National Treasure: Diane Kruger, a Dress for Action | Clothes on Film

Certainly the most memorable costume Diane Kruger wears in National Treasure (2004) is a luscious silk evening dress; particularly in regards to what her character puts it through.

For this fun Disney adventure, Kruger plays National Archives curator turned fortune finder Dr. Abigail Chase. From blow drying the Declaration of Independence to searching an ancient cavern for Freemason gold, she gets more to do than merely follow Nicolas Cage’s ‘treasure protector’ Ben Gates around and scream whenever the bad guys pull their guns out.

Abigail swinging from the back of a moving vehicle in an unashamedly flouncy gown is one of the more memorable images from the film. Moreover this contradiction between action spectacle and delicate formal wear was far from unintentional; it transpires costume designer Judianna Makovsky was well aware of the irony.

Diane Kruger’s first appearance onscreen however is not grandiose. She is introduced playing a studious, slightly cheeky character; serious about her job, yet not above the odd bout of sarcasm (upon hearing Gates no longer has a vital clue to prove his wild hypothesis, “Did Bigfoot take it?”). She has an insatiable curiosity too, like Gates, but has a way to go before joining his side:

Black single breasted suit, two button fastening, lightly padded shoulders; silver grey silk shirt with collar worn outside jacket lapel.

The suit is by New York design label Theory. It is conspicuously simple, as per Theory’s ethos; immediately drawing attention to Kruger’s obvious yet not overbearing beauty. Her blonde hair contrasts starkly against the dark jacket causing her stand out even more.

With Abigail in a serious job and only earning a government salary she needed to be well turned out, though not appear too moneyed or couture. The suit was purchased for Diane Kruger’s screen test and looked so striking was then retained for the final film.

As the story moves ahead at frantic pace with Gates and wisecracking aide Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) planning a break in of the National Archives to steal the Declaration of Independence so baddie Ian Howe (Sean Bean) can’t steal it instead (works in the story context, surprisingly), Kruger gets another quick costume change:

High rollneck sweater in chocolate brown cashmere, tweed skirt.

Both are clearly expensive wool items, tweed for durability and cashmere for finery. The chocolate brown sweater was purchased on location in Washington DC, possibly at TSE Cashmere. The way it drapes draws attention to the actress’ form; same with the tweed skirt which was re-cut for a more precise fit. In a narrative context this gently provocative ensemble hints at the upcoming love story between Abigail and Gates.

Before we can get to this point however, Gates has to steal the Declaration. Sneaking into an evening gala at the Archives in disguise, he swaps workman’s overalls for a likely rented black tuxedo. Abigail on the other hand has probably spent an entire month’s salary on her outfit. The results of which are stunning:

Midnight blue silk gazar evening dress with matching lace overlay, fitted bodice with chiffon bow to waist, deep v-neck to front and back, full skirt with under-netting; short blue velvet jacket with flared sleeves, black high heel shoes, open toe with ankle straps; vintage ruby stone earrings.

Although the dress looks black on screen it is actually midnight blue (slightly visible when Abigail leaves the Archives and backlight shines through the chiffon). This colour variation is possibly due to the demands of motion picture lighting. The former Prince of Wales, Edward VII, reputedly had two types of dinner suit on standby, a black for outdoor functions and a midnight blue for indoor. Under artificial light, dark blue can appear as black; a better black than black in fact.


The dress’ luxury organza fabric is a crisp, heavy silk gazar from Paris with dyed lace to match; the jacket is blue silk velvet and chiffon. Based on an original design by Judianna Makovsky, the finished article was made by her long-time collaborator John David Ridge.


With Diane Kruger’s hair swept up and away from her shoulders, focus is drawn to those dazzling ruby red earrings. Genuine 19th century Russian, they were supplied by L.A. based jewellery merchant Vicki Lynn. These earrings coolly offset the demureness of the dress, enlivening it with just a hint of glitz. That they date from the 1800s nods to Abigail’s love of history.


Makovsky asserts that her dress takes inspiration from the work of renowned sculptural evening wear designer Charles James, most active during the 1940s. His extravagant creations would spiral around the body in heavy fabrics with unusual colour combinations.


There is an interesting (unintentional) parallel in place with Judianna Makovsky’s dress for Diane Kruger and Edith Head’s Dior-inspired gowns for Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954). Evidently construction is similar to her Paris dress, though later in the film Kelly dons a full skirted flowery number before scaling a building. This contrast between almost disproportionately feminine attire, its impracticality and inappropriateness, and the very physical action happening on screen creates a visually arresting image for the spectator.


A similar situation plays out in National Treasure as Abigail is tossed around on the back of a moving van like an extravagantly dressed rag doll. Makovsky confirms that one of the intentions behind this scene was to be amusing; it was supposed to look ‘wrong’. The contrast is what provides the humour. National Treasure is, after all, not supposed to be gritty realistic; the emphasis is on fun.

Before moving onto Abigail’s change four outfit it is worth noting the unusual costume worn by Harvey Keitel as FBI investigator Peter Sadusky:


Brown plaid wool jacket, single breasted, two button; medium blue denim shirt with button down collar, red and yellow Marine Corps necktie, dark tan slacks.

Much of Sadusky’s distinctive plain clothes uniform was suggested by Keitel himself, eager to reflect a more individual look than the cliché FBI image of dour suits and plain cotton shirts. Hoping to get across semblance of Sadusky’s past, he also put forward the regimental necktie idea. This helps explain why Sadusky is so impressed with Gates and his naval diving experience from the outset.


By employing this uncustomary look for a federal agent, Keitel has ensured his character stands out from the herd. Though not from a vanity perspective; we get to know and like Sadusky considerably more than other similar characters from similar movies. By costume alone we understand him and his sympathies that bit better.

With Abigail now on the run from Howe and his mercs and Sadusky’s FBI task force, she understandably has to lose the poufy dress, no matter how pretty it looks. Her next ensemble puts Diane Kruger’s ‘capsule costume’ in place for almost the remainder of the film:


Brown suede western style jacket, black zip front sweater, pale blue low slung boot-cut jeans; grey vest, big buckle brown leather belt with copper eyelets, golden brown leather boots.

Despite serving a worthwhile purpose in character development, the scene in which Abigail and Gates bond at an Urban Outfitters was actually a late addition to the script. As the costumes had already been selected, Judianna Makovsky had to think of a store where the two protagonists could feasibly buy these clothes. Urban Outfitters was within shooting distance and so seemed like the logical choice.

The suede jacket was by Abercrombie & Fitch; inexpensive as several were needed, presumably due to all the leaping about undertaken by Kruger and stunt double Lisa Hoyle in the latter half of the film. Sweater brand remains undetermined, though is confirmed as a designer piece (one of the few in National Treasure). The cowboy style leather boots were purchased at a Barneys Co-op (young trend version of the famous New York department store).


Overall this outfit is less appealing in an action context than the evening dress because all visual disparity is lost. It does, however, wholly serve the story requirements.

Following a packed last act whereby Gates and co find the missing gold, Sadusky is revealed as a Freemason and Howe gets arrested for what looks to be a minor act of breaking and entering, Diane Kruger is given one final, brief costume change:


Blue pattern dress with horizontal stripes of alternating weight, knee length, v-neck with drawstring bow; unembellished light grey cardigan with full length sleeves, grey high heel shoes with closed toe and ankle strap.

Possibly obvious to the viewer, but this scene was filmed after principal photography had finished. One assumes its intention was to close the story with less unanswered questions (yes, they did get together, they did get rich and, no, Gates is not greedy). Abigail’s summer dress and fine knitwear certainly brings out her softer side.


Shot with a quick turnaround, the dress was remade and re-cut to fit (Judianna Makovsky liked the fabric, so perhaps why the dress was chosen?). Kruger plays Abigail as bookish yet playful in this scene. Even with her sensible tied back hair and well thumbed journal under arm we do not consider for a second that Abigail will sit out the inevitable sequel. Though that epic blue evening dress has gone for good.

National Treasure is a solid example of slick, no-nonsense costume design; unobtrusive to the narrative (unless it wants to be, e.g. Sadusky’s necktie) yet still eye-catching, especially where Diane Kruger is concerned. For the 2007 follow up however it is Nicolas Cage who gets the liveliest makeover – Ben Gates buys a beige suit.

With thanks to Judianna Makovsky.

© 2009 – 2010, Chris Laverty.

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