In Zoolander 2, Designers Are In on the Joke

Eric Wilson is InStyle's fashion news director. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Ben Stiller plays Derek Zoolander in Zoolander No. 2 from Paramount Pictures.
Photo: Wilson Webb

At the risk of piling on to Zoolander No. 2 fever—you might have heard a thing or two from the nonstop promotions leading up to its Feb. 12 release—I, too, am excited to see this film. The fashion industry was a very different place when the original movie appeared in 2001, lightly skewering the egos of designers and models, which were sort of outrageous even then. Now fashion is far more corporate, far more serious, and far less likely to take a joke lightly.

That said, designers love Zoolander so much that they jockeyed to appear in the film, and gladly gave their collections to costume designer Leesa Evans, whose approach to creating the styles of each character very much resembles a magazine editor coming up with a story. Sharp eyes will recognize collections from Valentino, Saint Laurent, even London’s up-and-coming men’s designer Craig Green. Evans has a great eye for contemporary fashion, as reflected in many of the comedies on which she has worked, but it goes without saying that designers will be watching this one quite closely. Here, a Q&A:

What’s the pressure like when you know this industry is going to be watching very closely?
What I hoped to do was collaborate with all the designers and showcase their work for what I wanted to see. When we first started, I went out to all the designers and asked what were their favorite pieces they had created for the runway, and how can we use them in this film? So the pressure for me was more about how will the general audience react. My approach, I like to say, was 50 percent couture, 50 percent comedy, so that there will be something for everyone.

I recognize quite a few pieces from the trailers, from Saint Laurent to Valentino. What else can we expect to see? This movie needs credits!
There’s no specific guide, but what I tried to do throughout certain scenes was to keep designer collections in tact, so it feels right off the runway. You’ll spot the designer collection as it was originally meant to be. That was a fun way to have everyone in the background dressed in a terrific way, and some collections just lend themselves to a particular scene. For example, there’s a scene set in an orphanage. Because Valentino a few seasons ago did these unbelievably gorgeous black dresses with white collars, they lent themselves to the most fashionable, elegant nuns you have ever seen. They really got behind the idea of the schoolmarms and teachers all dressed in Valentino because it felt right for that scene.

Lots of designers also have cameos, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, Valentino, Alexander Wang… did you dress them as well?
I did, because I wanted everyone to wear their own designs to feel authentic, but I felt it was important the world feel somewhat surreal, so that even in its reality, we heightened it with a variation for the world of Zoolander. They all came in for a fitting, which was fantastic. I adore Mr. Valentino, and it did not disappoint. He was utterly charming, and an amazing man. He came with his whole entourage, with the pugs, just what you would imagine. It’s more intimidating to dress a fashion designer than a celebrity, because it’s part of the trade I’m involved in, but it was a real dream. Each one of them brought something special to the film. It was fun to take each one of them through the idea of what the film is. Just to get their nod of approval, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Will Ferrell plays Mugatu and Nathan Lee Graham plays Todd in Zoolander No. 2 from Paramount Pictures.
Wilson Webb

David C. Robinson’s costumes for the original film were so memorable, those body hugging leather suits, so how has the style evolved in 15 years?
I wanted it to be true what the first movie because so much of the time Derek gets it wrong, but sometimes he gets it right. I wanted to keep his view. But he does adapt to his environment. Fifteen years later, there’s such a thing as anti-fashion that’s hipster and incredibly cool, and also a version of the sequined Saint Laurent jacket that is incredibly chic. Through his eyes, he’s always head to toe in a theme, but the themes have changed. Maybe it’s not zebra, it’s leopard.

Ben Stiller plays Derek Zoolander and Owen Wilson plays Hansel in Zoolander 2 from Paramount Pictures.
Philippe Antonello

You’ve designed for amazing comedies from Trainwreck to Bridesmaids to American Pie. Is the approach different when you’re designing for characters who are meant to be funny?
There’s more pressure to do contemporary movies in general, because we have so much fashion at our disposal. Whether drama or comedy, the fashion choices you make bring the character to life. With comedy, sometimes the clothing needs to be toned down for the comedy to shine, and sometimes it needs to be ramped up to help the joke. You’re constantly going with the tone of the script, the actor, and director to keep the levels correct, like in Trainwreck, where sometimes you’re laughing with Amy, and sometimes you’re laughing at Amy.

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People may not know you are also Amy Schumer’s stylist off-camera. How do you approach her style and what do you talk about when it comes to her personal fashion?
The thing about Amy that I adore is that in reality, she’s not very fussy when it comes to fashion. She doesn’t wear jewelry. What she’s learned through this process of walking the red carpet is that when she feels comfortable in what she’s wearing, she stands taller and smiles more in a way that is not only helpful to her, but to other people as well. The first question is how do you feel, then we ask if it’s the best dress from an aesthetic standpoint. It’s a simple process. Anything that is not an immediate yes is generally just a no.

Amy Schumer at the Critic's Choice Awards
C Flanigan/Getty Images

Amy and I started an initiative called Stylefund to help women use clothing for confidence in life. Amy and I are both really passionate about it. When you feel good in what you are wearing, you can have an incredible day and make lots of positive connections, whereas if you don’t, you might shy away from people even when you know them. If we can all find a way to find the uniform that makes us feel good every day, I believe that the amount of confidence it creates can change the world in some way.

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