Awards Week: Costume Design Nominations

[UPDATE: I started this before the BAFTA and CDG winners were announced so…]

Generally speaking costume design nominations at the Oscars and the BAFTAs tend to 1) be nearly identical and 2) focus mostly on period or fantasy films. And this year is no different.

The Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design are 12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris), American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson), The Grandmaster (William Chang Suk Ping), The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin) and The Invisible Woman (Michael O’Connor). The list includes two previous Oscar winners, two designers with their first nominations and a veteran nominee.

The BAFTA nominations included American Hustle, The Great Gatsby and The Invisible Woman but chose Behind the Candelabra (Ellen Mirojnick) and Saving Mr. Banks (Daniel Orlandi) over 12 Years a Slave and The Grandmaster. But neither of those films can claim to exist outside of the traditional ‘period or fantasy’ quota.

The most interesting costume design nominations come from the Costume Designers Guild (unsurprisingly) where the nominations are split between contemporary, period and fantasy. Three categories in place of one so that all genres can be appreciated. For contemporary we have Blue Jasmine (Suzy Benzinger), Her (Casey Storm), Nebraska (Wendy Chuck), Philomena (Consolata Boyle) and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Sarah Edwards). [Let’s ignore the missing nomination for Stoker (Kurt & Bart) because I can’t get my head around that.] For period we have 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club (Kurt & Bart), The Great Gatsby and Saving Mr. Banks. Then in fantasy we have The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Ann Maskrey, Richard Taylor and Bob Buck), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Trish Summerville) and Oz: The Great and Powerful (Gary Jones and Michael Kutsche).

Unfortunately I haven’t seen all of the nominees so I’ll do my best with this first look through them!

12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris) [Seen]

12 Years a Slave

WINNER – Best Period Costume Design at CDG Awards 22/2.

The costumes in 12 Years a Slave a work as a great example of understated costume. The costumes aren’t ostentatious (except for in scenes with Solomon playing for the wealthy). As the film concentrates on the plight of Solomon Northup we spend most of the time with him and his costumes from free man to slave set up the emotion for the journey. As a slave he wears whatever clothes have been set up him, not intended for him just intended for a body. The real depth in Norris’ costumes are with the distressing and breaking down. The feeling of dirt and sweat pervade the costumes and make everything that bit more real.

Did you really take soil samples from the different plantations?
Oh Lord, I did. Well, we were on, like, five different plantations, and we were trying to age things down so they looked like they belonged there, and the soils down there go from dark to light. We would grab soil before we got there, so when you were aging people and dressing them, they sort of matched.

So the dirt matched the location.
It sounds crazy, but it was very helpful.

[From Q&A with Katie van Syckle from The Cut:]

American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson) [Seen]

American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper walking in street

A film all about people playing a part requires very clear costuming – add the ’70s into that and you have a complex mix. The risk of cartooning the era is always there (and with conmen is even more likely) but Wilkinson skilfully avoids that. American Hustle is about the surface of these characters and their clothing (and hair) play a very important part in their role, both real and perceived. Two of the most interesting characters are Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Throughout the film they are dressing to suit a character – costume design within costume design. DiMaso’s costume change becomes more overt (particularly in the scene where Irving Rosenfeld comments on it). He is seduced by the conman world and his clothing (chosen by Prosser) reflects that. On the other hand, Prosser spends much of the film is her persona of Lady Edith Greensly – plunging necklines all around. But meeting her before this and after is much more interesting to see the “real” Sydney Prosser.

Then with Bradley Cooper’s character– he was kind of a different creature there, too. He is a rather sort of conservative guy working at the FBI in sort of ill-fitting polyester suits and garish ties, but he’s very ambitious, and when he meets the characters played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams, he’s introduced into this whole new world of sophistication and enchantment, so he kind of explores how clothes can affect who people perceive you. So he wears leather jackets and cool sunglasses and three-piece suits and silk scarves. He’s really using clothes to sort of dress as the person he wants to be.

[From interview with Vanessa Martin for Miami New Times:]

Behind the Candelabra (Ellen Mirojnick) [Seen]


WINNER – Best Costume Design for Mini-series at CDG Awards 22/2.

For a film about Liberace the costumes, weirdly enough, help it to feel grounded. Or at least grounded in the extravagant world of Liberace. The journey of Liberace and Scott’s relationship can be seen most clearly through Scott’s costumes but you also get a sense of Liberace’s costumed life.

Blue Jasmine (Suzy Bezinger) [Seen]


WINNER – Best Contemporary Costume Design at CDG Awards 22/2.

The most noticeable aspect of Blue Jasmine is that Jasmine never looks as good as she thinks she does (unless we’re in flashback territory). Every piece she wears, beautifully made, is sweat-stained, wrinkled, just not at its best. That’s the whole feeling of the film. Jasmine is clinging to the life she once had but nothing works as it should. Every item of clothing is worn for too long a time. She has set pieces to be worn to certain meetings or events. When she was in her heyday she would have a myriad of options or the shopping option. Here she is limited. She can’t cope with the real world or the ins and outs like washing clothes. She just clings to the past and to THAT Birkin.

“I know these gals,” Suzy tells Grazia “I know where they shop and how they shop. The truth is, just because they have all the money in the world it doesn’t mean that they shop like crazy. They aren’t frivolous about their clothes they’re serious.”

She says that the ‘Jasmine types’ are calculated about their sartorial purchases. “Their lives are complicated. In one day they will have a ladies luncheon, then go to pick up their kids from school then have to go to a meeting of the board of the New York City ballet. (These women) have to find something to wear that is appropriate for all those occasions.”

[From interview with Priya Elan for Grazia:–cate-blanchett-and-more]

Dallas Buyers Club (Kurt & Bart)


[Jared] Leto was so committed, in fact, that he remained in character as Rayon — an HIV-positive transgender woman — throughout their time together. “We spoke to Jared once on the phone and then [he stayed in character as] Rayon the entire time from the first fitting out of a suitcase and a plastic bag at his airport hotel room [to] right before his first meeting with [director] Jean-Marc [Vallée].”

Because of this, Kurt and Bart often reference Leto by his character’s name when discussing the costume process. And, according to them, Rayon had one definite opinion when it came to what she wore. “The only thing Rayon was adamant about was she never wanted to wear pants,” they explained, noting that Leto declined to wear a pair of “glam, but also very feminine” high-waisted pink flared trousers that the two had presented. “I know Jared was very into embracing the unfamiliar. He explained it as, ‘I know what it feels like to wear pants.’ I think the vulnerability of a dress or skirt helped him find Rayon, which totally makes sense.”

Kurt and Bart also embraced Matthew McConaughey’s extreme weight loss, though it did pose a unique challenge for the costume designers. The only thing tighter than the film’s budget was its 23-day schedule. “Our shooting schedule didn’t allow for any time to shoot Matthew with a little more weight on him for the ‘healthier’ sequences. We worked really hard to tailor the clothes that he repeated in the film so that they fit differently in different parts of the film. Working with single vintage garments, this was a feat of last-minute tailoring. We made him three different lengths of the same belt to add to the effect,” they said. “We found that if his clothes were more fitted it actually made him look healthier instead of emphasizing how thin he was. We played with oversizing his jeans and shirts a bit when he was sicker to make him look smaller.”

[From interview with Lindzi Scharf for Entertainment Weekly:]

The Grandmaster (William Chang Suk Ping)


The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin) [Seen]


WINNER – Best Costume Design at BAFTAs 16/2.

Never before has ‘Damn, That’s Some Fine Tailoring’ felt so appropriate here. There may have been great discussion about Daisy’s costumes and connections with Prada but the men’s suits are the real winners here. Martin’s collaboration with Brooks Brothers means for some beautifully cut suits, if it is a little disconcerting that you can buy copies of them not just suits “inspired by”. Having said that, there aren’t many men who could pull of Gatsby’s pink linen suit. Or would want to be associated with such a blatant copy… But anyway. Gatsby’s clothes perfectly fit with that perception of a man playing a role, especially with his walking stick. There is a showy nature to Gatsby’s clothes that could easily be associated with ‘new money’ particularly when compared to Buchanan’s ‘old money’ suits. His are much more refined and subtle in his own way – lots of double-breasted suits and waistcoats. Double-breasted suits give an impression of power and, as such, are often worn by “villains” or “gangsters” and Meyer Wolfsheim is also seen sporting a double-breasted suit. Then you compare this with Carraway’s clothes. His take on a more traditional ‘New England’ feel with lots of tweed and knitwear. As he is a recent graduate of Yale University and a writer trying to sell bonds this all seems like a great fit.

With the women’s costumes there is a lot paid to excess. At the parties you can barely concentrate for the beads, sequins, pearls and jewels either on the dresses or worn as jewellery, if not both. Jordan’s costumes follow more strictly to the ’20s shape because she has the figure to pull this off. Daisy and Myrtle’s costumes are a much more fitted vision of the ’20s. For Mulligan this is probably to make the dresses more flattering for her (similar was done with Monroe’s costumes in Some Like it Hot) whereas for Fisher this was to fit with the brash Myrtle character. My main costume upset refers to Myrtle. In the book she is brash and clearly doesn’t fit in with ‘The Valley of Ashes’ with Wilson but here the costumes for when she is actually at the gas station seem too extravagant. Especially for the setting. When she is with Buchanan at her flat, that is fine. But with Wilson? The colours and revealing nature of her costume seem ridiculously out of place – especially when you see his reaction to the realisation of her affair and their subsequent argument. Would Wilson really accept her clothing in his workplace?

 [Taken from Film Review: ‘The Great Gatsby’. Yep. Stealing my own “work”.]

Her (Casey Storm)


Call it retro-futurism, a style scheme that filmmakers sometimes employ to make their futuristic worlds feel more persuasive — like in the 1997 film Gattaca, which was set decades into the future but costumed its characters in sleek, timeless forties fashions. The past, then, can serve as the secret ingredient when imagining an onscreen future that will never seem dated, a world totally unmoored from the present in which it was conceived.

“We really don’t need to show it’s the future by putting people in crazy-shaped hats or epaulets,” explains Casey Storm, Jonze’s longtime costume designer, who huddled with artists like Jonze, production designer K.K. Barrett, and Opening Ceremony co-founder Humberto Leon when designing the look of Her. “When we were making rules for this world we created, we decided that it would be better to take things away rather than add them. When you add things that aren’t of this era, you wind up noticing them and it becomes really distracting, so our rules were more like, there won’t be any denim in this film, there won’t be any baseball hats, there won’t be any ties or belts. Even lapels and collars will almost disappear. I think the absence of those things creates a unique world, but you can’t quite put your finger on why that is.”

[From interview with Kyle Buchanan for Vulture:]

Check back later this week for Part Two!

S x


4 thoughts on “Awards Week: Costume Design Nominations

    • Thank you!
      I LOVED Rome – have you heard the rumours of new Rome or rebooted Rome? I am both excited and disappointed at this premise! Re: Hinds’ suit – it’s shocking that so many awards ceremonies are filled with suits tailored for someone else. Ridiculous.
      S x

      • Yes, I have heard a rumor or too, but HBO doesn’t seem interested. Instead we get “Pompeii” and another “300” movie. Spartans in Speedos!!!

  1. Pingback: Awards Week: Costume Design Nominations (Part Two) | Damn, That's Some Fine Tailoring

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