Catherine Martin is a Woman of the Year because…
“She brings warmth and humor and energy to every story and character—and inspires me constantly.” —Carey Mulligan, actress
Most movies today follow fashion, but costume and production designer Catherine Martin, 48, has made it her mission to have things work the other way around. The films she creates—in collaboration with her husband, director Baz Luhrmann—set trends. Like this summer’s little $300-million hit The Great Gatsby, whose flapper-era clothes were rhapsodized over by The New York Times and every major fashion magazine. Martin is business smart too. Her partnerships with Miuccia Prada, Tiffany & Co., and Brooks Brothers boosted the film’s profits.
It’s no stretch to call C.M., as she’s known to friends, one of the most influential visual craftspeople in modern moviemaking. What powers her is a life-long geek-level obsession with fashion. “I’m interested in clothes in the way that other people are interested in cars,” she says with a laugh. That enthusiasm is contagious. “Her work is so rich and full,” says Gatsby’s Tobey Maguire. “It’s sexy and sensual and, you know, silly. And yet it still feels authentic because it all comes from a deep knowledge and a great amount of research.” Oh, the research! Martin is famous for it. “After working with them,” says Nicole Kidman, who starred in Luhrmann’s Australia andMoulin Rouge!, “I look at other people and go, ’Where are all the books? Where’re the photos?’ When talent is backed up with that kind of commitment and passion, it’s a high bar to match.”
Martin found her calling naturally. An art-school dropout in Sydney, Australia, she was working as a seamstress when a radio ad inspired her to apply to Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Art. While at school, she worked for Luhrmann’s theater ensemble Six Years Old, and the two went on to create the 1992 breakout hit Strictly Ballroom—the reason anyone today Thinks They Can Dance. (The couple is currently turning the movie into a stage musical.) Today, with a Tony award and four Oscar nominations (two wins), Martin still marvels at how far she’s come. “We’ve gone from me staying up all night to paint the floor,” she says, “to where I am now, with 300 carpenters working for me. I feel like the queen of England.”