how '200 cigarettes' achieved cult status despite terrible reviews
Costume designer Susan Lyall, who also wardrobed 'Empire Records', tells i-D about dressing Christina Ricci and Courtney Love in her iconic 80s designs.
Screengrabs from 200 Cigarettes
Every New Year’s Eve comes with a set of pressures to make it a night to remember, especially for the young, single, and horny going out on the town. 200 Cigarettes, which came out 20 years ago yesterday in 1999, depicted this certain type of unspoken stress so many of us have experienced on the last night of the year. Though the film was panned at the time of its release—Roger Ebert gave it half a star, saying “coughing would be better than some of this dialogue” and Rolling Stone described it as an “unruly mess”—it has since achieved cult status. Unsurprising, when you consider its unique ensemble cast of characters, mostly made up of actors in the midst of their newfound fame (Ben Affleck) or on the verge of celebrity (Kate Hudson), as well as the memorable 80s costumes.
200 Cigarettes takes place over the course of New Year’s Eve in 1981, following several 20-something friend groups prowling around New York City. The film was renowned casting director Risa Bramon Garcia’s directing debut, hence the illustrious ensemble. It centers around the NYE party thrown by Monica, played by Martha Plimpton, who is paranoid that nobody will show up to it. Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffman (reunited from the time they played childhood BFFs in 1995’s Now and Then) are Val and Stephie, two, heavy-accented teens from Ronkonkoma that are trying to get to Monica’s shindig. During their journey, the girls get lost and meet two punks, Tom and Dave, played by Casey Affleck and Guillermo Diaz. Ben Affleck is a handsome, unnamed bartender that two friends (Angela Featherstone and Nicole Ari Parker) fight over, despite him being a dull, self-important yuppie.
There’s also a pre-Penny Lane, teenage Kate Hudson, as Cindy, a woman on an awkward date with the assholish Jack (Jay Mohr) after losing her virginity to him on their first date. And there’s Paul Rudd, in all his mutton-chopped glory, as Kevin, who recently got dumped by his feminist performance artist girlfriend played by Janeane Garofalo. He’s comforted by his best friend Lucy, played by Courtney Love. There’s an unmistakable onscreen chemistry between Rudd and Love that is strange to think about now. Finally, Dave Chappelle plays a cab driver who picks everyone up throughout the night in his disco-themed taxi. By the end of the movie, the various characters and their storylines coincide at Monica’s party.
For the movie’s fashion, costume designer Susan Lyall curated pieces that were distinctly 80s without being too over-the-top. Lyall, who was also behind the iconic 90s fashion of Empire Records, produced a sartorial love letter to the era using thrift scores, pieces from vintage shops, costume house rentals, and finds from Trash and Vaudeville, the legendary punk clothing store that outfitted The Ramones, Blondie, Bruce Springsteen, and Prince during its heyday. Lyall also had access to Betsey Johnson’s archive. In fact, the clothing used for Hoffman’s character, which included a colorblock turtleneck sweater, a black embroidered blazer, and a multi-colored striped mini-skirt, was almost entirely from that source. Other pieces, like Love’s red dress, were created by Lyall and her team. Hudson’s frilly pink dress and matching chevron coat were also custom.
“Kate’s costume was entirely made, partly because of the obvious carnage caused by the night’s events and the need for multiples, but mostly because it needed to be a colorful, fun, suburban, ensemble. You can’t really shop that,” Lyall says.
Styling a movie that takes place over the course of one evening may seem somewhat easy because there’s only one outfit for each character, but that’s not really the case—each choice is crucial. “You only have the one outfit to tell your character’s story,” Lyall explains. “It’s just important to be exact. From a wardrobe management perspective, it was difficult, as it was almost entirely a night shoot and that there were many one-of-a-kind pieces. Trying to process laundry and dry cleaning is not easy on that schedule.”
"Many times stylists and costume designers incorporate pieces from their own closets into the movie’s wardrobe when it makes sense for the character. Janeane Garofalo [who plays Kevin’s ex Ellie] is wearing my personal 1960s brocade dinner jacket. I used to wear it a lot in the 80s, I still have it and it’s still cool," Lyall says. “Courtney had a nice brooch on that was a big horse head made with rhinestones that I actually still have.”
As for inspiration for outfits, Lyall didn’t turn to the actors or musicians of the era (though, Stephie serves slight Pat Benatar vibes). 200 Cigarettes took place in 1981, two years before fashion-forward artists like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper released their first albums. Instead, Lyall turned to a certain photography book for ideas. “The costume for the character of Monica was directly inspired by what I consider to be a famous Nan Goldin photo of a young woman in a green 50s party dress,” Lyall says. “That book of photos, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was a pretty constant source of inspiration for the look of 200 Cigarettes. It was kicking around my desk at the time and had that East Village, people looking for love, messed up in shitty apartments, and wearing vintage coats.”
Lyall also remembers what potentially could have turned into some drama regarding the costumes and cast—particularly between Love and Ricci. “In the makeup trailer, Courtney Love saw a continuity photo of Christina Ricci, who was also in a red dress, although very, very different, and was outraged.” Lyall says. “The fact is, they were never in the same frame ever, and as I explained to her at the time, Val was someone aspiring to be like her Lucy character, but lacking Lucy’s sartorial panache.” Both characters ended up wearing red dresses, so Lyall was able to ease Love’s stress about the twinning moment.
200 Cigarettes’ stellar cast is something Lyall also points out. “I cannot believe these actors that were in it. Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell came to see Kate on the set of the Indian restaurant. And I have a fedora signed by Elvis Costello. At the time, Ben Affleck was the big name. His fitting took place at 2:00 a.m. because he was cramming this movie in between his schedule. He brought his girlfriend at the time with him, who was Gwyneth Paltrow.”
Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow? We can thank 200 Cigarettes for simultaneously providing us with both 80s and late 90s/early aughts nostalgia. Despite it being a flop at the time of its release, the movie is truly deserving of its cult acclaim, not only due to those Paul Rudd mutton chops, but because of the costumes, the impressive cast, and for the simple fact that it’s fun. When you think about it, it’s not hard to see why 200 Cigarettes has become required NYE viewing two decades later.