In Tár, the Suits Make the Maestro

Holding court onstage in an interview with The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, the EGOT-winning conductor and composer Lydia Tár claims that gender was never an issue in her rise to the top of the classical music world. But her outfit—a perfectly tailored black suit and crisp white dress shirt—tells a more complicated story. As played by Cate Blanchett in Tár, the new psychological drama from writer and director Todd Field, Lydia dresses to impress, and often reveals much more than she intends.

Costume designer Bina Daigeler tells Vanity Fair that Lydia Tár’s power dressing—effortlessly chic but meticulously tailored custom suits, wine-colored sweaters, and an occasional scarf—took shape after conversations with Field about the enigmatic conductor’s inner life. Daigeler researched the music world, and the sartorial style of both female and male conductors before making menswear the inspiration for the maestro’s wardrobe—one that eschews most makeup and all jewelry, save for a watch worn inwards.

At the height of her career, Lydia lives a privileged life in Berlin with her German partner Sharon (Nina Hoss), the Philharmonic’s first violinist and concertmaster, and their daughter, Petra (Mila Bogojevic). But there are visible cracks: Lydia pops anti-anxiety pills on the sly and maintains her old apartment, ostensibly to focus on writing her next composition.

“Lydia is a very special character who intrigues everybody, and [raises] a lot of questions [for which] there are actually no answers,” Munich-born Daigeler says. “How much do you like her? What is really the truth? Who is really involved in which power game? All of this I tried to reflect in my costume design.”

Daigeler had collaborated with Blanchett previously: first, on German artist Julian Rosefeldt’s film installation Manifesto; and again when Blanchett played Phyllis Schlafly on the miniseries Mrs. America. During early fittings, the women went through the script and talked about the character and the emotions of the scenes, a process that allowed them to often improvise Lydia’s outfits while filming.

For her part, Blanchett doesn’t necessarily think of Lydia’s clothes as menswear. “Women also feel comfortable in pants and suiting!” She says via email. “But still, unfortunately, stepping onto the podium as a woman is a political act. And so, to work out what tradition Lydia was bucking or buying into, and how this was reflected in the way she dressed, was an important early conversation. The baseball cap, for instance, [that Lydia wears when casually dressed for travel, is] a defiant venture towards her American-ness in a Eurocentric music culture.”

The film’s most character-defining fashion moment comes early on, when the maestro is measured for a suit by German tailor Egon Brandstetter at his atelier. It began as a simple script description of her assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) shopping for Lydia and a couple of jacket fittings, according to Field. The director—who had standing weekly dinners with his costume designer while filming—says in an email that thanks to Daigeler, who arranged Brandstetter’s participation, the scene became “a nuts-and-bolts example of meticulous self-mythology and image creation.”

Ironically, Blanchett is barely seen in Brandstetter’s finished suit, the outfit relegated to a photo of Lydia in the film. In fact, the orchestra leader’s power suits were designed by Daigeler, who Field describes as an “absolute magician [who] is never pointing to the trick.”

The suits so impressed Blanchett that she took some home. “Bina has such a great eye—for line, color, and embellishment. So whenever I work with her, I covet everything,” she says. “But then you get home, and realize Bina has bewitched you—it’s the character’s taste, not yours!” What matches Blanchett’s taste, however, is the vintage Rolex Lydia wears because it’s her own. The watch was a gift from her husband, Andrew Upton, after the birth of their second child. Blanchett says that she “wanted the face turned inwards for easy access to the watch face for snatched glances at time. After all, it’s a film about time. To wear any other jewelry would have diluted this.”

One aspect of Lydia’s style came straight from Daigeler’s personal playbook, Field reveals. “The way you see [Lydia] in rehearsal is patterned after how Bina herself dresses for work,” he says. “In…somewhat wrinkled clothes, with her sleeves literally rolled-up. Very different than how [the conductor] dresses for other arenas of her life.” This aspect then influenced Sharon’s, Lydia’s wife, rehearsal outfits. Originally, Daigeler and Hoss thought the violinist would have a more feminine look in contrast to her domineering partner. But once the designer and the actor realized how much power the violinist also wielded—and her complicity in Lydia’s abuse of power—Sharon’s clothes wound up mirroring her wife’s gray tops and black pants.

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