When it comes to meting out naked statuettes for Costume Design, the Academy loves its period looks. Consider the most recent winners: Alice In Wonderland, The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Marie Antoinette. This year, again, there’s no shortage of organza, tweed and cloches from films spanning the late 1920s to the early ’60s. Sure enough, a contender such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo — with its contemporary gritty style — couldn’t upset the trend. AwardsLine contributor Monica Corcoran talked to the nominees about their craft and asked each to do the unspeakable, clothe Oscar himself.
Known for her collaborations with Michael Haneke (Funny Games), the Berlin native is a Hollywood newcomer who says she was lucky to get the chance to work with director Roland Emmerich on this Elizabethan drama. “He gave me artistic license and there were no borders,” she says.
Why it’s Oscar-worthy: The costume designer built almost 200 costumes and boiled, shrank and dyed garments (including Indian saris) to emulate the period. She outfitted Queen Elizabeth I in exaggerated silhouettes that telegraph her outsize ego and love for fashion.
The show-stopper: The black-and-white gown with exaggerated sleeves and huge, pleated skirt that the Queen wears to meet the Earl of Oxford is more dramatic than Karl Lagerfeld. The Medusa-like headdress — made of glass leaves and created at Sands Films in London — feels both antiquated and futuristic.
Biggest challenge: For Christl, it was daunting to costume Vanessa Redgrave, a stage veteran with a scholar’s knowledge of the Elizabethan period.
The Oscar makeover: “I see him in a dark blue heavy wool three-piece suit,” Christl says. “Maybe with a classic white shirt and a simple dark blue tie. I love suits from the 1930s.”
Bridges is Paul Thomas Anderson’s go-to costume designer. His film credits cover myriad eras, from the sophisticated late 1950s in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait Of Diane Arbus to South Boston’s hardscrabble ’80s in The Fighter.
Why it’s Oscar-worthy: Three words: Black and white. In lieu of color, Bridges had to rely on textures like a sequined dress or a brocade robe and outfits with fluidity to convey vibrancy. “It was all about the movement of a fringe skirt or a silk dress,” he says.
The show-stopper: A sensuous black satin and lamé art deco-inspired dress with fur stole that Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) wears to be interviewed. “It’s the pivotal scene in which she puts on the dog and plays the grand movie star,” Bridges says.
Biggest challenge: Finding hats and fabrics that were authentic to the period, which traversed the 1920s and early 1930s. Because the film takes place nearly 90 years ago, Bridges couldn’t source many costumes. (Fragile silks and wools couldn’t withstand the duress of a day’s shoot.) His team re-created most of the looks in eight weeks.
The Oscar makeover: “Oh, the sacrilege!” Bridges says. “I’d put him in white tie and tails with a top hat.”
With nine Academy Award noms and three Oscars to her name, the British Powell is Hollywood’s queen bee. She and Martin Scorsese have teamed up for almost a decade, starting with Gangs Of New York.
Why it’s Oscar-worthy: For the film, set in a Paris train station in 1931, Powell sourced and created more than 800 costumes for extras and had to nail the “exaggerated picture book quality” of the movie. “You’re seeing everything through the eyes of a child,” she says.
The show-stopper: The elaborate Dali-esque costumes (fairies, lobsters) seen in the flashbacks to films of Georges Melies evoke the transporting power of movie-making. Also, Sacha Baron Cohen’s stiff, showy costume as the station inspector perfectly sums up his officious character.
Biggest challenge: Because Powell never knew which extra would be featured in the film, she treated each one as a principal character. “There was no background, so we couldn’t get away with any artistic license,” she says. Also, she had to continually remake the clothes for the spunky young leads (Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz) because they grew during the filming.
The Oscar makeover: “It has to be elegant, so I would dress him as Fred Astaire in tails and a top hat,” Powell says.
British-born O’Connor has a resume steeped in period finery, waistcoats and bustles. He started out as a dresser at London’s Old Vic Theater and went on to nab an Oscar for his sumptuous and lavish looks in 2009’s The Duchess.
Why it’s Oscar-worthy: What you don’t see is impressive. For Jane’s copious undergarments, O’Connor handmade pantaloons, knickers and three-pleated petticoats. All the hems are hand-turned too. He also managed to make plain Jane — in her palette of grays, slate blues and browns — become the focal point amidst more flamboyantly dressed characters.
The show-stopper: In a brilliant dovetail of costume and production design, the lines of one purplish-gray tartan linen frock worn by Jane mirrors the Jacobean windows of Thornfield Hall. Diagonal panels in the bodice also follow the pattern of the smaller windows of the castle.
Biggest challenge: O’Connor struggled to maintain authenticity, while slightly abridging the overbearing look of the early 1800s. “It’s hard to keep it simple when you are dealing with those grand and fussy shapes,” he says. A few shortened hems and minimized silhouettes did the trick. He and director Cary Fukunaga also looked to the mid-1800s for inspiration.
The Oscar makover: “I would keep him nude, but add a bow tie,” says O’Connor. “Why would you change that beautiful shape?”
Oscar-nominated for Walk The Line, Phillips has a rep for obsessively researching periods and dropkicking clichés. After all, this is the woman who dressed the villain in the period Western 3:10 To Yuma in white. She has collaborated with Madonna as her personal stylist for more than a decade.
Why it’s Oscar-worthy: After studying the Duke and Duchess of Windsor for more than two years, Phillips created 60 looks for Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson. No small task when you consider that the royal favored couture by Vionnet and Christian Dior. The end effect is intricate, breathtaking suits and dresses that make you understand how a handsome woman commandeered the spotlight.
The show-stopper: One delightful striped silk day dress with an organza underskirt stands out because it showed Simpson’s fetish for fashion — even while walking her dog.
Biggest challenge: Phillips felt pressure to accurately capture the style icons and their predilection for lavish custom accessories. Case in point: The Duke presented Simpson with a gold medal from Cartier when her terrier Slipper died. (Both Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels made costume jewelry for the film.)
The Oscar makeover: “Is Oscar a man or a woman?” asks Phillips, who, in the end, refused to restyle the prize. “The power of design is also realizing when something works on its own.”