Q&A with Catherine Martin, designer of The Fitzgerald Suite
What was your initial approach in conceptualizing The Fitzgerald Suite?
In this suite, the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred. It is an environment that evokes the history of the Fitzgerald’s at The Plaza. It will be a dramatic deco space that recalls the dynamism of the Jazz Age and the 1920s, hopefully making you feel as if you are a guest in a hotel described in one of Fitzgerald’s novels. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were both regular patrons of The Plaza. The association was so well-known, it is said that Ernest Hemingway once advised F. Scott to give his liver to Princeton and his heart to The Plaza. Planned inclusions in the suite include photos of the author and his wife, his complete works, documentaries and movies that have been made about either him or his work, and beautiful coffee-table books that evoke languorous summers on Long Island’s Gold Coast and the fabulous New York of the Roaring Twenties. We will also include artifacts from our upcoming film as accessories to add a level of authenticity and texture to the room. For example, we will feature Tom Buchanan’s sporting trophies in some of the vitrines that are being built into the walls.
What are key decor elements of The Fitzgerald Suite that will bring to life and transport guests to the glamour and nostalgia of the 1920s and the Jazz age?
We will be using not only wonderful deco-inspired Restoration Hardware furniture pieces that bring the Jazz Age to life but also fabrics and rugs from my own Metropolis wallpaper and fabric and Deco rug collection. These will combine to create a suite that not only is a glamorous evocation of a bygone period but also has all the comforts and luxury you’d expect from a five-star hotel. The theme of the room will go beyond decor: we intend to create a minibar that harks back to the days of gin martinis in teacups and mint juleps in cut crystal on a hot summer’s afternoon. Even the room-service menu will be customized to reflect 1920s specialties. I hope that guests will discover the special energy and excitement of New York in the 1920s so perfectly described by Nick in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: “I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye.”
For the filming of The Great Gatsby, you recreated The Plaza suite on set. Can you elaborate on the research process?
The penultimate scene of the book takes place at The Plaza. It is a dramatic, emotionally charged confrontation between Daisy Buchanan’s husband, Tom, and her lover, Jay Gatsby. This scene commands equal attention in Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation.
With The Plaza as our partner, we did extensive historical research into what the suites would have looked like at the time just after the 1920s renovation. We noticed that they were very light, bright rooms, and we collectively agreed that this would not give the oppressive, heavy feeling that the scene needed to play out. So we looked to the woodiness of The Oak Room and 1920s wood-paneled libraries and adapted the decor of the room to underline the drama of the scene.
You will note, however, that when we see Nick and Gatsby shot from the exterior of the building, we have perfectly recreated the 1922 exterior. Also featured in the film is a digitally created wide shot of The Plaza at the time, with accompanying surrounding buildings and Central Park in front.
Nothing from our film was shot on location at The Plaza, but we did do extensive reconnaissance and planned much of our staging there. We shot views that you will see from the windows of the suite from a private apartment on the residential side of The Plaza, and also shot across to The Plaza from the Sherry-Netherland.
How would you recapture the Gatsby era during a stay at The Plaza?
If I were staying at The Plaza, I would have the “Fitzgerald Tea for the Ages” in The Palm Court, which is a place featured in The Great Gatsby. While we didn’t actually use the location in the film, Jordan and Nick have tea at The Plaza in The Palm Court in the novel. I would emulate them, enjoying the number of wonderful Hendrick’s cocktails recreated from the period. I’d then want to relive another part of the novel by taking a horse-and-cart ride in Central Park at dusk with my husband. I’d hope that The Oak Room would be open, and would have dinner there in another Fitzgerald watering hole. Finally, we’d go downtown to a little speakeasy called The Little Branch (in the West Village) and have a nightcap while listening to some 1920s jazz.
Catherine Martin is the producer, production designer and costume designer of The Great Gatsby. She earned two Oscars®, for art direction and costume design, for the 2001 release Moulin Rouge!, and two nominations, for set decoration on Romeo + Juliet (1996), and costume design on Australia (2008.) Married to Baz Luhrmann, she has also launched a range of housewares.