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Five Costume Design Oscar Contenders That Make Character-Defining Fashion Statements

Five Costume Design Oscar Contenders That Make Character-Defining Fashion Statements

Not surprisingly, most of the best costume design contenders are period pieces: Into the Woods,” “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Selmaand Inherent Vice.” They are true to the period, stylish and relevant fashion statements.

1. Three-time Oscar winner Colleen Atwood (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Chicago”) is the favorite again for “Into the Woods.” Rob Marshall’s post-9/11 take on Stephen Sondheim’s fairy tale deconstruction offers an assortment of glam and grandeur. When Meryl Streep’s Witch transforms into a beauty, she becomes a variation of the Blue Fairy.  “Her costume’s made with big turn-of-the-century sleeves out of material that’s hand-made with leather cording on chiffon,” Atwood told me. “I took what I had of the Witch’s costume — the silhouette — and made everything bigger. The stripes are wider, the color’s stronger, her hair has a lot more blue in it. That was her starting point for what she thought was the most beautiful way she could be for her daughter. The blue color was just something we came up with and the hair started coming into it and just amplified it.”

Johnny Depp took inspiration from Warner Bros. animation legend Tex Avery for his Wolf, and Atwood was happy to oblige: “I always wanted to do a Zoot suit for Johnny and we went there and added the tail and the collar that’s actually made out of thread but tied like a wig.”

For Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella, though, Atwood saw her as a reluctant princess and decided against a big dress. “We tied the costume in with her mother, which is a specter in the tree, with the leaves and the willows and the gold idea for it and also for the slippers.”

2. Oscar winner Janty Yates (“Gladiator”) outdoes herself with Ridley Scott’s Moses retelling, “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” There were 7,000 costumes, including T-shaped garments in rustic linens from Italian costume houses for the Hebrews, and everything from scratch for the Egyptians, including urethane armor called lamellar (made by FBFX) for the soldiers. However, since the Hittites also wore lamellar, she had to invent armor for them so you could distinguish the two armies.

For the two leads, Yates had fun going over-the-top, dressing Joel Edgerton’s Ramses in glam gold armor with gilded helmet and Christian Bale’s Moses in an ink blue linen toga. It’s a case of elegant opposites.

3. Three-time Oscar winner Milena Canonero (“Marie Antoinette,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Barry Lyndon”) gets opulence kudos for the candy-colored costumes in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Canonero refers to her method as a holistic approach, inspired by an assortment of photographers (Man Ray, George Hurrell) and painters (Gustav Klimt, Kees van Dongen, Tamara de Lempicka, George Grosz) . It’s all Eastern European retro but arty, from the purple and mauve hotel uniforms (dyed by the German-based Mehler and made in-house at Gorlitz) to Tilda Swinton’s Madame D (who wears a Klimt-inspired pattern for her velvet costumes with matching hairstyle and hat and luggage by Prada) to Willem Dafoe’s Jopling (who wears a Prada leather trench coat).

4. Two-time Oscar nominee Ruth Carter (“Amistad,” “Malcolm X”) brought a personal touch to Ava DuVernay’s “Selma.” In her research, she noticed that people dressed for a long march with heavy clothing (trench coats and layers beneath to protect themselves from the prospect of physical violence). At the same time, Carter added some details her brother observed at civil rights marches in Massachusetts: overalls with white shirt and black tie.

Meanwhile, Carter emphasized the elegant yet modest style of dress for David Oyelowo’s Dr. Martin Luther King. She especially favored a dark suit that he wore in Atlanta, which she faithfully recreated. Carter said she was compelled to go deeper and it shows.

5. Oscar winner Mark Bridges (“The Artist”) enjoyed capturing the LA cultural divide of 1970 in Paul Thomas Anderson’s wacky “Inherent Vice.” It’s establishment vs. counter-culture — a reaction to the Kennedy assassinations — as exemplified by Josh Brolin’s arch conservative Big Foot cop and Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc, the free-spirited PI. 

Big Foot starts out somber but by the end wears coral shirts and gold suits; Doc wears beach clothes (Army jacket, slim pants, sandals), but, for his job, has a disguise closet that allows him to dress up or down as needed. And Shasta (Katherine Waterston), the beach femme fatale, wears a crocheted dress dyed apricot that enables her to look like she lives in Hancock Park rather than Manhattan Beach. 

“But then she returns to her true identity and the way Doc sees her, which is wearing a bathing suit bottom and T-shirt, looking very sexy and approachable,” Bridges told me.

The groovy yet naive fashion statement couldn’t be trendier, finding its way back into Gucci, Vuitton and Prada.

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