This film is the directorial project of Davis’ longtime collaborator Denzel Washington.
Sharen Davis is behind some of the film industry’s most historic costumes. From the glamorous dresses in Dreamgirls to Ray Charles’ iconic suits in Ray, Davis has been one of film’s most renowned costume designers in the past few decades. And what’s additionally special about Davis’ work are the names she gets to work—Bill Condon, the Hughes brothers, and Dezel Washington, who she’s worked with about six times.
Most recently, Davis is behind the costume designs for Washington’s latest project A Journal for Jordan.
The film follows the real-life story of a couple’s unique relationship over the span of many years. First Sergeant Charles Monroe King (Michael B. Jordan) writes to a journal for his infant son while deployed in Iraq, and his fiancee Dana Canedy (Chanté Adams). The film is based on Canedy’s, an ex-journalist at the New York Times, memoir. Directed by Denzel Washington and produced by Washington and Jordan, the film is a heartwarming tale of love and loss that transcends time.
The Knockturnal had the opportunity to speak to Davis about the film and her process behind designing and styling Adams and Jordan.
The Knockturnal: When you were first approached by Denzel for this film, did you immediately know what you wanted to do with the wardrobe?
Sharen Davis: No, when I read the script, I was more horrified by how many changes she had, and how do I do that arc successfully. Chanté just had like 60 changes, and I was like, how do I gracefully tell the story of a woman who is in her apartment 70% of the time? You know, where do I begin? And how do I make that timeless, you know, 1998 to 2010? away, I make this timeless? What do I do to make her 1998 young and kind of more into her career, but still fun, and then turning into a woman and falling in love? And then you know, losing love and finding love?
The Knockturnal: Did you look at photos of Dana and Charles to get inspiration? Or did it come from somewhere else?
Sharen Davis: I did actually. I had a lot of photos of both of them, actually. But there were big-time jumps and her pictures were almost all professional pictures. So it was great to have those so I knew where to land when she was in the newspaper offices.
The Knockturnal: How long did that process take of really coming up with the wardrobe? Especially, for Chanté because she has so many outfit changes?
Sharen Davis: I think the first fitting was in December. And basically, I just wanted to see what silhouettes look best on her. And it was truly fun. She’s amazing. I just love the shots, and then when we got to New York, we had more. It became more of a field because we were in the right city. And I got I think it took like six fittings because I really wanted her to be comfortable. I really wanted to meet her to have an understanding of how did she see herself as Dana in 1998. And, you know, I really wanted her art to be the clothes and to represent how she felt and what she thought she would wear. So we really nail down like four or five outfits in each period that the script jumps back and forth, so that’s even more confusing. So instead of hitting the periods, right on the dart, I just decided to make it a little more timeless. So it wouldn’t be so jarring to see it go back and forth from 1998 to 2018. I just basically decided to use color and silhouettes more to define the years as opposed to high fashion or trendy.
The Knockturnal: And for Michael B Jordan’s character Charles was that easier because he’s in the military? He’s always ready for combat, or was that also a bit difficult as well?
Sharen Davis: It was difficult because Michael B Jordan is such a fashion play? You know, it was like, how would I make it convincing? I wanted him to look like a military man. But I decided I would just date his clothing. So he didn’t have it, you know, until later on. He really had nothing that was in style. It all just looked like it was from Target or it just wasn’t a name brand or great fit, but everything fits him but I did my best to try to make him look ordinary yet still a soldier.
The Knockturnal: And you did an amazing job must I say! I want to talk a bit about one of my favorite scenes. You have Michael B. Jordan’s character putting on a suit in the store, and then it flashes forward a few years later, and it’s his son kind of wearing a suit as well. What was it like bringing that scene to life? Was that a choice that you made? Or was that a choice that Denzel implemented?
Sharen Davis: It was made by all of us, including the actor, and basically talking to the real Dana. She said her son loves to wear sport coats and I guess he went to private school. He loves sport coats and suits. So we decided it, and plus all the other scenes, we have seen him inside the house. He had done all this research on his dad, I feel like he found it so important to honor his father this way. So that was my intention with the suit. And everyone on set thought the same.
The Knockturnal: And what’s it like working with Denzel especially after all these years?
Sharen Davis: He’s such an amazing actor. We all know that. But it’s so amazing to watch him give his knowledge to young and upcoming talent. That, to me, is the most amazing thing. Watching this on the set since the first one I did was Antoine Fisher, and watching him for all his knowledge and all his talent and giving it away to our young, upcoming Black talent. To me, it’s just amazing. I get so excited.
The Knockturnal: And you’ve been working in this industry for so long, and you’re such a decorated costume designer. Could you tell me what has been the most rewarding part of your career?
Sharen Davis: The most rewarding part is meeting so many amazing people. And them encouraging me and me encouraging them along with forming friendships. I’ve learned so much about the arts. It’s just been an amazing journey. Aunjanue has got my heart right now. King Richard was our third project together. And Regina King, I’ve always admired. But we’ve just created such good bonds. I just love these women and respect them so much. So I’m gonna say it’s the people.
The Knockturnal: Now, would you say your style bleeds into some of the characters who dress?
Sharen Davis: No! I have no style. I just usually wear black. And that’s it. They are all the color. I mean, it’s all in my head. I look at somebody and then I just do some research. And that’s how it ends up becoming that new character’s style. It’s such a puzzle for me. I’m not good with fashion. I’m only good with characters.
The Knockturnal: And finally, this film comes out on Christmas. Do you have any plans for the holidays that you’d like to share?
Sharen Davis: I have been traveling these last couple of months visiting all my family. And so you know, I took the low COVID call. I’m just going to do it now. Not in the holiday. So I’m actually going to sit down at my house and watch all of the films coming out for the Academy for the holidays.