In an exclusive interview with Lifestyle Asia India, Debra McGuire talks about her long association with Jennifer Aniston, styling Lisa Kudrow for F.R.I.E.N.D.S and searching for the soul in every project.
Deepika Padukone once said that one of the best pieces of advice she received from Shah Rukh Khan was that one must work with people whose company they enjoy. After all, as artists, they spend days (if not months) together, sometimes in trying locales. And if you don’t like the company of the people you work with, will the product you create be magical? Not really.
It’s a philosophy that ace fashion designer Debra McGuire believes in as well. A veritable legend in her field, McGuire shot to fame when she designed the wardrobe for the cast of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. She’s worked as a costume designer for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Romy and Michele: In the Beginning, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, 90210, Heroes, Scream 4, Bad Teacher, Ted, Phil Spector, Fresh Off the Boat, I Feel Pretty, New Girl and the list goes on and on.
Her latest project, Murder Mystery 2 starring Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler in the lead roles will release on Netflix on 31st March. For a particular sequence in the movie, McGuire dressed Jennifer Aniston in a Manish Malhotra outfit while some of the guests present at the wedding were decked in brighter fare by Papa Don’t Preach.
Excerpts from our free-wheeling chat with Debra McGuire . . .
As someone who has seen such success in your career, what would you say is the most important question you’ve asked yourself before taking on a project or when you’re faced with a challenge?
After 32 years in the business the answer is quite simple: Do I love the people I’m working with or for? Not do I ‘like them’, but do I ‘love them’? This is a frustrating truth for my agent but at this point in my career, she gets it. Life is too short and the work can be too difficult. Relationships are everything. I had to leave my children for most of my life and so my crews became family. Some have been with me for over 25 years! I am about to go to Atlanta for five months to do a limited series. The producers are young men I’ve worked with for years. One of them was a child actor I worked with over 20 years ago and the other grew up in my small hometown in Ohio. Sometimes it’s just meant to be because trust and confidence are everything.
They say that one must dress where they want to be or like who they want to become – how true is that statement according to you?
I’m not exactly sure how to answer this, but I’ll share a little story: I was at a leadership seminar years ago. There was a young woman who used to be part of an all-male team. She had recently become their boss but couldn’t understand what to do to get them to respect her. I looked at her – she was in pastel sweats and looked very childlike. We were there dealing with spiritual ideas and inner work and all I could see was that she needed a good makeover. Professional clothes, a new haircut and colour and a touch of makeup. I approached her after the seminar and proposed a makeover. I was at Warner Brothers at the time and she, coincidentally, was at Warner Music next door. I put a team together and the outcome was astounding. Her experience was life-changing. The team at first didn’t recognize her but the dynamic shifted almost immediately.
When you speak to a lot of musicians, you hear that they kind of make music nowadays in a manner that’ll make it a trend on TikTok. Is it the same in the fashion industry?
Probably but I’m outside of that universe. It took COVID to expose me to Instagram. I’m a few steps behind.
What made you decide to dress Jennifer Aniston in Manish Malhotra for Murder Mystery 2?
I had been to India in 2017 and did a lot of research into the fashion there. In 2021 I dove back into my research and found Manish Malhotra to be a coveted brand that I wanted to explore further. I felt it was important for Jennifer to wear a traditional dress to the sangeet. Because we were still living in COVID mode and international deliveries were unpredictable, I decided to design a few dresses for Jennifer in case the packages did not arrive on time for filming. My designs were a hybrid – Indian with an American flair and very sexy. When she tried them on at the fitting she chose one that she loved and wanted to wear. I told her that I had also ordered a traditional dress but wasn’t sure it would arrive on time.
As prep continued and I was making decisions about all of the characters, as well as the 300 Indian dancers and guests that had to be outfitted, I was more determined to dress her in Manish Malhotra. I had chosen winter white beadwork enmeshed with gold threads and designed the sherwani for Adam to match. Since they would be amongst the very colourful guests I wanted them to stand out and always be seen in white. Luck was on our side and the dress (plus two additional ones for stunts) arrived just in time for filming. I convinced Jennifer that this was the right choice. We had to eliminate yards of tulle from the underskirt to make it lighter and easier to wear for these physical scenes.
What do you admire about Papa Don’t Preach, the brand founded by Shubhika Sharma?
These clothes stand out as creative in the Indian marketplace. I purchased them in a Los Angeles store called KYNAH and they stood out in many ways; creativity in patterns, style and beadwork.
You’ve had such a long professional association with Jennifer Aniston. What is something you’ve noticed about her style?
Jennifer knows what she likes and what looks best on her. She likes a clean classic style but is willing to try things that might have a little edge. If you look at her red carpet choices over the years you will see that she has never made a bad choice for herself. She is a woman that knows herself!
They say that Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe was the only one allowed to wear prints in F.R.I.E.N.D.S – is that true? If yes, can you please explain your reasoning behind it?
When I created the looks for these six characters I took a very painterly approach. That is to say, I worked with a palette and textures. I realized early on that the six of them would often all be in the same space and therefore I wanted the palette that they created together to be beautiful. Lisa/Phoebe brought a bohemian vibe to the mix and her flowing fabrics and patterns didn’t just exemplify her character but completed the visual story I was trying to create.
Do you believe in the X-factor, a certain je ne sais quoi that some people possess that makes you want to sit up and take notice of them? You once said that when Dolly Parton walked into a room, everyone stops breathing. What makes these special people stand out?
Interesting question. I truly believe, however, that the magic comes from within, not without. Just like real beauty.
Lastly, they say that to achieve long-lasting success, one needs talent and temperament. What are your thoughts on that?
I could spend hours on this subject. Talent, temperament and a real understanding of the human condition. My husband is a therapist…but in many ways, so am I. The psychological challenges are there every day. I’ve often met with college students to review their portfolios and discuss the reality of this industry. Most of them have no idea what we really do on an everyday basis. We aren’t sitting in offices with a marker to paper thinking about design. As well as the creative work, we are navigating through directors, producers, writers, actors and crew – making it all happen. In what is often described as a soulless industry we must search every day for the soul. This, I believe, is the key to my success.