By Anna Wyckoff | January 29, 2021
Crazy Rich Asians
You would have to have summered in Antarctica to not notice the impact the film Crazy Rich Asians has had at the box office. Initially, Costume Designer Mary Vogt was concerned that because she is not Asian she wouldn’t be able to hit the cultural notes flawlessly. The director Jon Chu reassured her and suggested she speak with Kevin Kwan, the writer of the novel, to gain a better understanding of the characters and the differences between old and new money. “I was in Kuala Lumpur prepping and Kevin was in New York,” Vogt explains, “he was excited to talk to me and we spoke a couple of times a day for two months. He gave me the Cliff Notes, starting with his ancestors.”
Vogt used the visual tool of juxtaposing discrete old money against the flash of the nouveau riche. The old guard’s apotheosis is Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh), who Vogt dresses with imperturbable elegance and refinement in structured, understated shapes and hues. At the other end of the spectrum is the Goh family, whose costumes Vogt wanted to be a joyful expression of their wealth. Vogt was inspired by Japanese anime, for Peik Lin’s (Awkwafina) vivid, wildly patterned doll-like ensembles and used a gaudy Versace tracksuit to great effect on the father (Ken Jeong). Vogt also suggested strong hair design early on to help clearly distinguish between the vast cast.
Between the polarities are the leads—Rachel (Constance Wu) is American Asian and Nick (Henry Golding) who is Asian, but living in New York. Vogt sees Nick as a Cary Grant type. His closet is full of custom-made suits that he dons as easily and elegantly as he wears his swimsuit. Kwan envisioned Rachael as a Dorothy figure, going to Oz when she travels from New York to Singapore. In New York, Vogt gives her an edgier look, while still being professorial, rooted in black. In Singapore, Vogt uses softer, floral garments to show Rachael’s vulnerability. For the storybook ending, she arms Rachael with a Cinderella-type gown in the perfect shade of blue.
Vogt had to strike the right chord with fashion choices for this modern fairytale. The delight she took in choosing precisely the right pieces leaps off the screen. She says, “I exaggerated the costumes a little bit because I felt with comedy I could get away with it. To me a good costume is always a combination of the actor and the costume and the character and the costume. It’s the dynamics of those three things.”