I have had several people tell me that I have to see Queen’s Gambit because the clothing is so wonderful. Well, I took a look, and I have to say that although the clothing may be styled well, authenticity to period was nearly completely absent. I suspect the costumer picked clothing styles she felt expressed the characters, just not in the appropriate period. The three outfits pictured below are worn by the main character in 1966 – but they look more like 1956 – and before I get comments about how people wear clothes that aren’t brand new, it didn’t work that way in the 1960s. How many people do you know are walking around with a flip phone with an antenna? Technology is more prone to fashion than fashion is these days, but in 1966, fashion was in fashion, and wearing vintage academically correct, or even ironically, wasn’t a thing yet in 1966. So sorry, but Queen’s Gambit gets a 3/10 for the costuming…
Kenn and I attended the second annual Canadian Alliance of Film and Television Costume Arts and Design (CAFTCAD) awards on Sunday night. We both served on juries to narrow down the entries for nomination. It’s great to see the industry recognize the work of all the various jobs in the costuming field.
Taking home awards for their work included costumers from the productions: Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Murdoch Mysteries, and The Terror. Linda Muir was recognized for her costume design in the film The Lighthouse, and Juul Hallmeyer was honoured with an Industry Icon award for his body of work, which included costuming S.C.T.V. Congratulations to all the CAFTCAD 2020 nominees and winners.
At the reception after the event we managed to take a few shots of some of the more interesting fashions, and also look at a display of costumes done by nominees:
The American Costume Designer’s Guild Awards were held last night and the winners were:
EXCELLENCE IN PERIOD FILM
Jojo Rabbit, Mayes C. Rubeo
EXCELLENCE IN CONTEMPORARY FILM
Knives Out, Jenny Eagan
EXCELLENCE IN SCI-FI / FANTASY FILM
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Ellen Mirojnick
EXCELLENCE IN CONTEMPORARY TELEVISION
Schitt’s Creek: “The Dress,” Debra Hanson
EXCELLENCE IN PERIOD TELEVISION
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: “It’s Comedy or Cabbage,” Donna Zakowska
EXCELLENCE IN SCI-FI / FANTASY TELEVISION
Game of Thrones: “The Iron Throne,” Michele Clapton
EXCELLENCE IN VARIETY, REALITY-COMPETITION, LIVE TELEVISION
The Masked Singer: “Season Finale: And the Winner Takes It All and Takes It Off,” Marina Toybina
EXCELLENCE IN SHORT FORM DESIGN
United Airlines: “Star Wars Wing Walker,” commercial, Christopher Lawrence
Congrats to Canadian Debra Hanson for Schitt’s Creek!
2019 was a good year for costume films. A plethora of period, fantasy and sci fi films streamed online, and through the theatres: Downton Abbey, Harriet, Dolemite is my name, 1917, The Highwaymen, Rocketman, Judy, Dumbo, Aladdin, Star Wars, Maleficent, Captain Marvel, Avengers Endgame… even complete crap films like The Aeronauts and Cats had one saving grace – their costuming.
So I knew it was going to be an interesting mix of nominees and three were not a surprise: The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Jojo Rabbit.
The 60s and 70s ‘Jersey chic’ of middle class mobster families was dead on in The Irishman. IMDB credits both Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson as the costumers. Powell has scores of nominations for her film work including three Oscar wins for costuming The Young Victoria (2010), The Aviator (2004), and Shakespeare in Love (1998). Sharing the nomination, Peterson has often worked as Powell’s assistant on films including Carol and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a masterful slice of Hollywood in 1969, with some flashbacks that include recreated clips from TV shows like Hullabaloo, and Green Hornet. The film captures fashion reality extremely well, from television Westerns and Hollywood chic to real Hippies with dirty feet. Arianne Phillips is the costume design talent behind this and was also behind films like Walk the Line, A Single Man, and W.E., but she has never won an Oscar.
Jojo Rabbit captures the downfall of Hitler’s Germany in a fantastic blend of prewar saturated-colour Nazi pageantry with a covering of postwar dust – it’s a mix of Nazi idealism and WWII realism. The costumer Mayes C. Rubeo has worked primarily in fantasy films (Thor: Ragnarok, Warcraft, World War Z), which gives Jojo a fresh, almost comic book like approach to the costuming.
Then there are the two films I was surprised to see nominated for an award: Little Women, and Joker (Dolemite is my Name and Rocketman should have been nominated in their stead.)
Little Women is politically sensitive this year as many feel Greta Gerwig was snubbed from receiving a directorial nomination. The film’s costumer, Jacqueline Durran, has rarely been a favourite of mine because she pays more attention to mood boards than historical accuracy. Her past work includes an Oscar for Anna Karenina, and nominations for: Beauty & The Beast, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Turner, and The Darkest Hour. In all fairness, she is costuming a work of fiction, but when you are going to all that work of creating costumes, why not also make them period perfect – it helps with the suspension of disbelief in an historically-set story.
And finally, Joker. The film is a fantasy set in a dystopian urban setting that closely resembles late 1970s New York. The costuming is great at capturing that gritty, broken-down world, but the costuming was dark, dull, shapeless and unremarkable. The only memorable garment is the Joker’s final red suit with orange vest that also inspired the #1 Halloween costume of 2019. The costumer Mark Bridges did an excellent job, but the difficulty level for this film was low. Bridges has won two Oscars for previous work: Phantom Thread (2018), and The Artist (2011).
For me, Joker is the dark horse – well done, but not a ‘costume’ film and I am not sure why it was even nominated. Little Women shouldn’t win but may get sympathy votes because Greta Gerwig didn’t get nominated. I loved the costuming in Jojo Rabbit, but the majority of its sartorial success was in the recreation of various Nazi uniforms, and the Nationalistic ‘trachtenkleide’ worn by Scarlett Johansen. The Irishman was excellent and there was a lot of costuming in crowd scenes, but the movie was flawed in other ways (too long…) that may hurt its likability. I think Once Upon a Time in Hollywood edges out The Irishman. The work was creative and authentically rendered, and Arianne Phillips is long overdue for an Oscar.
Added February 10: Little Women took home the prize, and that is shameful. The movie wasn’t even nominated by the Costume Guild, which honoured Jojo Rabbit as the best in period film costuming. I believe Little Women won primarily because there continues to be a lack of respect for the costumer’s art, and as an ‘unimportant’ category, many voters threw their vote away in support of Greta Gerwig, who many felt was snubbed this year. Other factors might also be because the film was the most ‘period’ of those nominated. This is the problem when novices are given the right to vote for something they don’t understand, or think is important.
I rarely write about film costuming anymore, and here is a second review in as many days! Ladies in Black is wonderful. Wendy Cook did a fantastic job at recreating the sort of fashions worn in December 1959 in Sydney, Australia, which is the middle of summer down under. Floral print cotton dresses and dewy faces, that no amount of powder will conceal, captures the look and feel of a mid-summer heat wave. The smooth and perfectly coifed hair and make-up are also flawless recreations of the period.
The Ladies about which the film revolves arrive at work in their floral frocks at Goodes department store but change into their vendeuse blacks before serving customers. The workplace is an exquisite recreation of a period department store with plenty of period appropriate mannequins and draped window displays. Alongside Wendy Cooks’ fashions, the production design by Felicity Abbot is worthy of praise. Not only does Abbot capture the glamour of department store shopping, but also the home interiors of the various women, in all the dreary fussiness of middle class 1959 Australia.
I can’t help but compare the movie to another one of my favourites Enchanted April because they are both feel good movies about life’s little problems – the insecurities and prejudices that fill our days. Some probably think the movie is too fluffy because nothing big happens, although there is a bit of a mystery in one of the women’s stories when her husband inexplicably disappears and then re-appears without good cause. Frankly, it was nice to see a movie that made me smile from beginning to end, and look good in the process!
The film was directed by Bruce Beresford, who is known for Breaker Morant, Paradise Road, Black Robe, and Driving Miss Daisy – all of which are great costume films. I know this film had a good run in Australia, but it only appeared up here briefly in the art and revue cinemas. I caught it last night on Cineplex online rental, but will be buying the DVD to add to the costume films in the FHM library.
Just saw Rocketman, and LOVED the costuming! Most of the stage costumes were unfamiliar to me but when I got home and read up, it turns out that all but a few of the stage costumes were original creations by costume designer Julian Day. Normally, I hate it when designers aren’t faithful to recreating original designs but in this case it works because all of Day’s creations use a period-correct style vocabulary.
The first costume we see is when Elton brings his demons to rehab – appropriately dressed as a demon with giant red feather wings and massive horns, but with heart shaped glasses, indicating his search for love. As he reminisces about his youth, the film goes back to the mid 1950s where his mother (a far less caring one than depicted in the Christmas piano ad) and an emotionally detached father ruin his childhood. A dance montage of Teddy boys and Mods takes us quickly through the 60s until we arrive in 1969 when Elton meets Bernie Taupin. The movie then slows down and we get to savour lots of yummy, over-the-top 1970s nostalgic/ethnic/space age inspired boutique fashions in the vein of Tommy Roberts and Mr. Freedom. The ‘everyday’ 70s fashions are superb!
The story slides through the late 70s and into the 80s as the drugged out diva plays a piano that spins faster and faster, with each turn revealing another stage costume. The film culminates with John’s rehab and his hit ‘I’m Still Standing’. Although written years before Reggie Dwight had beaten his addictions, the clever splicing of the actor playing Elton John into the 1983 video neatly wraps up the storyline – even if you are left wanting more star-spangled jumpsuits and winged platform shoes.
Although the fur coats are faux, and Day uses rhinestones instead of sequins for better film effect, all of Day’s costumes are brilliant campy creations that never parody the originals, but instead build on Bob Mackie’s work, who designed and made most of the original stage costumes. Mackie is also credited at the end with creating some of the pieces for the movie.
Costume designer Julian Day came to everyone’s attention in last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody for which he received a Bafta but no Oscar nomination. Surely Rocketman will bring him a well-deserved Oscar nomination this year. I noticed Day’s work a while back in films like: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Brighton Rock, and Nowhere Boy. He deserves recognition for his work and maybe this time it will come.
Humphrey Bogart was 5’7″, and his leading lady in Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman, was 5’9″ — so how do you get them to appear nearly identical in height in scenes like the one at the airport ? You start with the hats. Bogart wore high crowned fedoras while Bergman wore low slouched, turned-down brim styles. Next, you go to the feet. Bergman’s feet are rarely shown, because they are in low heeled shoes, while Bogart wore strap-on clogs for scenes where he and Bergman had close conversations.
These production tests from the film Falbalas are interesting because the film was shot in Paris in early spring 1944, before it was liberated. The film revolves around the couture fashion industry, and shows the sharp contrast between Paris couture and its extravagant use of fabric and the real world of fabric rationing. I think the hair is also interesting for its use of permanents!
Last night was the first annual awards for CAFTCAD (Canadian Alliance of Film & Television Costume Arts & Design). The national organization promotes, networks, and shares knowledge with Canadians involved in costume design in film, television and other forms of media.
About 200 gathered at the Aga Khan Museum (most dressed creatively – as one would expect from the crowd), to honour some of the many talented people who work in the costuming industry. Kenn and I were delighted to be asked to each sit on a panel that picked nominees for the various categories. The nominations were then voted upon by the general membership to decide who would be recognized for excellence at the awards event.
Entres nous, some of the categories were really hard to decide who should be singled out, but I did have some favourites. It was hard not to notice Debra Hanson and her team’s brilliant work on the Daphne Guiness inspired styling of Schitt’s Creek. Also, the building, breaking down and creative designing for A Series of Unfortunate Events and the tiny budget used to recreate the traditionally-dressed Haida community for Sgawaay K’uuna were stand-outs for me. All of these took home awards for excellence – for a complete list of nominees and winners, check out the CAFTCAD website.
Excellence in Crafts – Costume Illustration: A Series of Unfortunate Events– Season 2 Illustrator: Keith Lau
Excellence in Crafts – Textile Arts: A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 2 Key Breakdown Artist: Sage Lovett, Breakdown Artist: Chance Lovett
Excellence in Crafts – Building: The Shape of Water Cutter: Tamiyo Tomihiro, Seamstresses: Ying Zhao & Sylvie Bonniere
Best Styling in Commercials & Music Videos: Woods Canada “Is There” Stylist: Marie- Eve Tremblay
Best Costume Design in a Web Series: Chateau Laurier Costume Designer: Joanna Syrokomla
Best Costume Design in Short Film: ROPEd Costume Designer: Joanna Syrokomla
Best Costume Design in Low Budget Feature: Sgawaay K’uuna – The Edge of the Knife Costume Designer: Athena Theny
Best Costume Design in TV – Contemporary: Schitt’s Creek Costume Designer: Debra Hanson
Best Costume Design in TV – Period: Anne with an E Costume Designer: Alexander Reda
Best Costume Design in TV – Sci-Fi/Fantasy: A Series of Unfortunate Events Costume Designer: Cynthia Summers
Best Costume Design in Film- Contemporary: Hold The Dark Costume Designer: Antoinette Messam
Best Costume Design in Film – Period: The Shape of Water Costume Designer: Luis Sequeira
This year’s Oscar nominations for best costume design didn’t surprise me much because there weren’t many films to choose from – 2018 wasn’t a year for genres that lend themselves to costume design. I can only think of three other films that could have been nominated: BlacKKKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, and, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
Only one nomination surprised me and that was Mary Zophres for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. I was surprised because I had never heard of this Coen brothers film. Turns out it was a Netflix release, so I watched it last night and the costuming was fine but nothing made my heart race because of its artistic vision or authentic recreation. In fact, the costuming was loose – sometimes made for comedic effect and at other times for authenticity. The part about the wagon train, pictured above, is supposed to be set some time just after 1872, according to a conversation in the film, but the costuming looks earlier, and wagon trains were pretty much done by the Civil War.
Mary Queen of Scots, costumed by Alexandra Byrne, and The Favourite, costumed by Sandy Powell, are both beautiful looking films but they distort history by ignoring authenticity. Both these stories are about actual people and actual events, but in these days of ‘truthiness’ and alternative facts there is little regard for authenticity (and so help me God I will smack the first person who says ‘but it’s not a documentary’.)
Don’t get me wrong, the costumes are beautiful. If either of these films had been plays at our local Stratford Festival I would have thrilled over the costumes. But these aren’t festival stage plays, they are multi-million dollar films with teams of professionals, celebrities, location shoots, and time to take and retake scenes until they are perfect… They squandered the opportunity to make something more than just a pretty pastiche based on a colour palette and mood board.
Sandy Powell was also nominated for The Return of Mary Poppins. The only film I have yet to see, but what I saw in trailers and stills looks fine. This is a musical fantasy, so the costuming can be whatever the designer and the Disney/Mary Poppins universe wants.
The final nominee is Ruth Carter for Black Panther. I am not a ‘super-hero’ genre fan (unless it has a talking raccoon), and I thought this movie was particularly awful, although the costuming was the best part of the movie (it was the plot and dialogue I hated.) Ruth Carter, who is somewhat new to costume design, shopped all of Africa for design inspiration and left no tool in her bag when she created the costumes. There were ‘too many notes’ in the cluttered designs as well as some cheap fabric choices – a white athleisure net dress, and some baggy kneed leggings on the female guards come to mind – so not my favourite…
I will make no prediction of who will win this year because I don’t know – I guess Mary Poppins would be my choice if I had to pick from the nominations, but if I could pick who I think did amazing work I would have to go with the un-nominated Jenny Beavan for her costuming in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
Added February 25: And congratulations to Ruth Carter for Black Panther. I thought her clothes were too cluttered with extant cultural references, but she did create a whole new style universe for her characters, so the end product was original work.