You can look in the Bible for many things about the past, but you can’t find fashion trends. There are mentions of clothes, of course, yet there’s no revelation of what were current styles. Not that there were no affluent people either in the tales of the Book, yet you do not get a clear description of what was the rage. “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen…” went a description in Luke 16:19, suggesting, perhaps, coloured garments—or dyed cloths—were a luxury for the wealthy. Still, for the ancients, rocking a certain look was not encouraged. In 1 Peter 3:3, there’s the stern recommendation: “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel”.
The Bible authors’ apparent omission of prevalent styles could have been brought about by the disdain of fashion-centric choices such as mixed fibres and ornamentation. In fact, there’s quite a bit of do-nots here: “Thou shalt not wear a garment of diverse sorts, as of woollen and linen together (Deuteronomy 22:11)” and “…women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array (1 Timothy 2:9).” And nothing akin to boyfriend shirts and boy-cut jeans too, since “the woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man… for all that do so are abomination… (Deuteronomy 22:5)”!
No wonder the costumes of Darren Aronofsky’s latest film Noah appear decidedly post-Common Era. Unlike the look of the ark, which could benefit from measurements spelled out in the Bible (materials to be used included), what Noah and his family wore did not draw from ancient dressmaking specs. Earlier this evening, as I watched the film, trying to reconcile the retelling with the story I know since kindergarten, the costume’s extremely modern make and silhouette was as interruptive as the smartphone that lit repeatedly three seats away from me.
Mr Aronofsky’s US$125m blockbuster was prefaced with an admission that they took “artistic licence” with the narrative, which “is inspired by the story of Noah”. This disclaimer should really cover the costume design too. So much far-fetch reimagining of the period’s clothes was there that when close-ups afforded a magnification of the details, I kept seeing bobbins and pins! Not the coarse fabrics, not the unfinished hems, and certainly not the whip stitch could belie the machine finish. I find myself resisting acceptance of the shirts of Noah (played by a gladiator-in-skinny-pants Russell Crow)—yes, shirts, with plackets and yokes, no less! What was disconcerting was that an ark builder awaiting the wiping out of the world would don chemises with the fit of Oxford Street tailors!
And costume designer Michael Wilkinson (Man of Steel, 2013) did not stop absurdity in its tracks.When a coat was required, Noah wore a gored version with multiple exposed seams that would not look out of place in a rack of Yohji Yamamoto outerwear. His eldest son Shem (Douglas Booth) looked pretty in a hooded shirt with oversized patch pockets that was clearly shaped after the signature styles of Junya Watanabe. Even the cracked surface treatment of the tunic worn by Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) had more than a whiff of Maison Martin Margiela about it! The two female leads did not fare any better. Noah’s wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), at one point, wore a tank top pinched just below the shoulders to create a décolleté not unlike a sweetheart neckline. Her adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), played up her youth and femininity with a distressed warp-knit tunic that conveniently slipped off the right shoulder. Were the costumes produced out of an H&M sampling room? For a tale that predates the Exodus, Noah appears to be more clothes-conscious than Moses!
Nearing the end of the film, one costume I noticed that had stayed true to the Bible’s depiction was the birthday suit: the one on an inebriated Noah lying naked on the beach.
Noah is currently screening in cinemas. All verses quoted are from the King James version, Cambridge edition. Photos: Paramount Pictures Corporation