Out of Africa (1985), directed by Sydney Pollack, is a bio-pic of the author Karen Blixen (who used the pseudonym Isak Dinesen) based on her memoir by the same name about the seventeen years she lived in Kenya in the 1910s (then British East Africa). Costume designer, and three-time Oscar winner, Milena Canonero has talked about the challenge of costuming this film from a research perspective. She relied heavily on Dinesen’s family archives that she had access to during her short visit to Denmark for both references of what the Somali wore in those days (which were very difficult to find) and to get insights into Dinesen’s character, played by Meryl Streep. She also worked closely with Stephen Grimes (who won the Oscar for his work as the production designer of the film), who having arrived early on location in Kenya would send her color copies of his paintings so she could see what colors he would be using for the sets.
Canonero said “The costumes in Out of Africa had quite an impact on fashion. It was as though the fashion world was ready for the styles of the film; the costumes just caught something that was in the air.”
The clothes are a materialization of this heroine’s life, they evolved along with her throughout the film, and women everywhere who identified with her or wanted to become like her left wanting to dress like her. She was a nonconformist, strong-willed, independent woman, and her clothes were the part of her individuality that was the easiest for them to project onto themselves.
“The romantic linen and khaki costumes [Canorero] created for Meryl Streep in the film led to a surge of safari lookalike retail fashions in the late ’80s.” –Deborah Nadoolman Landis.
After the film’s release, sales soared for Banana Republic, which at the time specialized in travel and safari clothing. Ralph Lauren and British label Topshop were also inspired by the clothes of the film and were quick to capitalize on the sudden demand for safari-wear. The safari look dominated retail fashion as a clear result of the influence of this film’s costumes.
Twenty-five years later, all I can see in this film are boots, boots, boots.
Out of Africa (1985) Universal Pictures – Milena Canonero, Costume Design – Sydney Pollack, Director.
© 2011 – 2015, Louise Junker.