2017 Academy Award Costume Nominees

I did it! For the first time I have seen all five Academy Award costume nominated films so I won’t have to judge from stills and trailers:

Beauty & The Beast

Jacqueline Durran has been nominated for two films this year – Beauty and the Beast, and Darkest Hour. She has been nominated for several films in the past: Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, Mr. Turner — and she won for Anna Karenina. I have not always been a fan of Ms. Durran’s work because historical accuracy has not been her strength, or so I thought… While Beauty and the Beast has a delightfully costumed opening number with a ballroom of dancers in white 18th century dresses, the rest of the costuming is typical ‘Disney’ fare and I am not sure why it was nominated. I can see an art direction win, but not costuming. However, Darkest Hour is exceptionally well done. The historical accuracy for place and period (London, May 1940), and its rich palette of colour and texture creates the perfect mood for the film.

The Shape of Water

Other than the film Flash of Genius, and a few T.V. episodes of Being Erica, I am not familiar with anything Luis Sequeira has done. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure why he was nominated for The Shape of Water unless it was for the sea monkey costume, which is well done but I thought was more likely the result of  special effects and make-up. Otherwise, I find the green palette of the film heavy handed, and the difficulty level of a fantasy world inspired by 1962 Baltimore less challenging than an episode of Mad Men. I must be missing a technical reason for why it was nominated because there were a lot of worthy films this year that were not nominated: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets; Battle of the Sexes, Viceroy’s House, Murder on the Orient Express, Dunkirk, Wonder Woman, The Last Jedi, Blade Runner 2049, and ESPECIALLY Tulip Fever, which would have been my first choice to win this year.

Victoria & Abdul

I liked the costuming for Victoria & Abdul a lot. The costumer, Consolata Boyle, has been nominated and won many costume awards, but never an Oscar (The Queen, Florence Foster Jenkins, Angela’s Ashes…) There is a spectacular banquet scene at the beginning of this film, and the costuming for Victoria is recreated beautifully. However, I felt the film lacked the feeling of a passage of time. It is supposed to occur between 1887 and 1901, but there is nothing to suggest there is anything more than a couple of years passage at most. I can’t blame Boyle for what is a directorial issue, but there was a lost opportunity here that costuming could have solved, so as much as I liked the costuming, I wouldn’t vote for it.

Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread by Mark Bridges is THE fashion film of the year. Annoyingly, no date is given in the film, although there are clues to suggest 1953/54 – the first client acquires a dress for what has to be a Coronation gala (June 2, 1953), and a scene late in the movie has an October 1954 issue of UK Vogue I recognize from the cover. Bridges, who has been nominated before for Inherent Vice and Boogie Nights, and won an Oscar for The Artist, deserves this nomination because the high fashion clothes he created for this film are, in a word, mumsy – and that’s good. The fashions are typical of English couture of this era – the John Cavanaugh and Norman Hartnell type of dresses the young Queen wore that were elegant but dowdy. I hope that was intentional because Mr. Bridges got it bang on. I suspect it was, since there is a scene where the word ‘chic’ is discussed disparagingly. However, there were little problems that bothered me (an olive green silk dress featured in a fashion shoot didn’t seem to fit the actress very well, some extras wore hats that looked odd for the era, most underwear was nude coloured, which seemed strange for the mid 1950s…) these were all small details, but detracted from the success of the costuming.

Darkest Hour

To recap: Beauty and the Beast is a throw-away; I don’t see why The Shape of Water was nominated but I might be missing some technical reason; Phantom Thread captures a look extremely well, but overall has little issues; Consolata Boyle is overdue for a win and may get it for Victoria & Abdul; but if I was handing out the award, I would pick Darkest Hour. Jacqueline Durran captured the mood and did it authentically – I enjoyed her costuming the most out of all of these films because it had an effortless elan.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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