the most attractive. It was kind of big, and what I liked about the A.P.C. one was that it was smaller. It was more manageable so you weren’t looking at the backpack the whole time.”
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