‘Respect’ costume designer Clint Ramos talks about bringing Aretha Franklin’s style to life with Jennifer Hudson
“For example, there’s a photo from her first photoshoot at Columbia Pictures; she plays piano ; the strap of her dress has fallen from her shoulders and her hair is out of place. I see a human being trying to break through the packaging and throughout their career you find photographic evidence of it. When she entered a political phase, her Afro almost happened overnight.
What made Franklin’s style unique from other artists of the time?
“There were human decisions that ultimately affected Aretha’s dress style; she was not like her contemporaries who were mannequins; she was a freelance dresser and she telegraphed her state of being through her clothes. Aretha has been married twice, and she had distinct looks between those marriages; she was a free person and a free person takes risks.
Did you listen to any favorite Aretha Franklin songs during your design?
“I listened to his entire catalog throughout the process, while I drew and researched. From her impeccable beginnings to her hits when she was less constrained and found her groove, to her more political years when she started singing Young, talented and black. Respect was of course always on my mind just like Thought; she recorded this track as her marriage to manager Ted White was drawing to a close, so there is this dramaturgical and fortuitous sense that explains why she sings these lyrics.
What’s your favorite story behind the clothes and accessories Franklin wore?
“I love that she always brings a handbag on stage. She had a few bad experiences with promoters and for a while she insisted on being paid in cash, which she had put in her purse and would keep with her at all times. She would tell the promoters that they wouldn’t get a single note from her until she was paid.
What was the best part about working with Jennifer Hudson?
“Jennifer was deeply attached to this role and she prepared for months before the shoot; we did what seemed like hundreds of hours of fittings and she was tireless and egoless throughout. There is a scene in the movie where Jennifer plays Aretha at the bottom and she is wearing panties; the bravery with which she played this role was remarkable. This is where she really showed her understanding of Aretha, as there is no way to find out from photographic research.