Category Archives: Costume Design

A Tribute to The Hunger Games

As long as you can find yourself, you’ll never starve.”  Katniss Everdeen is the iconic heroine of The Hunger Games, both a wildly popular and groundbreaking book and movie.  Author Suzanne Collins seamlessly weaves politics, history, philosophy and social commentary into a young adult action-adventure novel about a dystopian society, so it’s no surprise she also has a lot to say about the role of appearance in this horrifying future. Oscar-nominated costume designer Judianna Makovsky (for her stunning work in Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) was given the herculean task of bringing the style of The Hunger Games to the silver screen.  For the past week, we’ve highlighted some of the film’s most memorable moments, looks and costumes.  The Hunger Games begins in the home of Katniss (played by Jennifer Lawrence) in District 12 – a depressed mining area in former North America.  Katniss spends most of her time hunting with her best friend, Gale (played by Liam Hemsworth, pictured, above left) and providing sustenance for their families, since their fathers were killed in the mine.  Makovsky told Vogue, “We looked at a lot of photographs of coal mining districts from the turn of the century to the 1950s, because we wanted it to have a very American feel.”  The people of Katniss’s district are starving and struggling to survive, so they’re not very worried about looking good.  Makovsky continues, “We wanted to make a very serious impact, and color was very important – to keep it mostly gray or blue… very cold because coal leaves a black dust everywhere.”  The lack of color throughout District 12 certainly gives it a bone-chilling look, and makes the over-the-top publicist Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, pictured, above right) stick out even more when she comes to collect the male and female tributes for the games.  While the children of District 12 appear in fifty shades of grey, like Katniss’s sister, Primrose (pictured, above left), Effie appears in bright magenta, crazy makeup and a powdered wig.  Makovsky was inspired by the Elizabethan era, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen, to create the frivolous and frightening citizens of the Capitol.  She told Vogue, “I just thought it would be funny if these people, who have such a vicious streak in them, are sort of covered in flowers and ruffles.”  When Katniss sacrifices herself by volunteering to take the place of Prim, she and the male tribute of District 12, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), leave for the capital city of Panem.  They make their first impression on the Capitol by arriving in a glorious chariot ride, hand in hand (pictured, above).  Along with Effie, Katniss and Peeta are accompanied into hell by the only living victor from District 12, Haymitch Abernathy (played by the fantastic Woody Harrelson).  Haymitch (pictured, below left) is a drunk, and is living proof happiness doesn’t always come with winning… Makovsky told EW, “He had won the game, he had money… We didn’t want him to be the cliché filthy, dirty drunk. There’s a bit of a dandy about him. He puts on a bit of a front so you don’t really know who he is… he knows how to play the games. He’s done it before. And we thought he would dress for the capital. So he has a little bit of Edwardian cut to his clothes.”  In the days before entering the arena, Katniss and Peeta have to show off to the Capitol, too, to gain sponsors, who can pay for items, like food and medicine when they’re in the arena.  They also face several days of “training,” which might as well just being a showing-off session to their competitors… Each tribute wears a black tracksuit with grey and red piping and their district number adorned on their sleeves (pictured, above).  Following this physical training, they also take part in televised interviews with TV host Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci).  Waiting to meet with him, the future killers are lined up in different shades of pastels, like lethal Easter eggs.  Katniss and Peeta stand out, once again, in a coordinating gown of flames and a dark suit – just like coal and fire.  But it turns out, there is a burning passion inside of Peeta Mellark, too.  Sexy duo Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson weren’t the only men who got to wear significant costumes.  Katniss’s stylist, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) makes her come alive through clothing, but he dresses pretty simply, himself, in a black Lurex Prada sweater and his famous gold eyeliner.  Stanley Tucci is completely redone as TV host Caesar Flickerman (pictured, below left), with false teeth, bright blue hair and a sparkly suit to match.  And according to the Washington Post, even President Snow (played by the highly under-appreciated Donald Sutherland, pictured, below right) had costumes with deep secrets.  If you notice, he wears a white clergy shirt underneath his suit made of sharkskin – it’s obvious why he’s wearing clothing made of a vicious animal, but that’s certainly saying something about religious oppression/manipulation by putting him in a clergy collar…  When Katniss and Peeta are finally thrust into the Games, it seems their getups match, once again.  In the book, all of the tributes wear identical outfits in the arena, but that didn’t work on film.  Makovsky told EW, “It was my problem to find a look that looked good on boys and girls, and from kids that are age 12 to age 18… All the jackets were specifically dyed – that took forever just to find colors that would read in the woods.”  Apparently, the jackets read quite well – because they’re now available to purchase online!  Between Katniss’s bow-and-arrow skills, and the upcoming Pixar film, Brave, we’re sure archery lessons are going to go through the roof, but that isn’t the only thing from The Hunger Games that is catching fire… Not only are the arena jackets for sale, so are the training uniforms, backpacks, makeup, and numerous mockingjay accessories on Amazon, Etsy and Cafe Press, among many other outlets.  Despite the fictional novel’s futuristic element, Suzanne Collins has created one of the most realistic female characters of all-time.  This is a strong girl who knows herself, and isn’t ashamed of who she is – a rarity among many “heroines” that Hollywood and publishers seem to churn out.  Katniss Everdeen is a hunter, sister, daughter, tribute, rebel, friend, soldier, symbol, survivor – she IS the mockingjay.  And this bird isn’t going to stop singing any time soon…

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Titanic: A Film to Remember

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the day the Titanic fell to the bottom of the Atlantic, and we wanted to honor the vessel and her passengers, by discussing costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott’s intricate and beautiful early 20th-century Edwardian dresses that Kate Winslet wore in the film that was made fifteen years ago.  In order for this editor to write this piece, and do it justice, I decided to watch it for the Nth time.  (Our other editor got to see it in 3D last week, and said it was truly spectacular.)  Having been just shy of my eleventh birthday, when I first saw the film, all I knew was Leonardo was incredibly handsome; I hated Kate Winslet, because she was making out with my future husband; and I adored all of the dresses Kate’s character, Rose DeWitt Bukater, got to wear.  I no longer hate Kate – I have actually grown to appreciate her as a phenomenal actress, but I am still in love with all of the designs that earned Deborah Lynn Scott her Academy Award for Best Costume Design.  Scott’s resume is as diverse as it is magnificent.  She was the head costume designer for mega blockbusters like Back to the Future, all three Transformers movies, and the hugely popular, Avatar, but aside from the action-packed films she’s done, including others like Minority Report and The Patriot, you won’t be shocked to find out that she’s best known for her beautiful craftsmanship on this James Cameron creation.  Scott has been quoted as saying that she likes to design for all different time periods because they give her, “an incredible opportunity to delve into history, which is a real educational experience,” and she has proven her ability to tell stories through her variation of designs.  Scott studied theater at California State University at Northridge and ended up catching a big break working as a costumer on the set of E.T.  She was eventually promoted to costume designer and has been expanding her extraordinary range ever since.  While watching the feature, I noticed the beautiful subtleties of Rose’s transformation that is partially aided through her costuming.  Rose is first seen in a frock we’re fanatics about (we featured it in one of our first posts) – she appears in a fitted, pinstriped, high-collared suit and a major statement of a hat, but the dress that Rose is wearing at the end of the film, though equally stunning, has a completely different meaning to its presence in the movie.  Rose’s gowns that she wears to dinner are extremely formal, adorned in painstakingly, perfected bead-work complemented by satin and lace, in dark hues of scarlet and maroon.  For Rose’s daytime outfits, they are similar in style as well as color, gold and lime, with long, white sleeves, empire-waists, satin trains, and lace embroidered collars.  For the dress that withstands that most action and longest screen time, Scott created nearly two-dozen copies of the multi-layered, flowing, pastel sheath Rose wears, because she goes through the most physical scenes in it (pictured, above left).  It made sense that this pink and lavender dress was looser than the others in terms of fit and material, but it was also softer and uninhibited, showing the changes Rose was preparing to make with her life once she departed the Titanic.  (Note: Today’s Look-of-the-Day honors a character who is born to survive, just like Rose was.)  In the scene where Rose and Jack are running through the engine room, the dress could easily resemble the paintings that she loves so much.  The movement of the dress alone is filmed in its own shot to show the beauty and existence of Rose’s new found freedoms; freedom to do whatever she wants and the freedom to experience them with the love of her life.


The Way W./E. Were

We’re not exactly Madonna fans here at theSkinnyStiletto.  After viewing the more realistic “love story” between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII in last year’s Best Picture winner, The King’s Speech, and how much pain and embarrassment he caused his younger brother with a speech impediment, who would have to take the throne following his abdication, this romance certainly lost any allure that Elaine was yammering on about when she made herself sick on a piece of their wedding cake on Seinfeld.  Considering those two facts (and that this film opened to horrible reviews), W./E. wasn’t exactly on our must-see list of 2011.  But, the photos of the costumes are so delicious, we’re quite tempted to rent this flick!  English actress Andrea Riseborough plays the American socialite that throws the line of British royalty out of whack, when King Edward decides to leave the throne, in order to marry the twice-divorced American.  (Riseborough was fantastic in 2010’s Made in Dagenham, if you’re looking for a good movie to see her in.)  Even though W./E. didn’t get positive reviews, Riseborough looks pitch-perfect as Wallis Simpson.  In fact, she actually even reminded us of Madonna herself, when she played a 1940s dark brunette in A League of their Own (the only film associated with the Material Girl that has a good reputation.)  James D’Arcy was also exceptionally well-cast as the young, slender blonde king.  Some of the film’s stills look so real, they could pass for actual historical photos.  Madonna hired costume designer Arianne Phillips to create the outfits for the film, and was nominated for an Academy Award for her stunning work.  (We think she deserves this Oscar!)  Phillips began work on the film a year prior to filming even began, studying costumes at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York and Musée de la Mode et du Textile in Paris.  Many of Simpson’s original dresses have been kept in museum archives, which were unavailable for Madonna’s production.  Many couture houses offered to recreate outfits for W./E., including Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Balenciaga.  (Fun Fact: Madonna asked for a wedding dress from one of Phillips’ competitors for the Oscar this year, Michael O’Connor.  The gown was on display at the National Museum of Costume in Scotland, whose general manager agreed to lend Madonna the dress.)  Co-stars of the film also looked fabulous in their various looks.  Abbie Cornish (pictured, above left) plays a modern girl researching Wallis, and looked wonderful in an all black shift with a matching cardigan, purse and pumps.  Natalie Dormer (pictured, above right) looks fantastic as a young Queen Mother.  In the above scene, she’s being fitted for a hat by the famous milliner Stephen Jones, which is Elizabeth and her daughter’s go-to accessory.  Phillips told W Magazine, “To me, Wallis Simpson was a style icon, but I didn’t know she was a couture client well before she met Edward.  She was also a hungry whore for jewelry.  Edward gave Wallis jewelry to make her feel royal.  My first task was figuring out how to re-create those famous gifts.”  Phillips contacted Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels to replicate several pieces from Simpson’s jewelry collection, including a famous emerald cross bracelet Edward gave to her.  Phillips also got in touch with luxury goods company Alfred Dunhill and Savile Row to get original fabrics and wool from the mills that actually created clothing for King Edward.  Phillips’ work and research on the film was not only thorough, but absolutely gorgeous.  Any one of Wallis Simpson’s beautiful outfits is inspiring today, even 80 years later.  We’re rooting for Arianne this year!


Plain Jane Eyre

Sweeping romances and period films tend to dominate the Best Costume Design category, and this year is no different.  Jane Eyre was a novel published by Charlotte Brontë in 1847, and tells the tale of a strong-willed plain Jane (hmm… is that where the phrase comes from?) struggling through the 19th century.  Like most gothic tales of its day, this poor girl can’t catch a damn break.  Jane Eyre is an orphan who lives with her aunt (Sally Hawkins, pictured, above) and extended family that all seem to enjoy physically and emotionally abusing the little girl.  She finally escapes those sick freaks by attending an all-girls boarding school, only to get abused all over again by a clergyman.  (Seriously, what was wrong with people?  Why do they take such pleasure in beating up a little kid?!)  Jane’s only solace in the world is her best and only friend, Helen, who dies in her arms from consumption.  Man, this kid can’t catch a break.  And it doesn’t end there!  Jane grows up to become a teacher with a strong spirit, and goes to work for a man named Mr. Rochester (played by the very sexy half-Irish, half-German Michael Fassbender, pictured above, with actress Imogen Poots).  Jane doesn’t have looks or money, but she’s got opinions and independence that seem to drive the brooding Rochester wild!  Enough to leave his spoiled fiance (played by Poots).  Ah, a perfect match – finally!  Oh wait, on Jane’s wedding day (SPOILER ALERT!) she discovers her fiance has been keeping his crazy first wife stashed in the attic.  Oy vey.  This book should have been called Jane Eyre and the Curious Case of her Bad Luck.  In this 2011 version, Jane is portrayed by the very big up-and-comer Mia Wasikowska.  You may have seen her starring in last year’s Best Costume winner, Alice in Wonderland.  Costume designer Michael O’Connor has been nominated for his beautiful work on Jane Eyre.  He received his first Oscar for The Duchess three years ago, and has done lovely work on Harry Potter and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.  The Brit told Stylelist where his inspiration came from, “The inspiration is her character, the challenge is making a woman from that time look stylish today, while still looking simple.  She’s sort of a ‘thinking’ Jane, so it was about looking and finding paintings of women in simple costumes at the time.  And notes from Emily Dickinson, things like that.  I just thought, ‘How would we make something exciting in all black?’  So, instead of black, she could be in dark grey, and it could show more of the style, or detail.  The original costumes were a great inspiration.”  The other women in Jane’s life, like her aunt and Rochester’s fiancee, get to wear more elaborate outfits than she sports, but that doesn’t matter in the end, because Miss Eyre eventually gets her happy ending.  The film’s costumes are currently on display (pictured, bottom) at the FIDM Museum & Galleries.


Portrait of The Artist as a Movie

The Artist is a silent black and white movie that is sweeping this year’s award season!  The French movie features Jean Dujardin as a famous silent film star named George Valentin in the late 1920s, and Berenice Bejo plays Peppy Miller, who becomes an overnight “it” girl.  Both actors have been nominated for Oscars this year, along with Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and, of course, Costume Design!  The designer of this film, Mark Bridges, is celebrating his first Oscar nomination for The Artist, but has had an interesting and varied career that seems to have gone unnoticed by the Academy.  Some of Bridges’ prior work includes Boogie Nights, The Fighter, Blow, The Italian Job, and There Will Be Blood.  Not exactly sweeping romances that demand big ball gowns, but they are definitely films that demand particular looks and eras, which Bridges perfectly captured from oil fields to 1970s porn.  The Artist begins in the late 1920s and proceeds through the early 1930s.  Dujardin is so handsome, he looks like he could be Gene Kelly’s French brother, and Bejo is so creative and easy to watch, she makes dancing with a hanger look like there’s a person under that suit jacket (pictured, above left)!  While the roaring 20s and old Hollywood glamor are always favored time periods to celebrate, Bridges had the extra hurdle of making the costumes look apropos without having colored film to show the stunning outfits of the movie.  Bridges discussed this difficulty with CNN, “Without the color to communicate the language of telling the story, I was trying to tell the story through textures, whether it be lamé, sequins and beads for Hollywood, or very flat rough textured wools to communicate down-on-your-heels, or the elegance of satin lapels for evening wear, or the shimmer of a beautiful nightgown.  It became a story of textures telling the story.”  Bejo certainly looks adorable in delicate white gloves and loose-fitting garments of the 1920s, as an ordinary citizen, but she looks right at home as a Hollywood starlet in minks, diamonds, satins, silks, pearls and evening gowns, after finding success in Los Angeles.  Peppy Miller’s headgear definitely matches her first name, adding whimsy to Bejo’s head of curls and firmly cements the film’s era.  Dujardin’s wardrobe is just as dashing as he is, as he sports three-piece tuxedos and suits, white bow-ties, black studs and one hell of a moustache.  This editor kept wishing to see the film’s wardrobe in color, but was actually disappointed once I saw the real-life versions on mannequins, which are now currently on display at FIDM Museum & Galleries in Los Angeles (pictured, bottom).  Guess the black and white film really created charm and magic for me!  Congrats Mark!


Hugo Is Boss

Costume designer Sandy Powell celebrated her 10th Academy Award nomination with Hugo.  The Brit has done some extraordinary work on several period films, including The Other Boleyn Girl, The Aviator, The Young Victoria and Shakespeare in Love, and is already in possession of three Oscar statuettes!  Our editors have not seen Hugo yet, but it’s sets and stills look as mysterious and whimsical as the plot, including Emily Mortimer (pictured, top) as a lovely street florist, and Jude Law with his onscreen son (pictured, left).  It doesn’t look like many of the characters have many costume changes, so we’re assuming the film takes place over a day or two.  Hugo takes place during the early 1930s in Paris and stars child actors Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz (pictured, below left and bottom).  Butterfield plays Hugo Cabret, who lives in a train station and tries to escape Inspector Gustave (played by Sacha Baron Cohen, pictured, below right).  Powell certainly had nice things to say about her competition this year; she told Stylelist, “Arianne [Phillips] I’ve always liked. I think, her work on ‘W.E.’ is just incredible, it’s beautiful.  The thing is, actually, we all really like each other.  Michael O’Connor had really beautiful, understated costumes for ‘Jane Eyre’ that were absolutely perfect for the theme. ‘Anonymous’ — Lisy Christl is a German designer, who did all those hundreds of Elizabethan costumes for Shakespeare.  I mean really, they’re all extraordinary.  They are all worthy of that prize.”  With such lovely things to say about her “rivals,” it’s obvious why Powell has had a successful and sustaining career in Hollywood.  Best of luck Sandy!


Lisy Christl Not Anonymous Now

Since the Academy Awards Ceremony is taking place this Sunday, we’re featuring the films nominated for Best Costume Design in 2011 this week.  The first movie we’re discussing is Anonymous.  If you don’t remember this film, it’s probably because it came and went after facing mixed reviews.  It tells the tale of the most famous writer in the world, William Shakespeare, during Elizabeth I’s rule over the United Kingdom, but this film plays on the paranoia that the Bard of Avon was actually Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford (played by Rhys Ifans, pictured top right).  We here at theSkinnyStiletto aren’t exactly conspiracy theorists, and find it wildly insulting to history and commoners everywhere to assume that a middle-class Englishman couldn’t pen the most famous plays on Earth.  Since we’re huge Shakespearean fans here, and even spent part of our vacation to England two and a half years ago watching William’s famous words come to life in both his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, and the Globe Theatre in London, you won’t catching us renting this paranoid flick.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss the fashion!  German costume designer Lisy Christl did a beautiful job outfitting the cast in various Elizabethan gowns.  British acting legend Vanessa Redgrave (pictured, above and top left) portrays an older Queen Elizabeth, while her own real-life daughter, Joely Richardson (pictured, below), portrays Elizabeth in her younger days.  This genre is certainly a popular time in history that Hollywood continuously tells.  (Fun Fact: Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth: The Golden Age both won Academy Awards for costume design.)  Christl used Janet Arnold’s 2001 book Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d as a proper guideline for AnonymousShe told The Hollywood Reporter, “For every dress in the film, there’s the original portrait in the background.”  Even though the movie sounds preposterous, at least the clothing is accurate!