I recently saw the Spike Jonze film Her and was struck by its beautiful set and costume design. The aesthetic seemed perfectly attuned to our current obsessions with vintage warmth and high-tech connectivity. In a New York Times interview with the set designer K. K. Barrett, who also worked on Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are and Being John Malcovich, he explains how he approached designing “the future” – while avoiding the cliches of making everything slick, metallic and silver:
“Among the biggest challenges was the design of the film’s technology: the device Theodore uses to communicate with his operating system as well as his computer monitor.“With the device, we could have easily gone into the modern realm of a thin sheet of curved glass you could slip into your pocket, or a hologram,” Mr. Barrett said. “But we didn’t want to do something that wasn’t tangible and wasn’t real right now.”
The set is curiously familiar and disorientating at once. Where mid-century wood and minimalistic uniform-like costumes are not so different from today’s styles, in outdoor and crowd scenes one is struck by the lack of cars. Barrett was inspired by shooting in Shanghai, “where they have these elevated walkways so you can go from building to building without ever having to cross an intersection. Already, that gave us a bit of a future slant, feeling like we’re comfortable pedestrians within the urban grid.”
In terms of costumes, I always appreciate a cohesive design and a particular attention to detail. Costume Designer Casey Storm’s designs and tones were reminiscent of a Wes Anderson production, but without the heavy emphasis on nostalgia. In a recent interview, Storm describes the look as retro-futurism, i.e. the future as seen from the past and the past as seen from the future. “We really don’t need to show it’s the future by putting people in crazy-shaped hats or epaulets… For people who aren’t sure about how much they want to embrace that technology, the reaction might be to go in the other direction and start finding comfort in things from time periods gone by”. This seems to perfectly describe so many current trends, from prohibition-era beards to hand-painted signs, combined with wearable-tech and constantly connected environments.
One cute costume detail featured a safety pin in Theodore’s shirt pocket. I didn’t quite get the use of it at the time, but later realized that this enabled his OS Samantha to see everything he was seeing through the lens of his phone.
In a more oddball initiative, avant-garde Opening Ceremony designer Humberto Leon has created a unisex fashion line based on the film. While the button-down shirts and high-waisted pants seem nice enough, I’m not sure what they were thinking with the prison-garb-esque striped sweatsuits. As with many unisex things, they all seem better suited to men.
Another creative talent and frequent Jonze collaborator is artist and designer Geoff Mcfetridge. He created artworks featured in Theodore’s office and this futurist map of LA. Never having been there, I can’t speak to it’s functionality, but some are saying its quite enviable. Originally from Calgary, he has gained acclaim since going to art school and basing his life in California. His spectacles / moustache style also seems very reminiscent of Theodore’s… coincidence?
For a few more design ideas inspired by “Her” check out my Pinterest collection and prepare to want to redesign your office. Enjoy.