Spike Jonze and Humberto Leon

Humberto Leon Interviews Spike Jonze

BY Humberto Leon | Fri. December 6, 2013 | 1:00 PM | OC
When I first spotted Spike Jonze wearing a suit jacket from Opening Ceremony at a Christmas party six years ago, I knew it was the beginning of something big. In the years since, he has become a friend, a Kung Fu partner, and a frequent collaborator. Our most recent project is her by Opening Ceremony, a collection inspired by the director's new film.

I’ve seen her grow up over the past four years. The first time Spike told me about his idea to write a love story set in the future, we had caught an impromptu flight to Morocco from Paris. In between Pulp songs played on his guitar, he outlined the skeleton of the script he hoped to write, about a man who falls in love with his operating system. The next year, we were going over drafts every week after Kung Fu classes in New York. Soon, I was brainstorming with Spike and Casey Storm, the film's costume designer, about what waistlines for men and skirt lengths for women would look like in this near future. I was an extra in a scene that takes place at a LA barbecue, where I first spotted the matching shorts and sweater sets that inspired Opening Ceremony's unisex collection.

Like the aesthetic of her, Opening Ceremony’s collection is simple, comfortable, and just futuristic enough for you to want to wear it for years to come. It has pockets custom-made for everyone's best friend, his device. Last weekend, I met up with Spike one more time to talk about our work together, future visions of LA, and whether he believes in love at first sound.

Check out the her by Opening Ceremony editorial here | Shop the collection here

Humberto Leon: Let’s start out by talking about how the movie her is a real modern-day love story. What’s your take on love?

Spike Jonze: My take on love? [Laughs] I don’t know! What’s love, but a second hand-emotion? That’s a super hard question.

Do you believe in love at first sight?
Yes, I kind of think you know when you meet somebody. Even if you don’t know know. You have some sort of instant fascination. And then later, you might actually admit that that’s what it was at the time.

What about love at first sound? In her, Joaquin Phoenix's character falls in love with his operating system, which exists in the form of Scarlett Johansson's voice. Have you ever fallen in love based on someone's voice or something they said?
In hindsight, yes. I once met somebody I didn’t know very well and was going over to meet her and texted her to say I was running late. And she texted back, “I don’t give a shit.” That was the beginning of falling in love. I could track it right to that little buzz I got from that text that made me laugh and think she was awesome.

That’s cool. In many ways I feel like her is about the ultimate long-distance relationship. There isn’t necessarily a distance, but it feels like there is. Have you ever had a long-distance relationship?
Yeah, there is that similarity to a long-distance relationship because [Samantha] is a voice. If you’re traveling and trying to stay connected when somebody is far away, phone calls mean a lot. You live a lot of your relationship through those calls. Our movie is a little different in that the whole relationship [between Theodore and Samantha, the main characters] is built off of that. There is a yearning for physical connection but their connection is so deep and so intimate and they know each other so well that it becomes a full relationship to them. 

When you first started writing this movie three years ago, we were going to Kung Fu classes together a few times a week. And after every class you would talk me through a different scene or moment in the movie. What’s interesting is that three years ago, I felt like you were writing a movie that felt far in the future. But now, it feels closer to today’s world.
We never wanted to make a movie about “the future.” We wanted to make a movie about a sort of heightened version of what we live now. Both in terms of technology and in terms of loneliness and longing. Our lives today are so busy and so rich. But also, we experience a lot of longing and loneliness.

So we did a collection together based on this!

I love it! I just saw the lookbook. It was cool that you were involved way early on. I remember asking you questions about the look and feel of the movie before you’d read the script.

Right. You’d ask me what a device would look like or what people in the future would be wearing.
It was interesting, too, because all of your ideas had such a narrative and a story behind them. I always kind of knew that, because everything you do has a story. Whether you’re doing something with Vans and it’s what Vans meant to you in your childhood, or Kenzo and when you took over Kenzo what the story of the brand was. So when I started working with Casey [Storm, the costume designer] and K. K. [Barrett] our production designer, we called you and had these sort of long rambling talks, just like, picking your brain for inspiration.

It was so so cool to be a part of that early process. How was working with us on her by Opening Ceremony different from our Where the Wild Things Are collection?
On Wild Things it was more like I showed you the movie and said “do whatever you want to do.” This one was different as it started with naturally bouncing ideas off a friend. And mostly, those [conversations] had nothing to do with style. They were about character, story stuff, and scenes. Your and my aesthetics were already so intertwined by the time we got to doing a line together.

One of the big takeaways from the film is the visuals. There’s something so cohesive about the look. Do you think you’ve approached this movie differently than you’ve approached movies in the past?
There were more things to invent this time. Being John Malkovich had certain things [to invent] like, what does a portal look like? But with the 7 ½ floor, we were also referencing New York City and my dad’s office when I was a kid and Madison Avenue and a lot of specific things. There were a lot of references. This one we had to invent wholly new. The references are much lighter. We reference, like, the 20s with high-waisted pants. But mostly it’s invented from whole––what’s the saying? Invented from whole cloth?

I think that’s it. So in the movie, you guys came up with the ideas of people wearing matching T-shirts and shorts. And we did sweatshirts and sweatpants and matching stripes. We also really tried to play off of the color palette––the cool pinks and chartreuses that were in the office buildings, for example.
We definitely embraced color. But we also didn’t. There’s this photographer named Rinko Kawauchi. Her photos are very clean. She uses maybe two, three, or maybe four colors in a frame. The way she uses color was a big inspiration to us. There’s also this building on Santa Monica in LA. I remember driving by and like, woah! It’s a giant red building in a totally beige LA, underneath this hot LA light. I sent that to K.K. and was like, this is what our movie should look like.

How long have you and Casey Storm worked together?
The great thing about Casey is he didn’t come from fashion at all. He was just a friend of mine that had good style. Twenty years ago when he was just getting out of college, we were doing the Beastie Boys “Sabotage” video. It was really low budget; we didn’t have a lot of money. I was like, “I can get my friend to do it! We don’t have to have an official costume designer.” And so I told Casey what costume designing was, “OK so you talk about who the characters are and you go to thrift stores and get stuff.” We gave him $1000 to buy all the clothes. And he just killed it. The cops and the undercover cops and all that stuff. He was so natural at it. And then 20 years later he’s an official costume designer. He did our movies, he did Zodiac, David Fincher’s movie, and he’s one of the top commercial music video guys.

Did I ever tell you that I dressed up for Halloween as the Sabotage cops?
You did!
I did it twice, once in New York and once in San Francisco. I remember the video had come out a year or two before. As I walked down the street everyone would turn to me and say “Sabotage!”
“Listen all y’all it’s a sabotage!”
That was you and Casey!

If Samantha could wear clothing, what do you think she would wear? Is that even describable?
I think not. Because we realized that if we went in that direction at all, if we did anything that implied what she looked like, it would take away from her largeness. Which is indefinable in our and [Theodore's] imaginations. And the fact that she doesn’t physically exist makes it like reading a book, reading a novel when the main character isn’t described physically so you have your own picture of what she looks like. And I think Samantha is different to everyone.