The Heritage Studio

The story of Willy Wonka’s iconic outfits

By Bebe Leone

“To match the shoes with the jacket is fey. To match the shoes with the hat is taste” Gene Wilder

Willy Wonka Wilder

On June 23 rd 1970 Mr Gene Wilder wrote a letter to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’s director Mel Stuart, giving plenty of meaningful insights on how the costume of the Wonka character should be designed. Wilder made changes to the original sketch, too ‘dandy’ in his opinion, and many of the suggestions he gave were taken into account and helped defining the iconic look Wonka sports in the movie. “What I don’t like is the precise pin pointing in place and time as this costume does. I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: part of this world, part of another”.  (Source: Letters of note).



In 2005 for Tim Burton’s remake Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, award winning costume designer  Gabriella Pescucci  was called to conceive Wonka’s ensemble. 30 years had passed and Depp and Burton’s Wonka was an utterly different character: estranged, socially awkward, troubled.  “That was something that came to me early on when I was making little drawings about what might be right for the character. I did this kind of strange, almost a Brian Jones bob and super short bangs because I was thinking about the guy in terms of how he’s lived in this self-induced isolation and he’s removed himself from the modern world” (Jonny Depp ) The costume had to adapt accordingly: ‘darker’ than its predecessor, it lost its bright pastels in favour of color blocking blood red and black. Wilder’s eccentricity was replaced by Depp’s ‘fashionability’. Many critics found Depp’s outfit inspired by Michael Jackson: am I the only one to find Depp’s haircut tremendously resembling the one of Anna Wintour??



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