Colorful blankets play a huge part in Native culture. And therefore, they also play an important role in Martin Scorsese‘s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”
Osage clothing consultant Julie O’Keefe explains the blankets became an essential part of storytelling, and are “an expression of how we represent ourselves even to this day.”
Scorsese brought on costume designer Jacqueline West to craft the looks for “Killers of the Flower Moon.” “He wanted this to be character-driven, with the clothes and wardrobe helping to tell the story,” West explains. West, an Oscar nominee for another period piece, “The Revenant,” brought in O’Keefe as an expert consultant.
Authenticity and representing Oklahoma’s Osage Nation perfectly were crucially important to Scorsese, West says, so it was key to find someone with an intensive knowledge of Osage regalia and daily clothing.
Based on David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” the film tells the tragic true story of members of the Osage tribe who were murdered under suspicious circumstances during the 1920s. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, Lily Gladstone and Jesse Plemons.
West began by reading Grann’s book, which forms the basis of the film, as well as doing a deep dive into archival photos.
Gladstone’s character Mollie was her prime focus, but she and O’Keefe also looked at her sisters Anna Brown (Cara Jade Myers), Reta (Janae Collins) and Minnie Smith (Jillian Dion). “Mollie was the traditional sister,” O’Keefe explains. “West put her in traditional clothing — sometimes colorful to counter the inner silence of the character.”
For the wedding scene, which is a large moment in the film, West chose an American military coat form the 1800s, which was reworked into an Osage dress for Gladstone’s character. “It was taken and adorned with all things Osage; ribbon work, embroidery, and a finger-weaving belt.” She continues, “The top hat was important to American men’s dress and reappropriated as part of the wedding ceremonial dress for Osage women, who took feathers and made it their own to say who they were. It’s almost a rebelliousness against the American military.”
O’Keefe adds that wedding coats were an important symbol of wealth that showed brides came from a family of prominent chiefs.” We also bought a lot of things from Osage artisans that we used in the movie, and the members of the tribe who in the movie brought pieces that were family heirlooms to wear and share.”
As for her color palette, the only archival photos West had to go on were black and white, so she had to get creative. “As things get darker for Mollie, so does her wardrobe,” West says. “I try to dress people from the inside out. I looked at what she would choose on a certain day, such as going to trial or when she makes a physical comeback. I tried to show that all in her palette changing to reflect her mood.”
Mollie’s sister Anna leaned towards a Caucasian style as she figured out how to fit into the culture. Her style was bold. “On top of trying to navigate how you’re going to fit in this culture and survive, you’re dropping Kardashian wealth on top of you, and all of a sudden you have the type of money they didn’t understand how to have,” O’Keefe explains, “They’re trying to figure out what’s acceptable here. You also see that reflected in Minnie and Reta, they wear Caucasian clothing but they’re still wearing their blankets which is a showing of who they still are inside.”
In total, West used over 1,000 blankets. The Oregon-based company Pendleton recreated many vintage styles, while others were purchased, and some were loaned to her by members of the Osage community. “There are four different ways to wear a blanket,” O’Keefe adds.
The team at Pendleton sent West color charts and designs made specifically for the Osage tribes in the 1920s. Says West, “I showed them a photograph of [the real] Mollie Burkhart and her sisters in the studio, and they recreated those blankets in the colors they had done back then, right down to the labels they were using in the 1920s.”
Historically, the Pendleton blankets were a huge trade item for the different tribes. West explains that the Osage added fringe and characteristic ribbon work to the blankets. “I felt it became almost armor. It was something to put on yourself, even if you dressed in a modern way. It came from the white man, but the Osage made it their own to make sure everyone knew their pride in it,” West says. “Lily would make sure it was folded in just the right way. And you can see throughout there are different ways she wears it. It becomes a tell of her mood in that particular scene and how protected she wanted to be with it.”
As for DiCaprio, says West, “There is one jacket made from an Osage blanket. Marty loved the idea of that because it was this real blanket from the 1920s that we cut up and made into a jacket. But Leo’s a big guy, so we only managed to get one jacket from it.”