Christopher Hargadon, costume designer for "The Kennedys," the controversial miniseries that premieres April 3 on the Reelz Channel, had a true sartorial challenge when he signed on for the project: re-creating the iconic wardrobe of Jacqueline Kennedy.
To fashion more than 45 looks for actress Katie Holmes (see a selected gallery here), who plays Jackie alongside Greg Kinnear's John F. Kennedy, Toronto-based Hargadon shopped the United States and Canada for vintage fabrics. He also got crafty when "just the right thing" became elusive, as it often did.
StyleList caught up with him in Toronto, just before he flew off to attend the series' premiere in Los Angeles, the first time he would see his ambitious efforts realized on film.
StyleList: We're curious about the differences between Jackie Kennedy and Katie Holmes in stature. Katie seems slighter.
C.H.: Katie is actually quite similar. Jackie was tall and slender and Katie is 5-foot-10. The difference was through the shoulders. Jackie was an equestrian and a swimmer, an athlete in the true Kennedy tradition, although she didn't love all the football they played. The difference was probably most through the shoulders. Hers were much broader than Katie's.
StyleList: How do you address those kinds of differences?
CH: What I strived for with Katie was to look as similar to Jackie as possible. It came down to very fine things, like where I put the cuffs of her sleeves, the hemline on the dress. I would step back and look at the image and my goal was for it to look like a proper Jackie Kennedy garment.
StyleList: I was struck by the image of Katie wearing a replica of the pink suit that Jackie wore on the day of President Kennedy's assassination. How important was it for you to get that exactly right?
C.H.: It's funny you mention that suit. It was actually done for Katie by (Giorgio) Armani. She and Tom (Cruise) have a relationship with Armani, and when they found out she was doing the project, they asked to make her clothes. So we told them she would need 45 or 50 looks for all the episodes and they had to be done in about 72 days. They came back and said, "Then, we'd like to do two." So they made that and her inaugural gown. The rest were made in our workshop in Toronto.
StyleList: How involved was Katie in the design process?
C.H.: When I came to meet with her in L.A., her whole work table was covered with images of Jackie in various situations. She had done a lot of research. She was totally game for finding vintage pieces that were representational of Jackie's style. When you are portraying someone, at least from the wardrobe, you want it to be very positive and she was committed to that... sometimes she would tweak things. Say we had her in multiple strands of pearls. She might ask, "Can I just wear one?" But it was only because she felt it looked heavy on her.
StyleList: Did you source a lot of vintage things?
C.H.: To find the right things from that era in the condition I needed ended up being too ambitious. Fortunately, you could still source the right vintage fabrics, the wool-silk blends, the rayons. And when we couldn't, we took a real arts-and-crafts approach. There was one dress Jackie wore to an opera, an Oleg Cassini, that was a straw raffia. I was obsessed with it but couldn't find anything, even fabric. Then I stumbled on a vintage French ribbon lace. I stripped it and painted it and gave it a light wash and a pink hue and it worked. There was another fabric she wore for a ball dress -- the story is it was a gift from a king -- and I took pictures to a friend who trained as an Italian textiles designer. She painted a silk fabric for me, the lotus blossoms, the fronds. It almost looks like Chinese embroidery. I don't even know if the piece made the final cut, but it was an incredible effort.
StyleList: How did you translate Jackie's style evolution, particularly during her White House years?
C.H.: When she arrived there, she had been very devoted to French couture, but knew being dressed by French designers was not appropriate for her position. She formed an alliance with Cassini (an American of French descent), and he became very involved in creating almost a uniform for her in terms of finding silhouettes that worked. They experimented, certainly, but often it was with color. She loved pink, but sometimes he would put her in interesting things, a pale green Grecian gown, for example. I tried to show the range. Her style, her look, was important. It was part of Jack's campaign. He was as aware of it as she was.
StyleList: There are parallels with Michele Obama. Even the criticism for wearing McQueen, for example.
C.H.: The parallels are real, also that in they had great figures and really wear clothes in a beautiful way that people notice and emulate.
StyleList: Jackie wore a lot of hats too. Did she like them?
C.H.: Not really, but she wore them with a sense of propriety. You'll notice she didn't wear them before the White House, nor did she wear them after the assassination, except for at the funeral. Indeed, her whole style changed after those years, it became more casual. But Katie liked the hats.
StyleList: You had to create looks for the actors playing the entire Kennedy clan. Any favorites to dress?
C.H.: Ethel was especially interesting. She was fairly mod. There's one look I found her wearing that was total pop; she had this fizz green and poppy, bright sort of yellow-green kind of minidress. I studied one picture; she's sitting on a boat with her hair in a flip and white grid stockings and matching shoes and by this point she's had eight or nine kids. She was pretty fashion forward, all things considered. Rose, like Jackie, stuck to certain silhouettes, and the men were interesting too. Their style did not evolve as much as the women. I got the sense they all went to Joe Sr.'s tailor. Even in the Beatles era, their tie width didn't change much.
For more, read who gives Holmes some of her best fashion advice.