Oscar Spotlight: Costume Design

The nominees are:

Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson for The Irishman

I think I’ve been very clear in years past that I’m a big fan of Sandy Powell; she is a rock star among designers, and she’s given me plenty of reason to blab about her – 15 Oscar nominations, including 2 last year for both The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns, and 3 wins, for Shakespeare In Love, The Aviator, and The Young Victoria. But to be honest, though I had over 3 hours of staring at The Irishman, I can’t say I really noticed it for its costumes. But doing the math, 209 minutes covering 50 years…that’s a lot of suits and ties in an awful lot of time periods. The fact that nothing stood out is probably a credit to Powell, who was so overloaded by the mountain of work she promoted her long-time assistant Christopher Peterson to co-designer. Not only did they clothe 250 characters and 6500 extras, they helped the CGI de-aging process by talking certain gentlemen into Spanx. Think that’s worth a fourth Oscar?

Mayes C. Rubeo for Jojo Rabbit

Although this is Rubeo’s first Oscar nomination, she hasn’t shied away from big looks, having designed for the film Avatar, World War Z and most recently for Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. This was different of course; Jojo Rabbit is a different kind of war movie. Rubeo steeped herself in history but then took creative license, eschewing the strictly drab palette of most WW2-era films. Jojo Rabbit has a different visual arc, one that’s a bit more poetic. Yes she found it morally and ethically challenging to create an army’s worth of Nazi uniforms, but dressing Scarlett Johansson was her true outlet, a spot of joy on screen. Rosie’s shoes were designed and made specifically for the film, a tribute to her eclectic personality and to ‘better, happier times.’ Sam Rockwell’s, shall we say, bedazzled Nazi uniform was in fact a strange homage to Bill Murray, per Rockwell’s request. The Costume Designers Guild created a bit of an upset, awarding its excellence in a period film to Rubeo, and should she take home the Oscar as well, she’d be the first Latina to do so.

Mark Bridges for Joker

The Costume Designers Guild gives out awards for 3 types of movie: period, contemporary, and sci-fi/fantasy. The Oscars only have 1 category for costumes and they almost always give it to a period piece (you’ll notice that all the nominees this year are); one of the very few times they’ve deviated was for Black Panther, a comic book movie. So you might say that Joker qualifies twice. This s Mark Bridges’ fourth nomination, and he’s got 2 wins under his belt, including one for Phantom Thread. This time, Bridges has to dress both the man and the villain, with the added challenge of Joker’s look already being rather iconic. As to Arthur: “When thinking about Arthur you realize he doesn’t have much style. He dresses for comfort. I imagined if he ever did laundry everything went into the washer at the same time. So we made a kind of bad laundry feel to the clothing. It’s those subtle choices you can make for a character that informs the audience who they are and how they live.” Though every piece was made for the film, it was then distressed to give it a thrift store feel. As for the Joker’s suit, Bridges felt comfortable designing away from the looks of previous iterations. He used only pieces he felt Arthur would have had in his closet – the pants are seen previously in the film, the vest is actually reused from his work clown costume, the teal shirt an extension of the makeup on his face. It’s a more organic approach, but just as iconic in its own way.

Jacqueline Durran for Little Women

This is Durran‘s 7th Oscar nomination, with a win for Anna Karenina in 2013. She was inspired by the works of Massachusetts painter Winslow Homer and soft portraitures of British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, carving out character-defining contrasts and colour palettes for each sister. Durran used a fiery red and indigo blue palette for Saoirse Ronan’s Jo, an energetic, creative tomboy, and dressed her in corset-free clothes that she could move freely in. Little Women is exactly the kind of period piece the Academy favours, so don’t you dare discount it.

Arianne Phillips for Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood

Phillips’ credits include Walk The Line, A Single Man, and Nocturnal Animals. This is her third nomination and some predict her first win. The costumes in Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood include costumes that the characters wear on the sets of the movies within the movie – Rick Dalton appears in a western, and a Bruce Lee film, whereas Sharon Tate appears in real movies. Furthermore, she was a fashion icon during an already iconic time in fashion. Phillips had lots of room to play, splashing around in go-go boots and miniskirts, even wrangling actual pieces of Tate’s jewelry from her sister. Dalton’s look is a little stuck in the 50s while Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, has more of a nod to youth culture, distinct from the more mod look sported by Tate.

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