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Crafts Roundup: Best Costume Design Contenders Play Dress-Up for the Past and Future

Crafts Roundup: Best Costume Design Contenders Play Dress-Up for the Past and Future

Costumers finally got their own branch this year, which mean they’re no longer lumped in with the other designers, so we’ll see how that impacts the nominations in two weeks. Not surprisingly, there’s an abundance of upscale period pieces (“American Hustle,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “The Great Gatsby,” Philomena,” “Inside Llewyn Davis”). But even when dealing with the future (“Her”) there’s a retro vibe, save for the idiosyncratic and flamboyant “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (see our TOH! interview with Trish Summerville).

For costume designer Michael Wilkinson, channeling ’70s fashion was the obvious goal with David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.” But for con artists Christian Bale and Amy Adams, the key component was reinvention for survival, which found its way in the selection of their wardrobes. The characters not only lived large but took risks, mixing colors, prints, and fabrics. As a result, their clothes were less structured and had fewer underpinnings, with inspiration coming from disco and Halston. They walked tall and pretended to be comfortable in their own skin.

With “12 Years a Slave,” veteran Patricia Norris, meanwhile, relied heavily on books that described where slaves got their clothes and discovered that the owners often provided castoffs. She had most of the clothes made on location in New Orleans. “By back-dating what people gave away by 10 or 20 years, that’s how we came up with what slave clothes looked like,” she explains. “Then I got the owners to look more in the correct period. And it was easier to make the owners and other white people more colorful and slaves to stay in beige and a greenish tone. Steve [McQueen] and I wanted Epps [Michael Fassbender] to look slightly romantic where the sleeves are puffier.”

For costuming “The Butler,” Ruth Carter had a dual task: primarily exploring the black experience from the ’50s to the present along with eight presidencies. In fact, the search for authenticity became a transporting experience for her. What a study in contrasts. For instance, you’d have Dwight Eisenhower (Robin Williams) looking dapper in a double-breasted suit while civil rights protesters were bloodstained and disheveled. But the most fun she had was dressing Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey in matching jogging suits.

For “Gatsby’s” Catherine Martin, who does both production and costume design, “sets and costumes are indivisible: they create a synthesis which allows you to tell the story as effectively as you can. It’s like a wave that never seems to be coming until it’s almost on top of you and then it’s far too big for you to ride.” 

Martin collaborated with Miuccia Prada and Brooks Brothers in creating the ’20s-inspired costumes. Indeed, Prada re-imagined 20 dresses from her collection for two extravagant parties. Most noteworthy was the crystal dress worn by Carey Mulligan’s Daisy, which Prada tweaked from her chandelier dress. The vision was all about looking forward and back for an anachronistic hybrid.

In “Philomena,” Consolata Boyle took inspiration from the lightheartedness and laughter that propel the story, as Judi Dench and Steve Coogan reveal their inner selves through the meeting of opposites.”The real Philomena has a wonderful sense of style and it’s important to the overall persona,” Boyle suggests. “I wanted to carry that through but for it not to be a distraction or too busy. It was a coherence of color and fabric, and a feeling of comfort.There was simplicity of colors and shape.”

With “Inside Llewyn Davis,” it was more about comfort than flamboyance for Mary Zophres. Her research revealed that even though the Greenwich Village folk story took place in ’61, the counterculture fashion movement had not yet taken hold. Even so, there was a big difference between uptown and downtown dressing. In terms of contrasts, though, Oscar Isaac’s eponymous protagonist wears the same beige corduroy jacket throughout while John Goodman’s cranky jazz musician dons a maroon suit.

And when it came to wardrobes in “Her,” a retro concept informed ideas for organic shapes, textures, palettes, and materials. But, as with everything else, red was prominent for its comforting warmth.

“Style and fashion in clothing generally looks back to look forward,” explains designer Casey Storm. “We landed on the concept of a future that became a more personal and unique experience that you could have. There are more options to refine your choices and make it a world you want to live in rather than a fake, uniform world.”

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