“Elysium” Director Sends Labels Into the Future

Neill Blomkamp gives today's luxury brands - including Versace, Bugatti and Armani - a sci-fi update

In "Elysium," the new sci-fi action movie from "District 9" director Neill Blomkamp, the super wealthy have departed Earth and live in luxurious seclusion on an orbiting space station.

In true genre fashion the film (which stars Matt Damon and Jodie Foster) takes the current global economic state, magnifies it, and imagines a future where the richest one percent no longer have to suffer ill-health or endure the needy masses left behind on the over-populated, slum-like planet below.

"'Elysium' is a general metaphor for a bunch of things," Blomkamp says, adding that the film thematically explores notions of "immigration and how the first and third worlds meet."

Blomkamp believes the movie can be scaled to represent the current state of our world regardless of where you live. "It can be a pocket of L.A., like Compton and Beverly Hills or it can be California and Mexico," he said. "It’s because the metaphor is general. It's about looking over that wall at what others have. ... I don’t think the film is speculative science fiction. In my mind it is much more a metaphor for today."

And just like current times, what you wear, how you accessorize and what you drive can indicate to others your financial status.

In 2154 the one-percenters can fly between the orbiting station Elysium and Earth in their decked out, luxury-ladened Bugatti flying ships or retire to their Versace-branded medical pods when they need a quick health or beauty upgrade.

"It was so important to me," Blomkamp says of the decision to place luxury brands of today in the movie's futuristic locales. But getting recognizable labels to sign on for the film proved far more difficult than Blomkamp imagined.

"It’s actually hilarious. I've seen people rail on ['Transformers' director] Michael Bay about product placement," Blomkamp said of the decision to include known brands. "You'd think what happens is you have a film with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster and that companies would happily give you their brands. But not a single brand came forward.

"You had an inverse situation where I was writing emails begging corporations. I didn’t even want money, just the right to use the logo or brand. And if people see it as product placement that is interesting, but really what it was meant to be was realism. Someone living up there would have a Bulgari digital iPhone watch and fly in a Bugatti. So I thought to not have those brands would be a catastrophe for the movie, it’s wrong not to have it. And so many people kept turning us down. Bugatti said no and then I wrote this impassioned email and they eventually said ok."

The concept of a Bugatti spacecraft actually aligned with the futuristic vision of the late company founder Ettore Bugatti, Emanuela Wilm, general manager of marketing for Bugatti of the Americas told the Wall Street Journal, adding that "in 2154, it could well be that there is a flying Bugatti."

Just as sleek and as equally important to the look of the visually arresting film are the sharp-shouldered suits worn by Foster's character, Elysium Secretary of Defense Delacourt.

To get the sartorial appearance of the character right, costume designer April Ferry turned to Foster fashion favorite and Italian powerhouse brand Giorgio Armani. In collaboration with Ferry, Armani created a series of suits that showcases Delacourt's affluence as much as her no-nonsense, hard-nosed approach to keeping the off-world denizens safe from those living far below who want nothing more than gain access to the spoils above.

In hues of pewter, ivory and gray, Delacourt's wide-lapelled jackets and trim skirts imbue a sense of luxury devoid of unnecessary embellishment.

In a statement to Women's Wear Daily, Armani described his first time working with Ferry and Blomkamp as "a privilege," and names Foster as one of his favorite actresses. "I admire her work, her talent, her life. I’m captivated by how she personifies the world of 2154 while also making my designs utterly timeless,” Armani said.

Though Armani, Bugatti, Adidas and Versace did eventually sign on, many of the other brands featured in the movie were created from scratch.

"We did make up our own brands because we couldn’t get enough of them," Blomkamp explains of labels such as "Riche," a moniker that is branded onto the skin of characters who have partaken of a beauty enhancement. "We had a binder with thousands of fake brands and awesome logos. But they don’t mean anything to people, they just look like future brands. It doesn’t have the same resonance."

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