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OSCARS COSTUME DESIGN CONTENDERS 2016

 

The Academy Awards nominees for Costume Design for the movies of 2015 make for a very competitive if diverse field. Mountain men and polecats, princess and trans woman, lesbians and Vuvalini. For costume designer Sandy Powell –  she will even be competing against herself, as she has two nominated contenders: Carol and Cinderella. The five nominees are:

1)  Carol                                                                                                                                    2) Cinderella                                                                                                                        3) The Danish Girl                                                                                                            4) Mad Max: Fury Road                                                                                                5) The Revenant

CAROL  was designed by Sandy Powell. It stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in a 1950s era lesbian relationship between a well-off housewife and a young department store sales clerk. The director Todd Haynes and Sandy Powell wanted to stay true to the 1952 New York setting of the Patricia Highsmith novel. So they looked at the photos of Vivian Maier, Ruth Orkin, and Saul Leiter. Sandy remarked that 1952 fashion was much like late 1940s fashion.

Sandy also went through old Vogue magazines from 1952. Most all of the photography was in black and white, but the designer injected some color into the otherwise monotone yet elegant fashion of the time.

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Although the large mink coat looks vintage, it was made custom from recycled fur for the shape and color that Sandy Powell desired.

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Sandy Powell has been nominated eleven times for a best costume design Oscar, for which she won three awards: Shakespeare in Love (1998); The Aviator (2004); and for The Young Victoria (2009).

 

CINDERELLA was also designed by Sandy Powell. The classic fairy tale was brought to the screen by Disney as a live action movie starring Lily James as Cinderella, Cate Blanchett as the evil step-mother Lady Tremaine,  Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy-Godmother and Richard Madden as the Prince. The gowns for the movie reportedly used some 1.7 million Swarovsky crystals.  Costume designer Sandy Powell was inspired by the 19th century for the look and silhouette of the costumes. “It felt most like a fairy tale world.” she said.

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For Cate Blanchett’s costumes as the evil-stepmother/Lady Tremaine, Sandy Powell used cool colors, colors like green or jewel colors but  that were not “friendly,”

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Cate Blanchett’s wardrobe was based on the more powerful 1940s silhouette and the idea of Marlene Dietrich or Joan Crawford doing a 19th-century movie, according to Powell, but getting it all a bit wrong.

Oscar Fairy Godmother Helena Bonham Carter

For the Fairy Godmother costume, led lights were sprinkled across the dress and especially at the bodice. It was Helena Bonham Carter’s idea to have wings. Doesn’t every fairy godmother have wings?

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Cinderella’s ball gown is made of several layers of yumissima fabric, an extremely light but expensive fabric, each a different color to produce blue. There are blues-greens, lilacs, and lavenders. There are over 200 yards of fabric in all. Underneath is a crinoline made of steel.It is dotted with about 10,000 tiny Swarovski crystals   The bodice is made of crepeline over a corset. The gown is almost as wide as the huge stairs she dramatically descends to the ball.

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The glass slipper was designed based on an actual 1890 shoe, and fabricated by Swarovsky from crystal. It was made smaller than actual size for the model Cinderella holds. For the pair she slips on, these were actually of leather but replaced through CGI to appear as crystal.

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It takes a group of seamstresses to make an eleborate gown such as the Cinderella Ball Gown.

THE DANISH GIRL, designed by Paco Delgado  is based on the groundbreaking case of the transgender surgery of Einar Wegener, a married man. His transformation into Lily Elbe is shown with the effects it had on him and his wife  Gerda, a painter. It stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.

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While posing as a model that didn’t show up for the job, Einar awakens a sense of his true womanly self. The couple stayed together and moved from Denmark to Paris where Gerda became a fashion illustrator.

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The silhouette of the 1920s was very flat-chested and narrow-hipped, which basically suited the dressing of star Eddie Redmayne, although he would have preferred more padding to accentuate curves. Designer Paco Delgado stated that all the curves were achieved through the cut of the costumes or through more volume at the chest or pleating. The fabrics were often taken from vintage dresses but had to be re-made for Eddie’s size.  Paco Delgado used French fashion designers Jeanne Lanvin and Coco Chanel for period inspiration. This is Paco Delgado’s second Oscar Best Costume nomination, the previous time was for Les Miserables in 2012.

 

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A costume for Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl” on exhibit at the Arclight Sherman Oaks. Photo by Jason in Hollywood

 

THE REVENANT  was designed by Jacqueline West and starred Leonardo di Caprio and Thomas Hardy. Its the story of the  frontiersman Hugo Glass that is left for dead by fellow trappers after being mauled by a bear.  Still alive he vows revenge and seeks those who abandoned him. The movie was filmed in the frigid areas of Canada as directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

 

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“Alejandro wanted everything to look very real,” stated Jacqueline West. “Most of the hides came from first nations traders in Canada and we tried to age them by using animal fats and grease and that turned them rancid.” That was bad for the actors. It was West’s dyer/ager that came up with a home-made solution she called “black wax” that ended up being very successful. Soon the director had her stay on the sets all the time with her “black wax” at the ready.

 

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Tom Hardy had the heaviest costume in the movie.  His coat consisted of double elk-skin, double-lined with beaver.

Jacqueline West has been nominated three times for a  Best Costume Oscar. Her two previous nominations were for Quills (2000), and for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

 

MAD MAX; FURY ROAD was designed by Jenny Beavan for stars Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and a cast of hundreds based on the graphic novel directed by George Miller. Beavan started out with an obvious challenge, the mechanical arm for Theron’s Imperator Furiosa character. Several leather shapes were cut-out and draped for what needed to be a key practical yet visually interesting piece. The harness and body suit was finally devised for her iconic look. Charlize Theron was very happy with her costume for the role. As to Theron’s shaved head, that was her idea, although the black grease on the forehead was a trait of the Imperators.

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Charlize Theron’s Imperator costume. Photo courtesy Jasin in Hollywood

The Wives have always been protected and  lived in a climate-controlled environment, and thus dressed unsuitably for the outside elements. Their costumes are made of white cotton and muslin body wraps and shorts.

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The Warboys and Polecats also had their distinctive costumes, denoting their function and fearsome looks. Max also has shoulder-pads, a throw-back to the original Mad Max movie.

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The Best Costume nominations are made by the Costume Designers Branch of the Academy. The Oscar is determined by vote of the entire Academy membership. Traditionally the memberships selects the big historical movies, or fantasies, and their costumes as favorites.  Sandy Powell seems to be a favorite with two nominations. While Cinderella has a disadvantage of having been released earlier in the year, its lavish period costumes makes it a natural for the Academy voters. They receive a screening copy of the movie anyway to view for voting purposes. So I would predict Cinderella to be the Oscar winner for 2015 for designer Sandy Powell.

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Many of the actual costumes from the nominated films are on exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising ( FIDM) Museum in Los Angeles, February 9 through April 30.

 

THE OSCAR BEST COSTUME CONTENDERS

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.

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Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso and Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser

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

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.

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Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld at left with Amy Adams

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.

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Bradley Cooper at left with Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Felicity Jones as Nelly

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.

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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.

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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.

Oscar Copstume Grandmaster

As with The Invisible Woman, The Grand Master was not viewed by many, and has had little Oscar award promotion.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Oscar costume Great Gatsby Elizabeth Debicki

Elizabeth Debicki makes a great flapper

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.

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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.