Costume designer Ann Roth constructed Viola Davis’ extraordinary Jazz Age wardrobe for her position because the real-life blues singer Ma Rainey in “Ma Rainey’s Black Backside.” (She had Chadwick Boseman’s natty three-piece swimsuit made, too.)
But Roth — who’s nominated for a Greatest Costume Design Oscar for the movie — needed to dress greater than 100 extras and supporting gamers in genuine 1920s garb. So she did what so many costume designers do after they want interval garments: She turned to classic collector Helen Uffner.
“I rented 155 clothes for that film — and plenty of males’s fits,” mentioned Uffner, a 72-year-old trend lover who has supplied items for some 1,000 movies, theater productions and different tasks up to now 43 years.
Her huge costume-rental warehouse, in Lengthy Island Metropolis, boasts some 100,000 items spanning the 1860s to the 1980s, from robes and workwear to footwear, hats and all matter of undergarments, together with corsets, bustiers and bustles. One model wears the sparkly emerald sheath donned by Beyoncé in “Cadillac Information”; one other sports activities the flirty brown lace and chiffon quantity worn all through “Ma Rainey’s” by Taylour Paige, who performs Ma’s a lot youthful girlfriend, Dussie Mae.
“Helen was all the time the supply the place you discovered the particular items that might seemingly grow to be a personality’s signature,” costume designer Susan Lyall instructed The Submit, including that she unearthed the black fringed jacket that Sacha Baron Cohen wears as Abbie Hoffman in “The Trial of The Chicago 7” at Uffner’s workshop. Lyall has additionally rented plenty of Uffner’s 1950s clothes and sweater units for the upcoming Lucille Ball biopic, “Being the Ricardos,” starring Nicole Kidman.
“She is a fountain of clothes information,” Lyall added.
But Uffner — like so many costume and prop rental locations within the metropolis — is about to be pushed out of her area after simply 2 1/2 years. She already needed to transport her large assortment in 2018 attributable to a hire spike. Now, her landlord mentioned she has to get out by September, so a developer can construct LIC’s tallest residential high-rise.
“We’d like 6,500 usable sq. toes — the place we are able to we go?” requested Uffner. “The place can artistic companies go now for inexpensive area to proceed?”
“Nobody else in New York Metropolis has what she has, and to lose her can be to lose a useful resource which is irreplaceable,” mentioned costume designer Tom Broecker, who usually depends on Uffner for last-minute interval items like a hoop skirt or tweed newsboy cap for “Saturday Night time Reside.”
He added: “She has spent her total life gathering classic clothes — clothes which not exists anyplace on this planet besides her showroom.”
Uffner started gathering classic lingerie and jewellery when she was a child.
“I might save up all my baby-sitting cash and go to jewellery auctions after I was in junior highschool,” mentioned Uffner, who immigrated from Brussels to New York Metropolis together with her household when she was 12. “I used to bid on Victorian child rings, which no one wished, and if there was a bit stone lacking the auctioneer would put it in for me [for free].”
Uffner studied artwork at Queens School and continued shopping for vintage garments and lingerie even whereas working as a administration marketing consultant. Within the late 1970s, she began letting her buddies in theater borrow or purchase her garments for productions. Then someday a designer got here in and purchased each single final one in all her items for Woody Allen’s 1983 mockumentary “Zelig.”
“I had one rack of garments and I didn’t have something left,” Uffner mentioned. “That’s after I determined to start out renting — not less than I’d get the garments again!”
Uffner first operated her area out of her Higher East Aspect residence, having costume designers and actors go there for fittings. She started going to property gross sales and flea markets, shopping for garments in bulk. “There was a spot within the East Village that was known as Bogey’s. The proprietor would have large bundles of clothes, his spouse would maintain it up, and whoever mentioned, ‘Need it,’ or ‘Received it,’ would get it thrown to them. I began amassing my assortment there.”
One in every of her favourite acquisitions got here from an property sale in Brooklyn. “The girl was nonetheless there, however she was being put in a nursing residence and she or he had these fantastic little 1950s sweater units,” Uffner mentioned. “She initially didn’t need to eliminate her garments, however her household satisfied her, they usually bought them to me.” Every week later, a fancy dress designer got here searching for garments for the Russell Crowe movie “A Lovely Thoughts,” and took practically all the girl’s sweaters. Immediately, she known as the household. “She was so comfortable — it gave her one thing to stay up for.” Costume designer Lyall just lately rented the sweaters for the upcoming Lucille Ball biopic, too.
Uffner’s assortment is organized by decade, after which hung by kind of clothes, season and colour, and each merchandise has a tag with its measurements, so designers can shortly pull issues that may match their principal — although generally they do have to return.
“We discover that males form of lie about their top, and girls form of lie about their waist and their hip measurement,” mentioned Uffner with a chuckle. “That really occurred just lately the place [the talent] mentioned they had been a lot smaller than they had been, so after all we pulled these things to suit their physique, and naturally they didn’t, so we needed to pull yet again.”
After a shoot, the designers return every little thing again to Uffner — that’s, until they’re dressing Robert De Niro. “He has in his contract that he will get to maintain something that he wears,” Uffner mentioned, including that she’s performed “half a dozen films” with the actor. “I acquired a name, a few months in the past, for an additional film he was going to be in, asking for 1930s fits. I mentioned, ‘Does this imply that if it matches him he’ll preserve it?’ They mentioned, ‘Most likely.’ And I mentioned, ‘I can’t!’ I can’t afford to lose my 1930s fits!” (A rep for the actor defined that he usually donates his wardrobe to the Robert De Niro Assortment within the Harry Ransom Middle, a analysis museum on the College of Texas, Austin.)
Nonetheless, Uffer loves when the actors come for fittings.
“The actors take pleasure in being right here, they like strolling round.” After Winona Ryder got here in for a becoming for 1994’s “Little Ladies,” the actress returned to purchase some 1920s beaded clothes for herself. “She was shy however she posed a photograph for us and was very excited — she mentioned she was going to inform her pal Courtney Love about us.”
When Uffner began her rental enterprise 4 many years in the past, New York Metropolis had a couple of dozen giant costume rental outlets. Now, she’s the final one standing. And whereas costume designers can typically discover classic items from the 20th century, Uffner has objects from the 1800s which can be more and more uncommon.
Not too long ago Lisa Montalvo needed to costume greater than 150 actors in interval garments for the Historical past Channel collection “The Meals That Constructed America,” which she labored on together with her sister and fellow designer Celeste. Almost each costume got here from Uffner’s showroom.
“I might by no means have been in a position to [do it] with out her rental home,” Montalvo instructed The Submit.
“She’s additionally an important useful resource after I’m stumped by obscure historic practices,” she added. “She may give me the right run down of which jacket would have been worn to which sort of occasion within the Edwardian period, or the distinction between a strolling swimsuit and a winter swimsuit when dressing Victorian girls.
“It could be a catastrophe for the complete costume business … if her enterprise had been to shut,” she continued. “It’s a treasure and must be preserved and sponsored.”
Though Uffner has spent 43 years within the enterprise, she will’t bear the considered parting together with her valuable garments. “I usually consider my showroom as my fastidiously curated personal museum,” and seeing her garments on-screen or stage permits her to share that museum with the world. “I nonetheless get excited, as a result of it’s enjoyable to see. You by no means get blasé.”