The Oscar race for costume design is once again devoted to dazzling period pieces: George C. Wolfe’s August Wilson adaptation “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma,” David Fincher’s monochromatic “Mank,” Niki Caro’s live-action “Mulan, and Matteo Garrone’s “Pinocchio.”
But the race could be decided by two Oscar winners: “Ma Rainey’s” 89-year-old Ann Roth (“The English Patient”) and “Emma’s” Alexandra Byrne (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age”), who previously tackled Jane Austen in 1995’s “Persuasion.”
Having Viola Davis to dress might have helped Roth. Landing in the Best Actress race was a historic Oscar nomination for Davis (her fourth — the most of any Black actress). She plays the trailblazing ’20s blues singer, who flaunted her flashy wardrobe to convey a sexy, subversive image. Ross put Davis in a rubber suit modeled after Aretha Franklin, and assembled an array of bold and durable outfits (including flowing berry-red and blue velvet dresses). But, crucially, Roth also helped out hair department head Mia Neal and makeup stylist Sergio Lopez Rivera by informing them that Rainey made her wigs out of horsehair and had a mouthful of gold teeth.
Unlike her previous work on “Persuasion,” though, Byrne was inspired by an infusion of color. In fact, the romcom, with Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) as the matchmaker title character, boldly embraces color and shape at a time when the 19th century Regency period underwent radical changes in female fashion. The costume designer was stirred by the use of inventive color combinations and fabric mixtures as symbols of individuality and fun. And Emma undergoes striking wardrobe changes in every scene as part of her character arc. But the long yellow cape became an instant favorite.
Costume designer Trish Summerville studied ’30s Hollywood fashions for David Fincher’s “Mank,” about witty, alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) struggling to churn out a first draft of “Citizen Kane.” This included fitting Amanda Seyfried as starlet and Hearst Castle hostess Marion Davies (the standout is the gold lame dress for Louis B. Mayer’s birthday party), along with the male-dominated studio executives. For Oldman’s Mank, though, who was not a sharp dresser, she gave him a couple of trusty suits. Of course, the most important aspect of Summerville’s work was determining the right tones for black-and-white. For that, she was assisted by her iPhone’s monochromatic setting, and devised a wardrobe built around pastels, with plenty of lavenders, greens, purples, and burgundies.
For Disney’s lavish “Mulan,” costume designer Bina Daigeler concentrated on the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) for its use of primary colors, fabrics (cotton, silk, and leather), and symbols (clouds and animals). Director Niki Caro mounted an epic movie that accentuates the emotional strength of Mulan (Liu Yifei), and Daigeler emphasized that in the costumes. The lilac Hanfu wrap dress became perfect for the matchmaking costume, with its intricately embroidered symbols, and Mulan’s red tunic and battle armor were form-fitted to comply with the lyricism of the battle sequences.
The dark horse in the race is Massimo Cantini Parrini, who imaginatively combined the beautiful with the grotesque for this Gothic re-imagining of the Italian “Pinocchio” fable. Drawing on 18th and 19th century styles and fabrics, Parrini designed an elegant array of wardrobes for the fantasy. For the titular wooden puppet, he created a dark red suit made of jacquard fabric with crêpe-like texture to symbolize the fiery emotions experienced by Pinocchio. His jacket was based on an 18th century children’s suit design with a waistcoat. For Roberto Benigni’s Geppetto, the costume designer created an 18th century linen suit with striped waistcoat and pants that was old-fashioned for its time.
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Final CDGA ballot voting opens online 6:00 a.m. PST
Monday, March 29, 2021
Final CDGA ballot voting closes at 5:00 p.m. PST
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Winners announced at the 23rd CDG Awards (a combination live and streaming event)
Thursday, April 15, 2021
Oscar Nominees Luncheon
Final Oscar voting begins
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Final Oscar voting ends
Sunday, April 25, 2021
Winners announced at the 93rd Academy Awards (Oscars)
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”