For Meryl Streep’s record 20th Oscar nomination as the grand dame of New York’s high society and its most famously terrible singer, costume designer Consolata Boyle got to be strangely glam and exotically surreal.
“After doing a lot of research, we narrowed the focus to the magic of this naive world that Jenkins created, which had its own rules,” Boyle told IndieWire. “And if you entered the world, you had to go by these rules and she was very protected, and everyone was invested in that world themselves. All of the investigation was around the late 1940s in New York and her musical life.
“Her love of music is what drove her on, even though she was delusional. Obviously she couldn’t sing but that didn’t stop making her love of music in any way insincere.”
As director Stephen Frears’ go-to costume designer (previously nominated for “The Queen”), the Irish Boyle found Jenkins to be a determined and engaging outsider within the musical community, financially supporting local ladies’ clubs and musical celebrities.
Doing thorough research (there was plenty to reference), Boyle and her colleagues “worked off the same hymn sheet.” Everything was created from scratch and Streep had to wear lots of padding, so everything was built around that padded structure.
“The performance costumes had a very specific aesthetic,” Boyle said. “They were overblown and a lot of her clothes she would’ve made herself or her friends made, so there was an amateurish feeling about them. But then also the way she dressed in her daily life had that quality of being childish and over-decorative.”
Boyle used a particular color palette of “naive pastels that run throughout the film.” So there was a link between her performance costumes and her own daily wear. Jenkins’ entire life was a performance.
“There were silks and a lot of synthetics in her wardrobe because they were fashionable in the late ’40s,” Boyle added. “And they fell along the body in a lovely way.”
When making her famous studio recording, Jenkins wore a kind of armor, according to the costume designer. “The colors I chose were very pale grays and lavenders, there were flowers and corsages and fur. And I used long beads and matching colors,” Boyle said.
During her music lessons, Jenkins wore flesh colors, soft pinks, and gentle greens, accentuating the synthetic material. Again, it was rather childish.
But it all came together for the climactic Carnegie Hall performance with a strange clash of styles. “The costume that I decided on was an amalgam of what she had worn up to that point and is a work of the imagination as well: Spanish and Indian with silver and gold and a lot of iridescent surfaces and glitter. She loved things that moved and waved,” Boyle said
“In a way, it’s like a melody, and that’s what we were aiming for,” Boyle concluded.