For Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg hired Oscar winning costume designer Anthony Powell (Death On The Nile, Tess), to cover all aspects of the film’s costuming. He had valuable experience of dealing directly with Berman and Nathan’s, two of the largest and most prestigious costume suppliers in the business.
On location in the heat of Sri Lanka, Powell replaced the heavy nylon lining of the Indy “hero” jacket with a cotton shell that fit Ford better (between initial fitting and location filming, Ford had lost up to twelve pounds, through physical training). Although the jacket appeared to fit better, the armholes were still restrictive. Ford more often than not put up with the heavier jacket, or wore stunt arranger Vic Armstrong’s own jacket from Raiders. For Ford alone, Powell had to make thirty shirts, in various stages of distress.
Powell couldn’t reuse the original Indy costumes because they had largely been destroyed. An aspect of Indy’s character outline that hadn’t made it into Raiders was a playboy image – his white tuxedo jacket for Club Obi-Wan was a deliberate nod to James Bond in the opening scene of Goldfinger, and Humphrey Bogart’s cynical Rick in Casablanca.
The costumes in the Club are bright, luxurious, almost garish in some cases – Lao Che’s white bow tie over black shirt, and his henchmen’s white scarf casually draped over his black tux, single them out as all “fur coat, no knickers,” as your granny might say. Indy delivers them a flaming fashion tip of truth:
For Short Round’s urchin look, production designer Elliot Scott referred Powell to a book of photographs on pre-war China from 1937. His eye was drawn to photographs of evacuees from Shanghai, particularly a little Chinese boy in baseball shoes. Steven Spielberg suggested adding a baseball cap he could have got from a tourist.
Inspiration also came from pictures of European missionaries with pith helmets, Chinese in western clothing with ethnic headgear. These ended up in the airport scene as Indy and co. make their escape in an (unbeknownst to them) Lao Che air freight plane.
For a “darker” film, Temple Of Doom is much more opulent and glamorous in places than the down and dirty feel of Raiders. Vibrant colour, detail and style are virtually everywhere, from the evening dressed night club crowds and gangsters, to the Maharajah’s dinner guests. Indy is decidedly under dressed next to Willie in her gorgeous Indian dress, and the English Captain Blumburtt, resplendent in scarlet dress uniform jacket.
It is Willie’s red and gold gown for her opening “Anything Goes” number that is Powell’s triumph. “It was completely made of original 1920’s and 1930’s beads and sequins which Barbara (Matera) had been collecting for years – but this meant that there was only enough stuff to make one dress.”
The dress ended up getting nibbled on by an elephant when Kate Capshaw as Willie hung it over a tree branch next to the gang’s campfire. Barbara Matera had to be flown by first class from New York to London to do emergency repairs with the remaining beads and sequins.
Powell further elaborates on his method:
“I like to make my original costume drawing not too specific. As long as the drawing gives the director and actor idea of what they’re going to get, that’s sufficient. The real work comes in the fitting room. It seems to me that unlike theatre, where an actor can transform himself and be totally convincing, cinema is a different medium. The camera sees through artifice.
The most interesting and successful screen actors have been those who have traded on their own personalities, presenting different aspects of themselves in various movies. What I feel I have to do is take what is actually there in an actor, not just physically but in the quality of personality, and take the character in the script as it’s written and bring these two together halfway. One may have worked something out very carefully on paper, but the important moment is in the fitting room. Clothes have to look absolutely right for that person. You have to strive for something that looks inevitable, that looks as if it has been airbrushed on the person. All of that happens in the fitting room, not in preliminary drawings.”