Oppenheimer Has Gone Viral, But Its Effect on Menswear Is Underrated

This story was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the immense work of the writers and actors currently on strike, there would be no film to discuss. 

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer have been at the center of current media conversation. Both films took up my weekend plans, and the question I’m still getting is which one I chose first. Even Cillian Murphy said in an interview with IGN, “You can spend the whole day in the cinema—what’s better than that?” While Barbie has been making the rounds among fashion enthusiasts (all those Chanel looks!), I think Oppenheimer makes a case for a deeper look at menswear. Although I did make the decision to watch Barbie first, it was Murphy’s portrayal and image of physicist Robert Oppenheimer that occupied my mind, even days later. On the actor’s smaller frame, I couldn’t help but notice the volume and fit of the clothing that felt on theme with today’s trends. The jacket looks slightly oversize, the hat seems to be big, and the pants appear to be at a higher waist. The film’s costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick, is quick to point out that this is how these items fit in proportion to his frame, rather than the actual design or aesthetic intention.

On the internet, the Oppenheimer aesthetic has been equated to an all-black or gothic look, but after watching the film, the story the costumes actually tell is quite different. The focus is deeper than just a color palette. It’s more about the silhouette of a very complex man who is about to change the world and face consequences for it. To understand Oppenheimer’s distinct look, there is one particular scene that evokes a powerful image. In Los Alamos, he puts on his hat and picks up his pipe. The camera focuses on each movement, and his silhouette is vivid. “It’s as if that man is about to become mythic. He’s 100% empowered, and he is the fullness of Robert Oppenheimer as he builds his town and becomes a man that changes the world,” explains Mirojnick of the scene.

Below, I spoke with Mirojnick about the process and challenges of creating the looks for such a visceral storyline. You’ll hear from her about how a suit is never just a suit, how Oppenheimer’s style rarely changed, and the conversations she had with Nolan during the process. Scroll down to read my full interview.

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