‘Four Oscars Can’t Be Wrong’: Shopping For Formal Wear With Catherine Martin

Catherine Martin says she rarely thinks about the four Academy Awards she’s won, more Oscars than any other Australian. But the celebrated costume and production designer admits there was one time she brought it up. And daughter Lilly, 18, never lets her forget.

Martin, who won two Oscars for Moulin Rouge! in 2002 and then two more before The Great Gatsby in 2014, helped fit a dress for Lilly’s junior prom when the family lived in New York. Lilly said she felt too short in a long dress with a low heel.

“I said, ‘I guarantee you just have to wear something really flat under the dress. No one will see it – it’s a big princess dress – but I can make you look taller,’” Martin says.

“She was like, ‘You have no idea, what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘four Oscars can’t be wrong’.”

And so it turned out. After Martin used some magic with pins to create a train at the back of the dress, Lilly admitted she was right: Even a little train makes the eye think you’re bigger.

Martin speaks in the humble beach house she, her director, husband Baz Luhrmann and their extended family shared while making the Elvis Presley biopic Elvis on the Gold Coast

Weeks after the film finished, she looks relaxed – certainly more relaxed than Luhrmann at the same time – sitting comfortably on a couch and dressed in a white and blue patterned trouser suit and sandals. Red painted toenails and a silver ring are the only gestures to the stylish designer looks she will soon be wearing at the Cannes Film Festival, the Met Gala and premieres around the world.

It is sometimes said that Martin’s creative genius is overshadowed by Luhrmann’s high profile. But four Oscars can’t be wrong, not to mention five BAFTAs, a Tony, and countless other awards.

Austin Butler’s performance as the king of rock ‘n’ roll from a fresh-faced young singer in the 1950s to a solid legend in the 1970s is a high point of Elvis† So are Martin’s lavish costumes.

The best costumes have many functions in movies. They show where characters are in their fictional lives and in the emotional arc of their stories. For example, there’s optimism and sexiness in the stylish pink and black suit that pairs pouty young Elvis with a flawless haircut at a performance where the crowd is scrupulous country music fans in muted colors.

“Early on I have to say that my family situation and my own mental health have had an impact on my ability to cope”: Catherine Martin.Credit:Rhett Hammerton

Costumes help set the mood and tone of a movie, creating contrast between characters. Later in the film, the adult Elvis’ appearance is all red, gold, and black, compared to the green and blue of his scheming manager, Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks.

Costumes also help actors find the characters they are playing. Butler, who needed more than 90 costumes for the film, says he found the famous black leather outfit Elvis wore for television shows. ’68 Comeback Special “empower”.

Some of the costumes are adaptations of famous outfits, including Elvis’s white Vegas-era jumpsuit; others take inspiration from the archives of Prada designer Miuccia Prada, who collaborated on the film.

The scale of . to show Elviseven the Memphis Mafia—the relatives and associates who surrounded Presley—had 26 suits each.

Martin, 57, grew up in Lindfield on Sydney’s north coast, the daughter of a French mother and an Australian father, both academics. As a child she loved to sew and became fascinated by the technical aspects of costume, design and fashion. The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the wind

While studying design at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, after studying fine arts at the Sydney College of the Arts, she met Luhrmann. As he says, “I just met her and said, ‘I never want you in my life’.”

Catherine Martin with Baz Luhrmann at the Met Gala 2019.

Catherine Martin with Baz Luhrmann at the Met Gala 2019.Credit:Getty Images

They married in 1997 and forged one of the great collaborations in Australian film, theater and opera, which has also resulted in musicals, television, commercials for fashion houses and perfumes, hotel design and her line of designer homewares.

“CM”, as she is commonly known, designed and then moved on to producing Luhrmann’s projects, including: Strictly Ballroom (1992), Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Australia (2008), The Great Gatsby (2013), Netflix series going down (2016-17) and now Elvis

So how does she see their creative relationship? Martin quotes a phrase from ballroom dancing: the woman is the flower and the man is the vase.

“In a movie I’m the vase and Baz and the actors the flowers,” she says. “Baz always has a vision for what he wants. He tells me what he wants and I try to translate that into reality.

“Things like costume design and production design are the scaffolding that allows the story to be told in all its glory.”

Luhrmann says Martin’s genius is to take an idea and make it a reality.

“In a movie I am the vase and Baz and the actors are the flowers.”

Catherine Martin

“It’s not this thing from CM that does the design, then I move the traffic,” he says. “I have a visual language that I have been working on continuously from day one, [creating] scrapbooks and tear sheets.

“I’m just a terrible drawer, so her burden — and the storyboardists too — is interpreting what she calls highly emotional scribbles.”

So what was the biggest challenge up? Elvis† Martin says it was the sheer magnitude of the production: creating a 159-minute film filled with often intricate scenes from the era. In addition to sets at Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast, they created film versions of Graceland and Memphis’s Beale Street.

“It was just really hard,” Martin says. “And early on I have to say that my family situation and own mental health affected my ability to cope.”

Like so many others during the pandemic, their extended family faced health and personal dramas that added to the pressure to make Elvis

“I had underestimated its sheer size and what it took to get clothes on bodies,” Martin says. “There’s such a process from an adjustment to an unsubscribe from me to an unsubscribe from Baz, and then all the changes to each background costume.”

Martin says Butler turned out to be the most patient person in the world when trying on suits.

Takes the stage in a sugar pink and black suit for an early performance: Austin Butler as The King in Elvis.

Takes the stage in a sugar pink and black suit for an early performance: Austin Butler as The King in Elvis.Credit:Hugh Stewart/Warner Bros

“We had a series of thick suits that he had to put on as Elvis got chubby,” she says. “Sometimes we tried to fit him into 25 jumpsuits. And we could never do 25 in a row. Even doing seven jumpsuits is exhausting after a whole day of practice.”

Butler had 30 hours of fittings just for the black leather outfit from 1968.

“I’m really ashamed to say that,” Martin says. “It takes this iconic suit and translates all the design lines like the pockets, the height of the waist [for] when he raises his arm, the amount of flare [in the pants]how it goes over the boot, how we keep the flare down, how the collar sits, why the jacket rolls back, all these things, and just work on it over and over.

When Luhrmann didn’t think the leather was thick enough, they remade the outfit in a different leather.


“Then we would compare them both on screen and in motion, then work together and come back to ‘oh, I think we should put these pieces in the stiff leather, but these pieces in the less stiff leather’ to make it work. †

They made a version in the non-rigid leather that looked better when Elvis sat down, another outfit for when he stood up, another for when he wasn’t doing anything special, and another for when he rolled on the floor, so Butler would to wear knee pads.

Austin Butler wore over 90 costumes to play Elvis Presley from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Austin Butler wore over 90 costumes to play Elvis Presley from the 1950s to the 1970s.Credit:Hugh Stewart/Warner Bros

The next time we talk, Elvis has started screening. In a room at the Park Hyatt hotel the day after the Sydney premiere, Martin wears a white robe from the hotel bathroom to keep warm. “I’m cold,” she says, amused by how she must look. “To a costume designer, I seem incapable of dressing myself.”

After being honored at the Cannes Film Festival and other early screenings, she’s looking forward to being in Paris with her father six weeks after the Memphis premiere.

“I want to do a lot of things that I’ve never done before, which sounds ridiculous because I’ve been going to France since I was 10 months old,” she says. That includes seeing theater at the Comedie-Francaise and operas at the Palais Garnier and the Opera Bastille.

Beverley Dunn and Catherine Martin with their Oscars for Best Art Direction for The Great Gatsby.

Beverley Dunn and Catherine Martin with their Oscars for Best Art Direction for The Great Gatsby.Credit:Reuters

For the next 18 months, the house will remain on the Gold Coast, where Lilly and “Egg”, 17, will study. And while their spectacular five-story New York home is on the market for $20 million ($27 million), they plan to buy an apartment for future stays.

Until they decide on their next project, Martin will work on her homewares range and research innovative merchandise for their films – possibly a line of Romeo + Juliet clothing.

While the cash register will determine the success of Elvis over the next month, she feels great about what she’s accomplished.

“I know it sounds like I’m making a big compliment to myself, but I’m really proud of the film,” she says. I think Baz did a great job. I really thought, ‘oh wow, you’re really working on your style and you’re not just resting on your laurels’.”


The spectacular production design and costumes bring the story to life. As Lilly knows by now: four Oscars can’t be wrong.

Elvis opens in cinemas from June 23.

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