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 Finest Costume Design Oscar for the movie — had to dress greater than 100 extras and supporting gamers in genuine 1920s garb. So she did what so many costume designers do once they want period garments: She turned to vintage collector Helen Uffner.
“I rented 155 attire for that film — and plenty of males’s fits,” stated Uffner, a 72-year-old trend lover who has offered pieces for some 1,000 movies, theater productions and different tasks previously 43 years.
Her huge costume-rental warehouse, in Lengthy Island Metropolis, boasts some 100,000 pieces spanning the 1860s to the 1980s, from robes and workwear to sneakers, hats and all matter of undergarments, together with corsets, bustiers and bustles. One model wears the sparkly emerald sheath donned by Beyoncé in “Cadillac Data”; 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 at all times the supply the place you discovered the particular pieces that would doubtless change into a personality’s signature,” costume designer Susan Lyall informed 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 various Uffner’s 1950s attire and sweater units for the upcoming Lucille Ball biopic, “Being the Ricardos,” starring Nicole Kidman.
“She is a fountain of clothes data,” Lyall added.
But Uffner — like so many costume and prop rental locations within the metropolis — is about to be pushed out of her house after simply 2 half of years. She already had to transport her large collection in 2018 due to a lease spike. Now, her landlord stated she has to get out by September, so a developer can construct LIC’s tallest residential high-rise.
“We want 6,500 usable sq. toes — the place we will we go?” requested Uffner. “The place can artistic companies go now for reasonably priced house 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,” stated costume designer Tom Broecker, who typically depends on Uffner for last-minute period pieces like a hoop skirt or tweed newsboy cap for “Saturday Night time Dwell.”
He added: “She has spent her whole life amassing vintage clothes — clothes which not exists anyplace on this planet besides her showroom.”
Uffner started amassing vintage lingerie and jewellery when she was a child.
“I’d save up all my baby-sitting cash and go to jewellery auctions once I was in junior highschool,” stated Uffner, who immigrated from Brussels to New York Metropolis along with her household when she was 12. “I used to bid on Victorian child rings, which no one needed, and if there was just a little 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 at some point a designer got here in and acquired each single final considered one of her pieces for Woody Allen’s 1983 mockumentary “Zelig.”
“I had one rack of garments and I didn’t have something left,” Uffner stated. “That’s once I determined to begin renting — at the least I’d get the garments again!”
Uffner first operated her house out of her Higher East Facet condominium, 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 used to be a spot within the East Village that was referred to as Bogey’s. The proprietor would have huge bundles of clothes, his spouse would maintain it up, and whoever stated, ‘Need it,’ or ‘Obtained it,’ would get it thrown to them. I began amassing my collection there.”
Certainly one 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 great little 1950s sweater units,” Uffner stated. “She initially didn’t need to do away with her garments, however her household satisfied her, and so they bought them to me.” Every week later, a fancy dress designer got here trying for garments for the Russell Crowe movie “A Lovely Thoughts,” and took practically all the lady’s sweaters. Straight away, she referred to as the household. “She was so joyful — it gave her one thing to look ahead to.” Costume designer Lyall just lately rented the sweaters for the upcoming Lucille Ball biopic, too.
Uffner’s collection is organized by decade, after which hung by kind of clothes, season and coloration, and each merchandise has a tag with its measurements, so designers can shortly pull issues that will match their principal — although typically they do have to return.
“We discover that males type of lie about their top, and ladies type of lie about their waist and their hip measurement,” stated Uffner with a chuckle. “That truly occurred just lately the place [the talent] stated they have been a lot smaller than they have been, so in fact we pulled these things to match their physique, and naturally they didn’t, so we had to pull another time.”
After a shoot, the designers return all the things again to Uffner — that is, except they’re dressing Robert De Niro. “He has in his contract that he will get to maintain something that he wears,” Uffner stated, including that she’s achieved “half a dozen films” with the actor. “I bought a name, a few months in the past, for one other film he was going to be in, asking for 1930s fits. I stated, ‘Does this imply that if it matches him he’ll maintain it?’ They stated, ‘In all probability.’ And I stated, ‘I can’t!’ I can’t afford to lose my 1930s fits!” (A rep for the actor defined that he typically donates his wardrobe to the Robert De Niro Collection 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 get pleasure from 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 attire for herself. “She was shy however she posed a photograph for us and was very excited — she stated she was going to inform her buddy Courtney Love about us.”
When Uffner began her rental enterprise 4 a long time in the past, New York Metropolis had a few dozen massive costume rental outlets. Now, she’s the final one standing. And whereas costume designers can usually discover vintage pieces from the 20th century, Uffner has objects from the 1800s that are more and more uncommon.
Not too long ago Lisa Montalvo had to costume greater than 150 actors in period garments for the Historical past Channel collection “The Meals That Constructed America,” which she labored on along with her sister and fellow designer Celeste. Practically each costume got here from Uffner’s showroom.
“I’d by no means have been in a position to [do it] with out her rental home,” Montalvo informed The Submit.
“She’s additionally an incredible useful resource once I’m stumped by obscure historic practices,” she added. “She may give me the proper 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 ladies.
“It could be a catastrophe for your complete costume business … if her enterprise have been to shut,” she continued. “It’s a treasure and needs to be preserved and sponsored.”
Though Uffner has spent 43 years within the enterprise, she will’t bear the considered parting along with her valuable garments. “I typically 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.”