Three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Anthony Powell, who gave us the sumptuous sartorial designs in Roman Polanski’s “Tess,” Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films “Temple of Doom” and “Last Crusade” and William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer,” sat down recently with the BFI to discuss his career. Highlights below, with photos of his many costuming feats.
On working with Roman Polanski:
Roman’s extraordinary. He could do the job of anyone on the
set, except, possibly the costumes. He says he knows nothing about costumes but
I don’t think it’s true; he always knows instinctively if something is right or
not. In real life, we have very little in common, but in work, we have this
extraordinary telepathy. Every time we’ve worked together, he just rings me up
and gives me one sentence, and I just go away and do it, because I see exactly
what he’s got in his mind.
On the influence of film fashion on real-world fashion:
I once realized that whenever I did a period film that had
interesting or amusing hats, one or two of those would always appear in the
next Paris collections. After “Tess” came out, girls everywhere started wearing
the blouses with puffed shouldered sleeves. I saw them all over the world. And
Ralph Lauren did all these Tess-type clothes for three consecutive seasons,
which he called ‘the Prairie Look’. It’s very flattering.
On costuming for William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer”:
I remember that Roy Scheider had a long, long sequence of
travelling through many countries and deserts and swamps, always wearing the
same shirt and trousers. Each country had a different coloured earth, so his
clothes got more and more broken down with different colours and aged, in a way
that you couldn’t copy. At the end of every week, we would take this same shirt
and trousers out of his trailer, saying, “We’re just taking these to the
cleaners for next week.” We’d spray it all with disinfectant, and let that
evaporate over the weekend so you couldn’t smell it, and then we put a
cleaners’ transparent bag over the top of it and hung it back in his trailer
for Monday morning. So he wore the same shirt and trousers every day for about
six months, the poor man, and never realised.
When we were doing “Hook” (1991), there was a wonderful,
self-contained, 20-minute fantasy musical sequence, brilliantly arranged by
Madonna’s choreographer, which was actually the best bit of the film. There
were lots of costumes made specially for it, with the whole Pirate Town set
full of people; pirate beauticians and everything… It was all shot, but in the end, Steven [Spielberg] cut the
whole sequence from the film.