‘Pretty In Pink’ Designer Marilyn Vance Talks About The Stories Behind The Clothes

Molly Ringwald’s Andie Walsh makes a stunning entrance to her senior prom in the final scene of Pretty In Pink. But before her grand arrival, she sits on the couch at home with her father (Harry Dean Stanton), heartbroken over rich-boy Blane McDonough, played by Andrew McCarthy. She tells her father she has to go to prom. “I just want them to know they didn’t break me,” she declares. Them, of course, being the preppies who have taunted her throughout high school due to her societal class standing (“You’re a bitch,” James Spader’s character Steff mutters to her in the school parking lot). But Andie knows the truth, that despite her lack of wealth she has impeccable fashion sense (“This is really a volcanic ensemble you’re wearing,” Jon Cryer’s Duckie admiringly tells her) and is at the forefront of music (“She thinks you’re shit, and deep down, you know she’s right,” Blane reveals to Steff). Following her declaration she makes her way to prom in an ensemble fashioned from two prom dresses. While the film shows Andie cutting away and reconstructing the two gowns, all to the sounds of New Order’s “Thieves Like Us,” it was costume designer Marilyn Vance who fulfilled the character’s creative vision in her L.A. home.

Vance is responsible for a number of films’ memorable fashion senses: Ferris Bueller’s two-tone leather jacket and leopard sweater vest, Sloane’s white fringe leather jacket, the red gown worn by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, every tank-top Bruce Willis wore in the Die Hard series, and the white turtleneck with a pink poncho combo Sean Penn’s Spicoli fashions in Fast Times, to name a few. In celebration of Pretty in Pink’s 30th anniversary — available throughout the month on HBO NOW in honor of the occasion and available on Blu-ray and DVD from Paramount Home Video — we talked with Vance about working with John Hughes, a frequent collaborator on this film, from Duckie’s flip-up sunglasses and suspenders, to Iona’s (Annie Potts) Sade-inspired rubber dress, to the pink prom dress.

How was it working with John Hughes?

He was amazing. He’s a fantastic storyteller. He would go on and on and you would sit and listen because it was so amazing. He spun the story and the characters, he made it come alive. He was also very hip about music. I never heard Simple Minds before he played it and he would say a scene, like in Pretty In Pink, then he’d say, “And I’m going to play this song, this is going to represent that scene,” and it was crazy. It just danced in front of your face, you saw what it was.

And did that help when creating the look for the film?

For that film, absolutely, because that was closest to my background. I grew up pretty much like Molly’s character, and I felt very close to it and I was also involved in the music business in London that was very influential to me, and lower Manhattan, various music that was going on in New York at the time. The scene was just incredible. I also started designing because we didn’t have much money and my mother would buy me clothing that was absolutely hideous. [Laughs.] But I loved her so much, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. So I would rearrange what she bought. I taught myself how to sew and how to put things together and that’s why that particular character is so close to me.

So your experience really was like Andie’s, when she takes the two dresses to make her own prom dress. I’m curious about that dress. How did you come up with the design and what were the reactions?

Molly absolutely loathed it. [Laughs.] Her character in the film had two pink dresses and she puts them together to make her own dress. One was Annie Potts’, which I found in downtown L.A. in those stores that sell prom-type dresses. And then her father brings this dress, I got that dress at a quinceañera store on Van Nuys Boulevard. It looked like it was made out of curtain fabric, sheer with embroidery on it. The idea was that Andie, being her own person, puts the two together to create her look. I put that dress together in my house at the time. Annie Potts’ dress was the base of the body of the dress that I put together. Then the other one I used as the neck piece and for the trim.