Hollywood costume designer (and part-time Palm Springs resident) Daniel Orlandi hadn’t considered the lives — or style — of race car drivers until he read the script for Ford v Ferrari, the film out this month that tells the story of Ford Motor Company’s audacious attempt to beat Ferrari at the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966.
“It made me cry, it’s so beautiful,” Orlandi says of the awards contender starring Matt Damon as automotive designer Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as standout driver Ken Miles. “It’s about friendship, loyalty, and teamwork.”
With as many as 500 extras in Ford v Ferrari, Orlandi needed hordes of 1960s clothes — many of which he found at his favorite Coachella Valley-area thrift stores and vintage shops. And the designer relished the different styles the film required him to dip into, from the Mad Men suits of Ford’s corporate world to the casual, hippie-leaning attire of the rag-tag group of California mechanics who joined the automaker’s efforts to outrace Ferrari.
Orlandi, whose credits include such films as Jurassic World, The Blind Side, and Frost/Nixon, became a student of ’60s-era auto racing, digging deep into the histories of Shelby and Miles — not only to nail down Damon and Bale’s looks, but to gain insight into the personalities of the real-life characters.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTOPHER VON STEINBACH
Daniel Orlandi’s outfits give his characters an important measure of authenticy.
“It’s so much fun for me to work with these actors and help them become the character,” Orlandi says. “I like to find out about everything, so I can really explain: ‘This is the driving suit. Oh, why is it so thin? Because they didn’t have Nomex back then. They weren’t really fireproof; they were fire-resistant.’ ”
The Emmy-winning designer, who has been the go-to costumer for everyone from Tom Hanks to magician David Copperfield, creates ensembles that make actors feel as though they’re stepping into a persona, not just an outfit. “Sometimes we’re more like psychologists than designers,” he says. “Like how sloppy is he? Maybe his shoelace is untied here. Maybe he’s untucked his shirt. I love figuring all that stuff out.”
The difference between Shelby and Miles in Ford v Ferrari, for example, come through in their choice of clothes. “Carroll Shelby is more of a showman, maybe even a chameleon … He’s a Texan, so he has his cowboy boots,” Orlandi says, “and he wears a bit fancier cowboy boots when he’s doing [publicity].” Miles, on the other hand, isn’t flashy at all. “He’s a mechanic and a family man. His clothes are worn,” Orlandi says. “He goes to Le Mans. They all dress up, and his suit is from the ’50s — his one old suit.”
When it came to the racing suits and pit-crew uniforms — which the designer and his team meticulously recreated from scratch — Orlandi says it was “like being a detective.” He scoured old photos and news clippings and tracked down one of Shelby’s former team members, who still had an original shirt from his days on the track.
“I tried to get exactly the right fabric and the right font and the same embroidery,” Orlandi explains, “because they’re all embroidered.” He also found an original racing boot, which he replicated for Bale’s character.
It was a challenging shoot, Orlandi says, working in 117-degree heat with hundreds of extras, drivers, and Oscar-winning stars. But, he insists, “the biggest days for me are the most fun.”
Besides, he knows that as soon as a project wraps, he can escape to the desert oasis that’s been his home away from home for more than 35 years. “I love it because I have a bunch of friends in Los Angeles, and I only see them in Palm Springs,” he says. “I would leave work and drive and when I see the outlet mall, it’s like a big weight is taken off my shoulders. Whew! I can relax.”