Extensive research into the early 1950s enabled Todd Haynes' hair, design and make-up team to create distinctive looks for stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in his brilliant new film Carol

If every picture tells a story, every hairstyle and shade of lipstick does too. In director Todd Haynes’ new film Carol, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play two women who, before they even speak, are already understood by the audience: Carol’s glamorous blonde, brushed-under bob makes a statement of wealth and privilege while Therese’s simple pageboy suggests someone quiet and unassuming.

Haynes’ extensive research into the early 1950s enabled his Emmy-nominated team of hair designer Jerry DeCarlo and head make-up artist Patricia Regan to create distinctive looks for Carol and Therese that change as their relationship evolves.

New York City in 1952 was pivotal for fashion, hair and beauty trends, and was an important turning point in this incandescent love story based on Patricia Highsmith’s second novel.

I had to pluck my eyebrows nearly every day to achieve Carol’s very stern look Cate Blanchett

America was emerging from wartime austerity, and a sense of optimism was pervasive. Breakthroughs in make-up and hair technology brought new looks to American women as documented by fashion and street photographers such as Ruth Orkin, Esther Bubley, Helen Levitt, Vivian Maier and the legendary Saul Leiter, which documented the real life of the city.

To capture this effectively, Haynes embarked on “a fairly ambitious process of culling images and references, from photography, painting and largely other films that help to specify the look that I’m going for... it’s a painstaking process I tend to get a little nerdy about. But it helps me… That’s really what all the creative departments are looking for: specificity.”

In the 1950s, the emphasis was on elegance. There was a new interest in wealth, fashion and celebrity, influenced by movie stars such as Grace Kelly, Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn.

Distinctive look: Rooney Mara as Therese

Hair was shorter, with wavy, collar-length “‘glamour” styles requiring salon attention worn by socialites such as Carol. Those who worked styled their own hair, such as the simple pageboy cut as seen on Therese.

As their relationship changes, so does their hair: Therese’s glossy fringed bob appears more groomed as she grows in confidence while Carol’s coiffed head becomes tousled as she struggles with a confining marriage.

Make-up in the early 1950s was all about bringing out a more natural beauty in a very sophisticated way. Regan meticulously researched the products and colours, making sure there would be no anachronisms.

The eye make-up of the Fifties was simple – fewer shadows but using subtle top lining and light mascara. Eyebrow shapes were clean, arched and crisp, while lips were sharply drawn in shades called Love That Red, Certainly Red, and Fire and Ice.

These well-defined looks match the characters: two women who need to fit into society but who also communicate urgency and interest. They are two lovers in a world where looks speak louder than words.

For Blanchett, the look demanded a little more maintenance than usual: “I had to pluck my eyebrows nearly every day to achieve Carol’s very stern look.”

However, Blanchett understands the necessity for precision. “I always find the hair and make-up process that Todd is involved with a really creative time,” she said in an interview this year.

Glamorous: Blanchett shines as Carol Credit: Rex

“Film is a visual medium and people start putting together the psychology of a character before they open their mouths, and so the look of Carol was very important… But I didn’t want to become too wound up in looking so-called ‘beautiful’.”

Haynes believes that authenticity is part of effective storytelling. “Carol is a low-budget film, a period film, where every detail mattered intensely to the narrative, but also to the development of character.”

It is this attention to detail that makes Carol one of the most exciting and intense romances ever filmed.

• Carol, directed by Todd Haynes and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, is released in UK cinemas on 27 November. Find out more at carolfilm.co.uk