Arianne Phillips is an Academy Awards contender this year for her period work as the costume designer on Quentin Tarantino’s 1969-set love letter to the Tinseltown of yore, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” She’s been twice-nominated before, for her work on Madonna’s “W.E.” and James Mangold’s “Walk the Line,” and has worked with other auteurs from Miloš Forman to Tom Ford.
But as revealed during a recent panel at the Key West Film Festival, moderated by IndieWire Executive Editor and Chief Film Critic Eric Kohn, being a costume designer hasn’t always been an easy ride. During the conversation, Phillips pointed out a below-the-line pay disparity that affects her behind-the-scenes craft — a trend she’s looking to change.
“Costume designers are not considered a creative position in the film industry. We’re considered a ‘technical’ position, and we’re fighting that right now,” she said. “We also have huge issues with pay equity, where we are paid 50% less than production designers. And if you think about the value of creatives, we also don’t own [our work]. Most people don’t own their work in film. They work for hire. So we have all kinds of esteem-building that we’re doing within our own union. I’m super-involved in pay equity.”
Phillips also cited a historical misinterpretation of the role of a costume designer. “A lot of people don’t understand the job of a costume designer,” she said. “Traditionally…makeup was always a man’s job and the hair people, the hair stylists, were usually the wives of the makeup artist back in the ’50s and the ’60s, and costumes were always kind of wardrobe and women’s workshopping.”
IndieWire recently sat down with Phillips to discuss her work on “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” “It required its own unique process because here we have real life events, real people that are part of the culture — the Manson murders and Hollywood at that time [including Margot Robbie as slain actress Sharon Tate],” Phillips said. “And then at the center of that, we have these two fictional characters, Rick Dalton [Leonardo DiCaprio] and Cliff Booth [Brad Pitt], the cowboy actor and his stunt double. Also, this required a certain reportage feel, in that we really wanted to transport the audience and revisit Hollywood as it was in 1969.”
In addition to being celebrated at the Oscars, costume designer have their own awards ceremony as part of the Costume Designers Guild, taking place Tuesday, January 28, 2020.