Q&A: Costume Designer Bina Daigeler on Only Lovers Left Alive Vampire Costumes, Dressing Tilda, & More

Photo: Sandro Kopp/Sony Pictures Classic

From the decadent robes Tilda Swinton wears in her book-filled Tangier apartment to butter-soft leather motorcycle gloves that stave off psychic static, the fashion in Only Lovers Left Alive Jim Jarmusch’s new vampire film, which opens this weekend — is the epitome of casual chic.

The film’s central characters, all vampires, have been there and done that —  and their clothes, which have been cobbled together over centuries —  reflect it. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) swoons around his home in Detroit in half-unbuttoned dark shirts and bare feet, slim jeans, and lanky black hair; he’s as unconcerned with the outside world as he is with updating his wardrobe. Half a world away, Swinton’s Eve stalks the streets of Tangier in white leather and a shockingly white mane, which is given extra volume with yak hair. At home, her casualwear consists of embroidered Chinese pajamas and a decadent yellow-and-black robe handmade by costume designer Bina Daigeler, who previously worked with both Swinton and Jarmusch on The Limits of Control. Eve delights in life, books, and technology; naturally, she’s got a gleaming-white iPhone that she uses to FaceTime with Adam. Together, they sip blood from elegant little glasses and lounge in centuries-old robes.

Ava, Eva’s troublesome little sister (played by Mia Wasikowska), is the most colorful of them all. A night owl who prefers clubs to cafés, Ava wears girly, vintage-style dresses, patterned tights, and silver Mary Janes to flounce around Adam’s house and cause chaos wherever she goes. The fourth vampire in their pack, the “real” Christopher Marlowe (Josh Hurt), appears a little disheveled at first glance. But a closer look reveals his three-piece suits are made from exquisite and very old fabrics, gathered over the centuries since the writer’s mysterious “death” in 1593.

Daigeler, who is currently based in Madrid, spoke to the Cut about conceiving the costumes for the film, reuniting with Jarmusch and Swinton, and the mood board that made it all possible.

What sort of ideas did Jarmusch approach you with about the costumes — what did he want them to look like, what did he want to avoid?

I think he was looking for something [without a] specific period, with very simple and clean lines. At this moment, the vampires don’t really care about the clothes, you know? They lived [through] that in all other periods, so they [wear] something very simple but protective … On the other side, of course, they are like animals. They have their second skin with their clothes, and that was a little bit my idea — that it’s like the second skin they got during so many years of living. They’d already lived all the fantasies they could live … so it could be something very, very simple.

Photo: Sandro Kopp/Sony Pictures Classic

I know that there are references to the age of their clothes themselves. How did that affect what kind of textiles you used for the designs?

I like to use for them this very basic, natural leather — all of them, there’s something with leather they are wearing, and that they protect themselves also with the gloves. [The leather] is somehow a little bit like a second skin. The only one who is different —  because she is lost — is the character [played by] Mia [Wasikowska].

Photo: Sandro Kopp/Sony Pictures Classic

When you’re designing costumes, how much of it is from scratch, versus finding things in vintage shops or things that the actors themselves want to use?

That depends, of course, on what kind of movie you’re doing, but with Adam and Eve — it was all made from scratch [for] this movie because we wanted to show that they are not contemporary, and are also not ancient. It’s just something I had to make because I wanted to have this simple, very specific look of leather jackets and pants. So that was all made for them.

How long is that process?

I didn’t have a lot of time. I think we met the first time two months before [shooting], and we had a meeting [with] Jim, [and Tom and Tilda], and hair and makeup, and the DOP and the production designer — we [came together for] a creative meeting.

[Since] I knew Jim already, I prepared a mood board and made it look really ancient, on old paper with written things on it, and I stitched that on, and it was like a painting. That was then my base, how I could explain how I see each character … I already had swatches of the fabrics so I could immediately start, since I knew where Jim wanted to go, because I knew him from the movie before, and that was very helpful. And I think [the mood board] was for the whole creative meeting, which was helpful — we had a base. We had a feeling, a little bit, where we could go. First I brought some vintage clothes, and that was like the base for our fittings. Then I started six weeks before, and it [was] just a very fast process where you just know: Okay, that is what we want. And we chose the fabric, and then we just started making the clothes.

Tilda is such a fashion icon. Can you talk about collaborating with her on her costume and developing it in terms of her character?

With Tilda, of course, [working with her] is a pleasure. It is really a pleasure because she is so, so inspiring and her nature is already so glamorous in a good way, you know? She is like a fantasy bird already, naturally.

At the beginning, Jim wanted to have something very, very simple and Tilda was looking for something perhaps a little bit more playful. But during the process, we realized that, yeah, simpler will be better because then it becomes … without any references to any type of period, you know?

It’s not that she doesn’t care, but it’s just that it’s her, and I didn’t want to have something to make people think, Oh, is it a designer? Where does it come from? What is she wearing? This is her, this a light image, and it is like yin and yang [between her and Adam]; he is dark, she is bright.

And then we had this old, very old [fabric] — I made a [sleeping] robe out of it, which I also liked because it was fabric from the 18th century. It’s nice to have [the fabric] really, like, old, you know? And it was hand-stitched. That was also something that I really enjoyed. We had this natural old fabric, and we could do her robes from that.

So when you were on location in Tangier, were you finding things as you went that you wanted to incorporate?

Both fabrics I had already. I went scouting already a little bit. When you see it, you take it because you just think, Wow, that could be great!

Photo: Sandro Kopp/Sony Pictures Classic

How much of Jarmusch’s own aesthetic and style worked their way into Adam’s costumes?

I think his own style is in all his movies — not only in Adam’s style — because Jim has a cool style. I think it is his style, like, in all his movies you see it, and even in Tilda’s outfits you see it. And I think that is essential for his movies, and also for the costume designer to capture that, you know? And to use it in a positive way. And as it is a style that I like, [it’s a good] coincidence and great to get this style and to use it for the movie. Not only for the part of Adam.

Would you also say the designs in the movie reflect your personal style? It’s more personal than, you know, when you get a more specific directive from a director to create a period piece or something similar.

No, no, it is his style, but I use it for his movies. I think, for me, it’s very inspiring, you know? It’s very inspiring, and it expresses something of his feelings and of his way to be, so that is important, and I am able to reflect it in the characters he wanted to show because of course all Jim Jarmusch movies are very, very personal. He writes them, he makes them; it is, for him, part of his life, his personal thoughts, his personal feelings. So of course I have to somehow capture that and re-create it in the costumes. And I think that is the reason why our collaboration works, because I am able to capture that.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Vampire Costumes of Only Lovers Left Alive