The race for the 2013 Best Costume Design Academy Award is a tight one, with several front-runners and favored films in the mix. Leading the pack for the likely top award winner is American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell with costume design by Michael Wilkinson. As with most favored award winners, this is a period movie, although the period here is the recent past; the free-wheeling 1970s.
The plot is loosely based on the Abscam bribery scandal of that era, and the setting is New Jersey and Manhattan. For the gowns and dresses, Wilkinson looked back at the fashions of Halston, Yves St. Laurent, and Diane Von Furstenburg.
Amy Adams wore several very low-cut gowns and blouses in the movie. Wilkinson dressed her in these revealing outfits to give her an air of sexy empowerment, and in keeping with her role, to lure clients to her particular business with partner Christian Bale.
Amy Adams as Sydney competes with Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn for the love of Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld. The contrast in the color and texture of the gowns emphasized that competition, as well as in the amount of cleavage revealed.
The men’s costumes displayed all the worst taste of the 1970s. The photo above is very restrained and looks good. But most of the others purposefully show mis-matched colors, textures, and patterns such as polka-dots, stripes, large herring-bone patterns and the like. While these were certainly around at the time, they seem exaggerated in the film.
Another award magnet is 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen and designed by Patricia Norris. The story is based on the diary of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the ante-bellum South.
Solomon is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, shown above with his family, living the life of a mostly prosperous free man of color. His clothes and his family’s indicate a middle-class life.
The costumes for slaves presented a challenge for Norris. They are not well represented visually in historical sources, so Norris began reading contemporary accounts. She relied on a method of costuming that used styles of clothing that were slightly out-of-date, and in those times were likely hand-me-downs. Since these still had to be made new for the film, they also had to be thoroughly aged, distressed, and often hand painted with dye.
12 Years a Slave has been both a critical favorite and a period film, a good combination for winning a Best Costume Oscar.
Another period film nominee is The Invisible Woman, directed by Ralph Fiennes, who also stars as Charles Dickens, along with Felicity Jones as Nelly, the young woman who loves him. The costumes were designed by Michael O’Connor.
One of the challenges for the designer was that the film took place during two different time periods, the 1850s and the 1880s. In the 1850s, Nelly is young and timid. O’Connor dresses her in light colors with simple bow accents.
And Dickens liked Nelly to look young and girlish (he was married at the time). Dickens himself dressed somewhat as a dandy in his youth, so O’Connor on occasion put him in velvets and brighter colors.
In the second part of the film Nelly is older and Dickens has died. At this point O’Connor dresses her in darker grays, stripes, and tartans, with a more structured 1880s silhouette.
The Invisible Woman was not widely seen in the U.S. While Academy voters are all provided copies of the nominees for voting purposes, this is a movie that had no buzz.
Another nominee without wide distribution was The Grandmaster, directed by Kar Wai Wong and starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Ziyi Zhang. This is the first nomination for costume designer William Chang.
Chang is a frequent collaborator with director Kar Wai Wong. Chang is also a production designer and an interior designer. It took Chang two years to collect the beads, ribbons, lace, and materials for the costumes in the film.
As with The Invisible Woman, The Grand Master was not viewed by many, and has had little Oscar award promotion.
The final nominee is The Great Gatsby. The movie made a big splash when it was released last May, but that was a long time ago in Oscar-nomination and voter-memory time.
The film was directed by Baz Luhrmann, and starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, along with Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. The costume designer was Catherine Martin, the wife of director Baz Luhrmann.
The leading men’s costumes were provided by Brooks Brothers. Miuccia Prada designed some forty dresses for the party scene, adapting many from Prada’s own archives. Elizabeth Debicki is shown below in one of the party dresses, heavily bejeweled for the occasion. The jewelry for the costumes and the actors was provided by Tiffany. The flapper look is always cycling back in style, and 2012-2013 was one of those fashion cycles.
Carey Mulligan as Daisy had that beautiful yet delicate look that was particularly attractive in dressed in cream colored laces and silver sequins, with Tiffany pearl necklaces and silver headbands of course.
My own favorite costume movie was not nominated –The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, designed by Trish Summerville (Katniss’ wedding gown was designed by Tex Saverio). For a separate awards program, the movie was nominated by the Costume Designers Guild for Excellence in Fantasy Film. Costume designers finally have their own Costume Designers Branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. For some reason, movies in trilogies like The Hobbit, or previously The Lord of the Rings, and now Catching Fire (although four movies will actually be made), don’t get nominated for Best Costume. This didn’t seem to be the case, however, with The Godfather part II, which won for Best Costume in 1974. And in this case, each of the Hunger Games movies had different costumes, and a different setting, and to my eye, those of Catching Fire were markedly more interesting than its predecessor. Who’s to say the third or fourth would be the best, if that’s what they are waiting for?
In the L.A area where most of the voters live, the Oscar nominees in all major categories are getting a lot of publicity. In the case of American Hustle and and 12 Years a Slave, additional publicity is being given to related personalities. Diane von Furstenberg is being celebrated for the 40th anniversary of the wrap dress, one of which Amy Adams wore in American Hustle. And as for 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong’o who plays Patsey in the movie has been hailed as the new fashion plate in magazines and blogs alike. Given the inclination of Academy voters to favor period films, I would predict 12 Years a Slave to beat out American Hustle as well as the others for Best Costume Design for 2013. All of these movies were excellently costumed, and their designers should all be proud of their excellent work.