Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals stars Amy Adams as Susan Morrow, a blue-chip art dealer living in a AU$135 million Hollywood Hills mansion. The film quickly disabuses viewers of any notion that that we should admire her elegant life and its opulent furnishings.
And yet-those clothes, that art, that home décor. Why do we yearn for it so? And how can we get our hands on it?
Take a scene where Susan slips on a glamorously chunky pair of Chloé eyeglasses to read in bed. Is that a Cartier clock on her bedside table?
And those sheets, rich and lustrous as a wave of cream-they must be something like Sferra, right? (They are – Sferra's Giotto collection, to be precise. $400-$570 a set.) The constant caress of luxury here and throughout Susan's world is simultaneously seductive and eerie. "She's paid a high price to have a Cartier clock," as set decorator Meg Everist puts it.
The clocks sell for $16,900 and up, but what Everist really means is that Susan's life choices have left her in an ugly place. She may have pretty things, but she's also getting two-timed by her second husband and prefers to escape from her posh world into a brutal revenge thriller written by the man she long ago dumped him for.
Still, that Susan is trapped in the trappings of wealth doesn't make those things any less tempting.
Tom Ford's World
Ford of course came to filmmaking by way of a bravura career in fashion design. His talent for linking style and substance enhanced the emotional architecture of A Single Man (2009), and Nocturnal Animals, going deeper into surfaces, connects Susan's inner life with her coldly gorgeous domestic interiors to a memorable degree.
The details Ford dictated – scented candles from Diptyque ($73 or so for 190 grams of wax), glassware from Baccarat (where a tumbler starts at $160), salt and pepper shakers from Asprey (which top out around $13,500) – serve as extensions of the characters' lives and representations of their social circle's tastes, and each was meticulously chosen.
The first thing to appreciate is that Ford is the author of this enchantment in every sense. He is, for starters, not only the director of the movie but also the author of a screenplay-adapted from the novel Tony and Susan by the late Austin Wright – that called for the particular splendour of the Morrows' home, with a Calder mobile casually hanging indoors and a Jeff Koons balloon dog out by the pool. The role of the house went to a Malibu estate designed by Scott Mitchell, owned by real estate executive Kurt Rappaport and rented by the production at the cost of a million dollars a month.
The visual-effects team transported the Malibu house to the Hollywood Hills after production designer Shane Valentino and gave it a makeover befitting Susan's art-world stature and heartache-y status. "It had a lot of warm wood tones, and that is something that we did not want to highlight in her existence," Valentino said. He cooled it down, guided by the example of such architects as Louis Kahn, Jean Nouvel, and Gae Aulenti. Everist filled the space with objects sourced sometimes from the design gallery J.F. Chen and sometimes from the director's personal collection.
"I was given a list of things that he enjoys in his own life," she said. "As Tom explained it, he sees a lot of himself in Susan Morrow. If we couldn't find something, he'd have it brought over."
Blurring the edges
The Nocturnal Animals crew notes numerous instances of Ford's life invading his art. The stationery of Susan's ex-husband (from Dempsey & Carroll, where a 100-sheet set of engraved letter paper costs $560) copies the typeface Ford uses for his own correspondence. Although most of the Rolexes worn by extras in the film are knock-offs, Ford loaned Armie Hammer (who plays Susan's cheating husband) one of his own.
How weirdly delicious it is that Ford's fingerprints are all over the indulgences that fail to comfort his melancholy heroine. You are meant to covet his possessions even as he symbolically rejects them. This is a cautionary tale about the very high life as told by an insider who knows the world perfectly.
To the last detail
And he was, in accordance with his reputation, a thoroughgoing perfectionist. "Tom Ford is unlike any other human being," said prop master Ellen Freund. "You're speaking to someone who did seven years of Mad Men, so I know about unique human beings ... Usually, when you work with a director who has a strong vision, you're still often presenting ideas that might change their vision or that they might work into their vision." This is not the case on a Tom Ford production.
"I nearly got fired at the very beginning for trying to talk Tom out of the pod coffee machine," Freund continued. She'd felt certain that Susan and her husband would have something fancier than the $470 Nespresso in their sleek kitchen. "He just looked at me and said, 'I have a pod coffee machine; they have a pod coffee machine'."
"I did manage to sway him to Wedgwood black basalt," Freund added, referring to china. "He ended up liking it so much that I think he took it home."