The Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood — 2010's Alice in Wonderland, Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago as the current feathers in her costuming cap— is the brilliant wardrobe mind behind the lavish Into the Woods costume designs. But her designs for Johnny Depp's character, the Wolf, were a collaborative affair. And while there have been some question marks about the lapse in fairy tale genre appropriateness to Depp's costume, I love the idea that they took the big, bad wolf trope so literally. Vanity Fair asked the acclaimed costumer — who in all likeliness will get another nomination for her work in Into The Woods — how Johnny's look came to be.
Atwood and Depp have a rich history working together that began almost 25 years ago with Edward Scissorhands, and continued mostly with Tim Burton films like Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd, and Alice in Wonderland. For Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical, their relationship was especially collaborative, with Depp even suggesting the concept for his wardrobe. That concept: basing his character’s look off the zoot suited-ed wolf in Tex Avery’s MGM cartoons from the 1940s and 50s. “When I was first approached about the role, I just had this burning sort of vision in my head of the Wolf, and all I could think of was the wolf in the zoot suit in the Tex Avery cartoons,” Depp, a huge fan of Avery, who created Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, has said in Disney press materials. Depp’s inspiration thusly was less Grimm’s Red Riding Hood and more 50s animation edge, wanting “a hip, big, bad wolf with a fedora and a zoot suit and a cat chain,” he said. “And the second I mentioned my idea to Colleen she got very excited.”
Atwood rationalized the look, which strays slightly from the rest of the costume aesthetic by figuring, “The idea with the Wolf is that he is the Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood’s imagination, so we didn’t want to put Johnny in a wolf suit or give him a fur collar.” Perhaps the most unifying element of Atwood’s Into the Woods costumes is the extraordinary texture applied to each piece, and in that sense, Depp’s entirely bespoke wardrobe was no different. “I took photographs of wool fur and I interpreted them into an embroidery pattern,” Atwood told us about his suit. “And I had it embroidered on really thin wool so it would move and stuff and still have a kind of fur vibe to it.” She also added more overt fur-like touches on Depp’s collar, and sprouting from the back of his suit, like a tail, out of thread by using a wigmaking technique from the ’20s. Although she largely avoided using actual fur on the costume there are a few authentic accents. “I also used really thin strips of fur that I cut in strips that are around his hat a little bit and coming out of his cuff,” she explained.
The overall effect is that the Wolf seems more of a menacing humanistic villain than the furry predator of our imaginations, a theme that Atwood employed down to Depp’s very fingernails. Originally, she told us, she considered using an appliance for his claws but decided against it because, “sometimes you lose the feel of a human’s hand in there.” Instead, she used a charmingly “low-tech touch that really worked. I thought, Let’s just glue the nails onto the gloves, and that worked.”Are you jazzed to see Depp's costumed character in Into the Woods? I'm worried if only because Depp's career of late has been spotty to say the least; he needs a good kick in his fur-covered derriere.