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Help Support Features Interviews Deborah Nadoolman
Deborah Nadoolman interview
by Mike French & Gilles Verschuere - posted on Sept. 14, 2005

Deborah Nadoolman began her career as Costume Designer of John Landis' films The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) and Animal House (1978). Since then she has worked on films like The Blues Brothers, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Spielberg's 1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Coming to America, for which she received an Academy Award nomination.
Today Dr. Deborah Nadoolman is the president of The Costume Designer's Guild, the union representing working Hollywood costume designers.


Where did the inspiration for Indy's fedora, leather jacket, satchel & whip come from?

Secret of the Incas (1954) starring Charlton Heston and directed by Jerry Hopper is almost a shot for shot Raiders of the Los Ark. Since both were made by Paramount, and Secret is no longer available on video – I can only guess that Larry Kasdan took that script and updated it for Steven. A great idea. We did watch this film together as a crew several times, and I always thought it strange that the filmmakers did not credit it later as the inspiration for the series. Raiders stands on it’s own as a modern classic, but the fedora jacket and whip are right there on Charlton Heston in 1954. My own work is not diminished by having seen that marvellous film. The spirit of Raiders was also informed by Alan Ladd’s 1940’s film noirs, which also had the same hard boiled adventurer, clad in leather jacket and felt fedora.

I have just seen Secret of the Incas again at the Eastman House in Rochester, and it really helped refresh my memory. Harrison’s Indiana is really a kinder and gentler Harry Steele, Heston’s archaeologist/adventurer. Heston’s fedora is considerably bigger and more unwieldy – compared to the one I designed for Indiana it looks practically like a picture hat!

Did the casting of Harrison Ford have any influence on Indy's signature costume?

Absolutely not. As you probably already know, we were looking forward to working with Tom Selleck. All the receptionists at The Egg Company (our lavish Lucas offices on Lankershim Blvd) were devastated when Tom left for Magnum PI. Tom had shot the pilot prior to signing for Raiders and regrettably the pilot was picked up after I had already made a prototype of the entire costume at Western Costume Company on Melrose. We were close to shooting and now missing an Indiana Jones. In desperation George and Steven conferred and we were left with the perennially unemployed Hans Solo. And he was old, almost 40! Harrison is, or was, an affable, introspective, reticent character, worlds away from the larger than life and glamorous Selleck. We were disappointed, but we accepted. Of course, the casting of Harrison was fateful. His natural warmth, intelligence and most of all, his vulnerability, transformed the character of Indiana Jones from a one dimensional superhero to an everyman with a wry sense of humor.

How many fedoras and leather jackets were made for Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Because 1941 (which I designed) was a financial disappointment, Lucas came on as producer of Raiders as a favor to Steven. We were working on a "B picture" with a B budget, but all the people were the "A" team. I needed a decent budget to accommodate the many stunt people, stand in's, additional units, and dummies (stuffed). But the unit production manager was ruthless. It was not pretty. I had budgeted for 10 jackets and to save money I ordered them from the very reasonably priced Wilson’s House of Suede and Leather in Los Angeles who custom made them for me based on a prototype I made at Western Costume Company. This is before any of us ever went to London to begin pre production at EMI Elstree Studios.
When the jackets arrived from Wilson’s I understood they would be unusable for the film. As I tried to age the first one, the leather peeled away in my hands, immediately the color of the leather came off, and giant holes appeared. I discussed this with Steven, George and Harrison. And it was Harrison who became my ally and advocate. I simply could not use these low grade jackets – it would be impossible to wear them in stunt situations and they would never look right. Finally, after much fighting about money – which was ridiculous given that the jackets were the centerpiece of the film – and after watching Heston and Ladd sporting them on the big screen – finally I was given the OK to design and make another set of 10 at Berman’s and Nathan’s Costumier’s once we arrived in London. These were also created from the original prototype that I created for Tom Selleck, made by Reuben at Western Costume. They had an “action back” of inset pleats, a 30s pattern device, which allowed for more arm movement, and adjustable tabs at the waist.

During one of our first fittings I emptied boxes of felt fedoras for Harrison to try on at Berman’s. Hats are extremely individual, and it is absolutely impossible for anyone to determine what will be right for someone else’s face. The height of the crown, the width of the brim, the ribbon, the color, are all components of the hat that will frame the actor’s face and imbue the character with substance. We took our time. Costume designers must also consider the needs of the cinematographer when designing hats – will the audience be able to see the actors face and eyes? When we found one that could be adapted, crown shortened, brim narrowed, I travelled to Herbert Johnson’s hatters in Saville Road to find the model which most closely resembled the one in my hand. They offered an "Australian" model – which, with fiddling, became the Indiana Jones fedora. I ordered one dozen, and I believe that number made it to the end of the film.

The palette for Indiana Jones is all earth tones – even in his archelogical academic wear. This was my deliberate choice – Indiana was accessible, magnetic, and above all – part of the earth he was always digging in. The bad guys in Raiders are in tones of grey and black – cold and repellent.

During the various action scenes Indy never looses his fedora. Can you tell us which tricks were used to keep the fedora in place on his head? There's a joke about this in a documentary on Last Crusade where Ford pretends to staple the fedora on his head.

There were no tricks that I know of - other than the hat fit well – and it was of course part of the joke that the hat stayed on his head. Stunt men often have elastic straps under their chin painted out with make-up. Remember that if the audience must never see the stuntman’s face!

Whenever I see Indiana Jones as a suited professor at college and then as Indy on an adventure in his leather jacket & fedora, I am reminded of Clark Kent vs. Superman. Was the resemblance of Indy’s professor outfit to Clark Kent’s suit an intentional costuming choice?

There was not an intentional choice to create an allusion to Clark Kent, but your presumption is a good one on a general level. Indiana Jones is not a super hero and he is not in hiding. He does not need a secret identity of a bumbling klutz. But, Professor Jones is a vulnerable, idealistic, introspective intellectual with a dry sense of humour. His courageous character in the field is an alter ego of his reticent character in the classroom. Indiana is more like Sherlock Holmes who withdraws to his Baker Street lair, after dangerous adventures solving crimes, sometimes in disguise.

Besides Indy's costume, what was the most challenging costume to design for Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Karen Allen’s character was hard to get right. It was tough to transition a self reliant trousered tomboy into a glamorous wench who could wear a white tulle gown followed by a very bare white bias cut satin slip.

In films set in the past, like Raiders, which require large amounts of military uniforms and vintage equipment (belts, firearms, etc.) how much of this costuming is fabricated by the costume dept. and how much is either "found" or purchased from military reproduction services like What Price Glory?

All the Nazi uniforms we used on Raiders were actual WWII surplus, which we bought through a vendor in Texas. These uniforms, now 60 years old, are no longer available. I only manufactured the principal uniforms for Raiders to order – every other German uniform in the film was vintage. This was customary practice on all Hollywood films, we used army surplus. On 1941, which I also designed for Spielberg, I used the same source in Texas for the American Marine, Navy and Army uniforms. Alas, they are all gone to the moths now. When Joanna Johnston designed Saving Private Ryan, she manufactured hundreds of new uniforms for the troops at a costume house here in Los Angeles. Generally, on any production, uniforms are rented if the designer can find them, and the principal actor’s costumes are manufactured because often they need to be doubled for stunts. Military consultants and specialists are always employed to get all the insignia correct and properly attached.

What parts of the costumes are handled by the prop department? I am aware that generally the prop department would locate vintage firearms, swords, etc., but in the case of the main character like Indiana Jones, wouldn't the costuming department deserve some say in what Indy carries on his person aside from his clothes?

The property department simply handles weapons – the definition of a prop is anything an actor uses. That could be a grenade, a gun, a whip or a briefcase. Costume designers are always involved in collaborating on personal items which may influence the carriage of the costume – like a gun or ammunition belt, holster, key ring, wallet, back pack or glasses.

With the advent of digital technology, filmmakers now have the ability to manipulate the frame in post-production, including the costumes at will, whether they merely want to change the color of the outfit or a piece of it, or change or remove a costume piece entirely. As President of the Costume Designer's Guild, can you tell us what the Guild's position is on the use of digital manipulation in films today and what the Guild is doing to protect their artistry and craftsmanship from digital alteration or erasure?

The Costume Designers Guild looks forward to even greater collaboration with the director. There is no stopping the future and no stopping technology – we embrace it. Our member Ngila Dickson designed the costumes for Lord of the Rings. She said there was nary one costume, which appeared in the film exactly the same colour as it looked on the set. Every frame of LOTR was hand colored. If the Costume Designers Guild had a political position on digital imagery, it would be to remind directors to involve the costume designer at the earliest stage in the creative visual development of the film. We welcome the exciting times ahead working with our fellow digital artists.

The costume designer for Return of the King said recently on the DVD that hours and hours were spent designing dresses for actress Miranda Otto and many of them are only in one scene and appear for mere seconds on screen. One dress appears only in medium shots, so all we see are the shoulders. What is the greatest frustration outside the sewing and fitting room as a costume designer when working on a film?

Costume designers greatest frustration is the shortened preparation time and collapsed time schedule to make a movie. We need gestation time between the reading of the script and the sketches to internalize the characters – the design time. It seems we never have enough time to design and make the costumes any more. The process of costume design is exactly the same on all films, whether they are period or modern, on a mini or mega budget. Our mantra is Character Comes First – creating authentic character for each screenplay. All costume designers read the script, meet with the director, create sketches or a mood board, meet with the director again, confab with the production designer and cinematographer and then wait for casting. Often, we wait and wait. Casting is often last minute, which places a terrible pressure on the designer to create the right costume for the character. Often, whatever the cost of the film, the costume budget is depressingly unrealistic, considering the costume is on the actor in the center of every frame.

They are currently working on a fourth Indiana Jones film, in which the story will be set in the 1950s. Will Indy’s costume remain as it is, or will modifications be made to reflect the styles of the 1950s?

I am sure the new film will be made with the same care as the last three. All the designers involved in the Indiana Jones series are passionate professionals desiring the same result – a fabulous 90 minute adventure.

Mike French & Gilles Verschuere wish to extend their warmest thanks to Dr. Deborah Nadoolman for this interview and her support during the update of's Indy's Gear section.


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