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Oscar nominations for best costume design - The magic behind creating courtesans, slaves, hustlers and socialites

Posted on 21 January 2014

Best Costume Design Oscar nomination for Michael Wilkinson - American Hustle Best Costume Design Oscar nomination for Michael Wilkinson - American Hustle

I've been fortunate to have been able to play a small part in several motion picture's costumes over the years and have been humbled and fascinated by the process itself.  The amount of time, talent, and energy that goes into creating a collection of costumes that evoke the feeling of the film and define the personalities of the characters is mind boggling, and what appears to be effortless is incredibly difficult to achieve. The costume designer, director, art director, set director, and occasionally the stars themselves, all collaborate to bring magic to the screen in textures and fabric.

Michael Wilkinson Costumes in the 1970's fashion filled film American Hustle Michael Wilkinson Costumes in the 1970's fashion filled film American Hustle

 

Michael Wilkinson did a masterful job in choosing the costumes for American Hustle - he needed every thing from everyday looks to Studio 54 glamour gowns. Wilkinson chose vintage Gucci, Halston, Diane Von Furstenberg and the perfect neckties, hair pieces and vests to bring the 70s back to life on the big screen.

Amy Adams is carrying a Dressing Vintage Gucci Vintage handbag in American Hustle Amy Adams is carrying a Dressing Vintage Gucci Vintage handbag in American Hustle

 

Dressing Vintage provided several pieces for the film including some of the men's clothing and several handbags, including this 1970s vintage Gucci shoulder bag.

Michael Wilkinson's 1970s fashions in American Hustle are nominated for an Oscar  Michael Wilkinson's 1970s fashions in American Hustle are nominated for an Oscar

 

In an interview with Guise, Michael Wilkinson describes the process of designing the costumes for American Hustle

 "For this film, it was a period film, so we did lots and lots of research into the period, both high-end photographers, but also the sort-of everyday images from magazines, advertising, and editorials. We really look at all of the different pop-culture references that would be pertinent to the movie. I always try to capture with the style of the illustration something of the mood of the film. I like the idea that these were very strong, punchy images- the background is white. The poses are very dynamic. It's got sort of a sweaty, gritty reality which is great for the film. I sort of requested that with my illustrator when we were talking about the style. I gave him references for poses and images from the period that we thought were inspirational. And then I went through with Warren (Masner) the details of the costumes and I did pencil sketches of the lines of the costumes and the silhouettes and the design lines and showed him references of fabrics, colors and he put them together. And then we came back with more feedback and eventually we came up with the illustrations."

Patricia Norris is nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design for 12 Years A Slave  Patricia Norris is nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design for 12 Years A Slave

 

Patricia Norris created the 1800's costumes for 12 Years a Slave with subtle perfection.  Sometimes I think that films with less glamorous costumes don't get the Academy's attention so I was so thrilled that Norris was nominated.  Her painstaking attention to detail and history are amazing and  I was particularly impressed with the way her costumes portrayed the economic status of the slave owners.  These weren't the wealthy Virginia farmers whose clothing would have been much more opulent, these were middle class farmers and the clothing reflected that so well.

12 Years a Slave best costume nomination for Patricia Norris 12 Years a Slave best costume nomination for Patricia Norris

 

When asked where she found materials for research for the costumes, during an interview with The Cut, Patricia Norris said,

"I found out there wasn't any. It’s before cameras, so you have to read a lot, and most books, you’ll get maybe a couple of pages of things that become interesting to you visually. There were etchings done in the period, but they don’t tell you a lot, because I think they’re done by people who have never been to the South. It was always the happy slave with his lunch lying under a tree. You just really have to find out where people came from and how they got their clothes, which were all hand-me-downs, and the slave owners were responsible for these people and clothing them. The women’s clothes had to be earlier, so they looked like they were cast off from the owners."

Patricia Norris is nominated for her work on the costumes in 12 Years a Slave Patricia Norris is nominated for her work on the costumes in 12 Years a Slave

 

The stars of The Great Gatsby Leonardo Dicaprio and Carey Mulligan in Catherine Martin's' gorgeous costumes The stars of The Great Gatsby Leonardo Dicaprio and Carey Mulligan in Catherine Martin's' gorgeous costumes

Catherine Martin won 2 Oscars for her work on Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge so it's no surprise that he used her again for The Great Gatsby.I love both Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan so I was excited to see their interpretations of Daisy and Jay.  To my surprise, the real stars of the movie were Martin's fantastical costumes.  Her designs are always such an imaginative interpretation of the era, and yet they are still historically accurate, and I find them to be simply magical.

 

Catherine Martin did the fantastical 1920s costumes for The Great Gatsby Catherine Martin did the fantastical 1920s costumes for The Great Gatsby

 

In an article in House Beautiful, Catherine Martin described the design process working on The Great Gatsby "Baz had been thinking about doing The Great Gatsby for 10 years, but we only started developing the script about three years ago. Baz is a visualist, so he will always have a very particular mental picture for how he wants to see a story come to life. In the initial design briefings for a project, he might bring to the table anything from a verbal concept to tear sheets to a sketch that he's drawn himself. Alternatively, he might assign particular research projects, which will in turn uncover what the design language should ultimately be."
 

The Great Gatsby was reinvented for the screen with the wonderful costumes by Catherine Martin The Great Gatsby was reinvented for the screen with the wonderful costumes by Catherine Martin

 

Catherine Martin was involved in all aspects of design, including the sets, so there is a cohesiveness to the feel of the film that could only be done with collaboration and a comprehensive view.

 William Chang Suk Ping is nominated for his 1930s costumes in The Grandmaster  William Chang Suk Ping is nominated for his 1930s costumes in The Grandmaster

 

In The Grandmaster, William Chang Suk Ping (working with Alfred Yau Wai Ming) had to recreate everything from a drab monochromatic pre-industrial Foshan brothel,  to a vibrant, dramatic post-war Hong Kong filled with sun-bleached colors. Chang spent years collecting period fabrics, vintage wallpaper and props. (Chang also edited the film with Benjamin Courtines and Poon Hung Yiu.)

 

 

This film deservedly is nominated for best costume design and I love the combination of Western and traditional fashions.  In one of the film's photographs, the star is wearing a 1930s leopard trimmed coat and in another,  a traditional silk cheongsam.

 

William Chang spent hours with his team to turn 21st century actresses into 1930s courtesans and the result is brilliant.

 

Michael O'Connor captured Dicken's era fashions in The Invisible Woman Michael O'Connor captured Dicken's era fashions in The Invisible Woman

 

British costume designer Michael O'Connor is no stranger to Oscar nominations.  He won the award at the 2009 Academy Awards for his work on The Duchess.  He is nominated this year for his work on The Invisible Woman, a story about the relationship of Charles Dickens with his mistress.

When asked about the biggest challenge he faced designing the costume epic, in Studio System News, O'Connor said,

"The challenge was Felicity. You see Felicity today with this dark hair and these great clothes, and what we had to do was make her more dressed-down and mouse-like … One of the challenges was to portray her as a girl in the background, but a girl that Dickens would start looking at. She wasn’t ostentatious; it was very difficult."

Good luck to all of the Academy Award nominees for for Best Costume Design this year!  I have a little bias towards American Hustle, but consider them all to be worthy of the Oscar!  What is your pick?

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