OSCAR: Behind-The-Seams With Costume Designers For 'Alice In Wonderland', 'Black Swan', 'The King's Speech', 'The Tempest'

Costume Designers Guild Names Nominees

(Freelancer Elizabeth Snead is helping Deadline’s awards coverage)

Colleen Atwood, Alice in Wonderland:

Previous films: Won two Oscars for Chicago and Memoirs Of A Geisha. Six Oscar nominations for Sweeney Todd, Nine, Lemony Snicket, Sleepy Hollow, Beloved, Little Women.

Behind-the-seams: “The Hatter’s look was based on the real hatters who used mercury in their trade which poisoned them and made them go mad. It also caused the hair to turn a very fried red color and their skin to get very pale…

“We wanted the Mad Hatter’s bow tie droopy but when he cheered up, such as when Alice came around, he perked up and his tie would also get happy. It was controlled by Johnny so he could make it happen when he felt it…

“We got very lucky for Johnny’s hat, I found some laser-cut leather in Italy that looked like it had been burned, then re-embroidered with gold thread. Right before we did our first fitting with him, I thought ‘Oh my God, I can’t figure out how the hat is going to look without the hair.’ Those pictures can never see the light of day because we literally stuffed a clown wig in the hat. We were dying laughing because he looked like Bozo…

“Shoes are a passion of mine and I knew that because Johnny walked on a table that we would see them. So we etched subversive things on the shoes like ‘Down with Bloody Big Head’. You can’t really read it but I love doing all those details. It makes me laugh and it’s part of character building…

“All Johnny’s tools of his trade — scissors, threads, thimbles, a pin cushion — were period items I found in flea markets on Portobello Road in London and online…

“Johnny has it in his contract that he keeps his wardrobe. He has an archive of all his costumes from all his films and people who catalog and preserve them. He loves that part of the process and he always has.”

Amy Westcott, Black Swan
Previous films: The Wrestler

Behind-the-seams: “It was Natalie who recommended Rodarte. It was important to her and Darren asked me if it was OK. I met with Laura and Kate Mulleavy and I saw their feathered Vulture collection (I think it was Spring 2010). It seemed very appropriate. We communicated using Skype because they were in LA and we were shooting in New York…

“The biggest key for my research was watching actual classes and talking to actual dancers at the American Ballet Theatre and City Ballet. I couldn’t take photos but they allowed me to sit in and made sketches and talked to the girls afterwards. I got to see what was realistic and functional, how they put on and took off layers…

“All the lead characters are based on characters in the ballet. Nina, the White Swan, wears pale colors. When Nina loses her innocence, she starts to dress a little darker. By the end of the film, she’s all in black for the first time…

“Nina’s sheer shrug was to cover the scars on her back. We looked everywhere for the right one. We cut the feet off tights and she put her arms through the legs, something dancers do. It was authentic but was also important for the character. And I love the scene where she’s breaking in her shoes. It shows the violence of this art form that looks so beautiful and graceful.”

Louise Stjernsward, Made in Dagenham

Previous films: Stealing Beauty, Sexy Beast, The Dreamers.

Behind-the-seams: “It was in the script that it had to be a Biba dress and two girls had to wear it and Sally was quite a bit smaller than Rosamund. I tried to find an original but didn’t. Then I bought a book about Biba, which was such a great shop and so inexpensive, and I saw the iconic mage of this dress. I had two made and made Sally’s a little big on her to make credible that she’d borrowed it from Ros…

“I watched a lot of footage of the real women, and the film is slightly glamorized. Sally wanted to keep her character very low key in the beginning. She’s a working girl with two kids, so it’s clothes from that era but practical, simple. As her confidence grows, she gets a bit more stylish but then she also had less money so I tried to do it with color…

“Barbara Castle [Labour Cabinet minister] actually wore a white blouse and skirt to that famous meeting with the women. I tried that but it didn’t suit Miranda and she didn’t feel right in it so we got the dresses and little suits instead, mostly sober colors, even one made of crimplene, a popular but ghastly thick, wash and wear polyester….

“We’d bought tons of period stuff from Portobello Road and vintage markets, irrespective of size, and we’d decide which outfits were right for main characters and took the rest for the crowd scenes.”

Jenny Beavan, The King’s Speech

Past Awards: Won an Oscar for A Room With Aa View. Nominated seven times for The Bostonians, Maurice”, Howards End, The Remains Of The Day, Sense And Sensibility, Anna And The King, Gosford Park.

Behind-the-seams: “We had an incredibly short prep time, just five and a half weeks. So thank god for the Internet. There is an incredible amount of archival footage online – Pathe News — of the Duke and Duchess of York. I had no idea and I was very grateful. We also got the spirit in family photographs that you can find as well as books and souvenir albums from the coronation…

“The Queen mother loved fur. She had fur trim on practically everything. Not to get PETA riled up, we used very old furs, nothing new. Even though she wore a lot of blues and mauves, the colors were too theatrical on film and too strong on Helena so we used muted softer hues…

“As for those royal uniforms, they don’t exist in costume houses. We found a belt there, an eaglet here, epaulets in a vintage market. We made the neck orders and that interesting necklace Colin wears. Colin was always anxious to look as thin as possible. The real Duke was terribly slight. Colin is not as slight so he didn’t wear the jacket under the topcoat most of the time and we got away with it because of the scarf…

“I wanted to put Geoffrey in more sport coats and trousers but he felt Lionel Logue would put on his smart suit when he knew the Duke was coming…

“One of Guy Pearce’s Duke of Windsor suits was an original from the period. It was a bit moth-eaten, so we did some good darning. I’m terribly fond of Guy’s suit at Balmoral. I found a short length of checked tweed at a Cosgrove Costume House, just enough to do a jacket and trouser. The fabric truly was a gift from the costume gods.”

Sandy Powell, The Tempest

Past Awards: Three Oscar wins for The Young Victoria, The Aviator, Shakespeare In Love. Also Oscar nominations for Mrs. Henderson Presents, Gangs Of New York, Velvet Goldmine, and Orlando.

Behind-the-seams: “Julie wanted the characters that lived on the island to look like they were part of it. So that’s how it started, looking at images of a place (Lanai) I had never been too. It was quite extraordinary, after making some of Helen’s costumes, going there and seeing them in situ, in the environment…

“In the script, Prospera’s magic cloak is described as being made of ‘shards of glass and light.’ Julie talked about obsidian and that’s when the volcanic lava images came into play. It’s truly an experimental piece, more like a sculpture than clothing. And even though the painted plastic pieces were thin and light, when there are 3,000 of them, it was quite heavy. It was nicknamed ‘The Monster’ by my crew. It had to be carried up and down the mountain like a dead body. During the storm scene, Helen had these powerful wind machines on her, so these plastic things would ping off all the time. We all had to stand by with glue guns, constantly repairing it during shooting…”

“The idea was for Prospera to look androgynous. Her clothing had to be practical and also have this feeling of coming from the landscape. The shapes were inspired by Japanese fashion designers. The colors are natural, indigo, the color of the sky and sea. The browns and sands work with the land, almost as a kind of camouflage…

“Julie wanted the court costumes to look like those in Goya or Velasquez’s paintings, very dark but also metallic. It did come out looking very Jacobean or Elizabethan. So to avoid it looking too period, I went with zippers instead of jewels or braid. They were all functional zippers.”

Nicoletta Massone, Barney’s Version

Previous Awards: Won an Emmy for Zelda. Best known for The Notebook.

Behind-the-seams: “It was hard finding ’60s period clothing for both men and women. We made some things and then we rent. Since we were shooting in Italy, we would go to Tirelli Costumi, Ana Moda, and the rental houses. We shopped a lot in Rome. We bought a lot for the men because we found incredible period things from the 60’s and ’70s. But it was harder for the women…

“For Barney’s first wife, her wedding dress, I used a crocheted dress from the ’70s from my private collection. And it fit, even with her pregnancy padding. I found the big floppy hat in Rome and added the flower, which made it look more ’70s…

“For Minnie Driver, I had to make everything for her. You can’t find vintage dresses for such a tall woman. I had a lot of documentation for her character. She was very spoiled, and very rich. One bracelet is not enough, three is better. I love Minnie’s wedding dress. That was fabulous. And she had the body for it. But as with any costume, without the actor to give it the life, it is nothing…

“I always assign a color to every actor/character. If you forget the color, a movie becomes like a carnival. It’s terrible. Giamatti was brown. To show the confusion and gradual loss of Giamatti’s memory, we would leave a button undone or make the cuff a little destroyed or the shoulder pad a little off. And we closed the back of his suit to make him look more hunched, not as square.”

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