Decades into her career, it almost seems as if Odile Dicks-Mireaux is just getting started. The BAFTA and Emmy-winning costume designer continues to dazzle in Oscar-nominated films, Brooklyn and An Education, and Emmy-winning series, Chernobyl. Her upcoming projects include Florence Pugh’s The Wonder and Tom George’s untitled murder mystery.
Dicks-Mireaux is no stranger to awards and nominations. She was most recently nominated for the Outstanding Period Costume Emmy for HBO’s limited series winner Chernobyl. In 2005, she won for Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special for The Lost Prince. Her nominations for BAFTA Film Awards include, An Education and Brooklyn. She is also a three-time BAFTA TV Award nominee, for The Hollow Crown, Gormenghast and The Woman in White and a winner for Great Expectations.
In Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, eighth film as a director, everything is not what it seems, as a bright-eyed Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is able to see into Sandie’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) seemingly exciting past as a singer in 1960s London.
Last Night in Soho premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in September and stars Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Matt Smith. Dame Diana Rigg and Margaret Nolan mark their final film appearances here. The film will be released only in theaters by Focus Features on October 29, 2021.
In my conversation with Dicks-Mireaux, we dive into her relationship to Soho, how key costumes worn by Taylor-Joy and McKenzie were brought to life and much more.
Jackson Vickery: How were you first approached for Last Night in Soho?
Odile Dicks-Mireaux: This will make you laugh. I was on holiday in Cyprus after having finished a film. My agent sent the script across to me and said, “You’ve got to read it. You’ve got to read it. It’s really great. I think you should be doing this.” I didn’t have an iPad or anything, so I tried to read it on my iPhone, which was really difficult. I’ve got a tiny one because I’m old fashioned. It was quite overwhelming to read, but it was really intriguing to kind of get to grips of it all.
When you read it blank, you think, “Oh, I can’t make sense of all of this.” I read it again, got home and started doing the research for the interview. That’s when I got really excited. Then I met Edgar and we really kind of clicked.
JV: I’m wondering if you can sort of give some context to what the discussion was during your interview with Edgar and what transpired after that.
OD-M: I think we honed straight into the 60s. It’s a period I grew up in London myself. I kind of felt that, looking as a small child, I was on the periphery of looking at it all, so I felt close to it. And similarly with “An Education”, this is slightly later. It was just a joy really. I honestly don’t live very far from Soho, as I said. Edgar and I are neighbors. Just the idea of shooting in Soho was just really exciting. And doing the 60s. And I love doing research. I love the period before you have to really make the agonizing decisions of what they’re going to wear. It’s much more fun to be doing a much broader sweep, which is how I approach it and then you react.
We had to do it quite fast when I came on board because Thomasin and Anya were only available to us very early on. We suddenly did this pre-soft prep. I had to come up with this newspaper dress and all the 60s images they were both involved in. We felt the modern stuff could be a bit easier later on when they came back. That’s how it evolved.
I suddenly discovered and used paper patterns. I remember paper patterns were my world in the late 60s and 70s when I started making my own clothes. The paper patterns are really interesting in what you can achieve because I wasn’t sure where they would’ve gotten the dresses from. They probably could’ve been homemade. They weren’t, though, because it’s so expensive to buy couture fabric.
JV: Can you go a little bit more into paper patterns?
OD-M: When I first started, you would go to the library and you would just find so much, which was inspiring. You could very quickly get a sense of what were the most popular things that people wanted to wear. The two things that I was most nervous about designing were the newspaper dress and Sandy’s dress.
When you started looking at all the 60s dresses, it was just a simple shape. I remember my mother making it on the floor, the simple shift shape. Brigitte Bardot wore it, so I’m not sure that’s going to inspire a modern fashion designer. That’s why I created something with the sort of tent like quality of the chiffon. I love the quality of light through clothes, so I wanted this feeling that you could see through it as well.
We had one person who made all the clothes throughout, who was on board with us and who ended up doing everything throughout the film. I think I’ve put her through torture.
Once Terence Stamp got involved, I watched a few of his films. Suddenly I saw Monica Vitti wore one of those dresses in one of her films. I was very anxious about it, but it worked. Anya made it work for me and everybody was just thrilled with it.
JV: Can we talk a little bit more about Eloise’s opening look, the newspaper dress, and what that looked like from beginning to end?
OD-M: I discussed it with Sam the maker and sent her a board. She brilliantly came back with these little maquettes that she’d made out of paper on this little tiny model. It really gave us a very good sense of what could or could not work.
It was really easy for Edgar to then see what it looked like three-dimensionally, rather than just imagining a drawing. Sometimes you can’t really see it, but he could see it three-dimensionally. Then it had to frame this door frame, so that was quite important. It had to have an element of Audrey Hepburn about it.
There were two to choose from. There was one with the fishtail and there was one that was bigger. We chose the bigger one. We thought it would have the most movement in it and the one she could move into. It kind of was a process of elimination.
We thought it was fun to try and think about what we would make the newspaper dress out of. We got permission to use the Cornish newspaper, which we thought was a really nice touch. Then we discovered how strong it was.
Originally, we made it out of newspaper just for practice and movement. When we had to print the Cornish paper onto paper, the paper was not as strong as the newspaper. which is why I had to crumple it. Edgar said, “Why doesn’t it look so crumpled?” I was thinking, “Because it’s made of paper, newspapers are much better than paper. It has something in it.” You discover all sorts of things.
JV: I love that. And you alluded to Sandy’s tent dress. Can we talk about that one?
OD-M: It was all about trying to find a dress that would work for two things. Something that she would be inspired by and something that you could then see her working through in modern day. I had the mood boards and I presented them to Edgar and Nira [Park] and Marcus [Rowland]. It was a joint thing, which is always nice because it’s collaboration. I said, “Well, I think this will work better than just having a simple shape because we can do more with it in the future and it’ll have a bit more impact.”
Thomasin did actually have her own peach tent dress. We did all sorts of samples and transposed Photoshop colors on them. We chose the peach one. It was either sunshine yellow or peach, and I think the peach was the right decision.
Those two, that dress, the newspaper dress and the red dress were all conceived quite early on.
JV: How was it working with Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie?
OD-M: They were great, just really great. They were very different characters. I had different fittings with Anya because she was incredibly busy with “Emma” at the time. They were more pressured in some way, but in some ways, sort of easier because they were tied by the 60s.
I don’t know how many times I must have dressed Thomasin up all through the shoot, just to get the right look. You’re trying to evolve a character that everyone’s happy with. They were both very different and both very professional about it really.
And you always feel like you’re bothering them because they’ve got so much else to talk about. The look does help because it does give them their characters.
At the same time with Thomasin’s contemporary look, we went into the art schools, surreptitiously taking a few photographs to get the feeling of what modern art students are wearing now. I had a very young member of my team who focused on that with me. We would go out to buy the stuff. You also create a team around you that can fill in the gaps that your knowledge might not know. Because I’m supposed to know everything about costume from Jesus Christ to the future? So you try and get a team that is going to help you with that, who’ve got great taste and eyes.
JV: I would be remised if I didn’t ask about Diana Rigg. Did you have any interaction with her?
OD-M: Absolutely. She came into the Working Title offices, which isn’t too far away and I was invited to meet her there. That was just fun because she just said, “Comfort, comfort, and comfort.” And that was it. “And I have to be dressed in five minutes, no longer.” It was very straightforward. I was worried because I did a board and thought maybe I’d need to be a bit more glamorous. Absolutely not. It wasn’t about glamor at all. It was about the character and being able to get on with it. Put the clothes on very quickly and to be comfortable. She was just good fun.
JV: What personally was your favorite costume to design for this film?
OD-M: I don’t really know now actually, to be honest. I think the newspaper dress fell into place quite quickly, and I enjoyed doing that. The tent dress was a bit of a torture because we were constantly trying to get the right amount of chiffon which would flatter her. I liked the red dress because it was cute and sweet. That fell into place very easily because we found a really great fabric for that. There’s lots of them, really. The Cilla Black dress was all about doing repeats.
The white Mac has a funny story about it. If you look at my board of the white Mac, you can see various things in it. It’s slightly inspired by “Darling”, when Julie Christie wears a white Mac when she comes back from Paris. I wanted to do a shiny Mac because I found this image of Petula Clark singing “Downtown” in a black PVC Mac at the time. I was like, “Oh that’s great, isn’t that a great idea? She’s going to sing the song in the film. Put it on the board.” But it was black. I thought that’s a bit boring. Black again. I couldn’t put red. I didn’t think a color was quite right.
So I put the white one down, and I think it was actually Marcus who looked at me and said, “That’s a great idea. Let’s do that.” When we came to do the camera tests, it was quite hard to light a white shiny Mac. I don’t think Chung was too happy, but everybody rallied around and said, “No, no, it could be really interesting. It could actually give something different on the screen.” It is actually really hard to light a very shiny white Mac, so good on him. We stayed with it but he was very worried that we would have it next to Jack. I said, “No, no. They won’t have that because of the contrast of their colors and what they were wearing.” The white Mac evolved, though, because originally she was going to buy a black lace dress in the vintage shop when she morphed into Sandy and dyed her hair.
I found this white vintage Mac in one of the costume houses, which I was modeling sort of vaguely and would put on Anya in the fittings. In the end, we decided, “Oh maybe that’s what Thomasin buys in the shop. That’d be much more interesting.” Then we made her a Mac as well because the other one was a little bit large.
It’s funny how something that wasn’t predicted and then evolved, because you’re working in collaboration with people. That’s the great thing about Edgar. In the preparation, he was open to ideas. He didn’t say, “Oh, that’s in the script. I want a black lace dress.” He suddenly went, “No, that’s a great idea.” So then you get the two of them in white Macs at the end, which hadn’t been conceived in the story right at the beginning.
JV: What would you say was the biggest challenge for this film?
OD-M: As I said at the beginning, there were challenges and then suddenly along comes another challenge. I was asked to design all the burlesque costumes. That was a bit of a challenge. I had thought, “Yeah, no, this is great.” This will remind me of my Top of the Pops days at the BBC when I had to do costumes for Adam Ant in the 1980s. I thought, “No, I can do this.” Suddenly you’d gone from modern to kind of the 60 to these burlesque costumes. But working in Soho at night was tough for three weeks.
I have to admit, I didn’t do the total nights, but it was tough for the team. I think that was a big challenge, but it looked brilliant. It looked so good. When I saw it, I was just like, “Wow, nobody’s seen London like this.” You always just get a nice shot of Tower Bridge, or the houses, or a pub. It’s been a long time since somebody’s really seen London how I can remember it when I was a student walking around late at night in Soho.
I can remember going down old Compton Street, when I actually did my thesis at college on striptease theater. And so I’d be 17, walking at 9:30 at night. It wasn’t a very nice place to be and I was always very careful. That was how I was taught by my mum, to be careful where you walked at night. It was very fascinating, the whole Soho story. When I moved from central London closer to Soho in the 80s, there were the markets, the tailors, etc.
Obviously, Edgar had done a lot of research as well prior to this. The first week my prep was literally going through all the films he asked us to watch, trying to read all the material he’d put together. That’s just really great, I mean. It’s so nice when your director says, “Watch 10 films,” isn’t it?
JV: What were some of the films?
OD-M: Darling was one of them. There were some early 60s ones. I can’t remember them all very well, Edgar would remember better. He also had some 70s films and the Italian Suspiria films that he is very keen on that I’d never seen before. That was good fun. You add a few of your own and then you discover a few of your own, which we all passed around.
JV: What was the biggest takeaway from the project?
OD-M: The biggest takeaway, I think, was the fact that I had been asked to do it. That was fantastic. It’s so unusual to work on an original script, something written that’s completely new. I thought this is really exciting to have not done an adaptation because a lot of the time you end up doing adaptations of books, don’t you? I wanted to do something completely different. I had also never done horror before, so I was a bit scared of it.
I get really scared of horror movies, so I thought this is fun to do. [Edgar] also introduced us to all sorts of interesting technical things he wanted to try and achieve. The things that I didn’t quite understand when I first read it, but as you got more into it, were very interesting. There are so many layers to this film. Different challenges. Different levels of detail. And I love detail, and so does Edgar. That’s what I took away. I felt I was working with a kindred spirit, which is always good. That’s the best thing, isn’t it? And I’m really proud of it as well.
JV: As you should be.
OD-M: I’m actually proud of lots of things I’ve done. But it’s always nice when you get another opportunity to be proud of something because you think, “Oh no, you’re never going to get as good as this again.” And then here you go, it’s amazing. I’m very lucky.
JV: Is there something that you haven’t done that you would like to do?
OD-M: Somebody asked me that the other day what my criteria was, and I said, “It’s got to be the director.” That you feel you can be you, yourself. I’ve just worked on a film, and everyone was wet and cold. The director said, “You know what this is, this is an extreme sport.” And I thought nobody’s ever said that, and it’s so true. Therefore, who you are surrounded with, the director, your team, the actors, and all the other heads of other teams, are so important. So you look at that very carefully. Not being such a youngster as I was, I also take that with great consideration.
But the one thing on the one film I just did, I worked with an 11 year old girl and she was so excited to work on a film. It was just like, “Wow, I haven’t seen that enthusiasm for a long time. It was probably how we all felt when we entered into this media at some point, how we were so excited by being involved in film and TV. By the end of the shoot she’d had enough, she wanted to go back to school and to see her friends. But you just remember that thing, when I was 16, just wanting to be part of this whole world that I’m still part of it now.
JV: And you still love it.
OD-M: And I still love it. Yeah.