2020 Academy Award Costume Design Nominations

What is very clear to me with this year’s nominations is how unfair it is to judge a category like costuming. All five of the nominees are very different types of productions. It’s not even comparing apples to oranges – it’s judging an entire fruit basket.

Emma is as near to historically perfect as one could hope for in any film. Alexandra Byrne (Elizabeth, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange) did a magnificent job of recreating Regency fashions, often based on extant examples of costumes from museum collections. Frankly, this is not my favourite Jane Austen novel (of which the best filmed version is Clueless IMHO…) I found this film forced and unfunny, however, the costuming was a feast for the eyes and worth the price of admission by itself. This is an excellent example of what a competent costumer can do when they are given the time to research and recreate period dress.

The costuming in Mank is good but not perfect. The costumer, Trish Summerville (Hunger Games, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) did a fantastic job of finding interesting sheens and textures for this black and white decade-spanning film with a large cast. However, there were historical errors, like a street scene set in 1929 or 30 (can’t remember which) where the fashions clearly dated from the late 1930s. I wonder why mistakes like this happen, surely the costumer knows what fashions look like in 1929, so why the egregious error? Perhaps it’s a last minute directorial change? Also, there are small anachronisms, like bulky-knit sweaters, which were not in fashion in 1940, chosen more for looks than authenticity.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a play turned into a film with less than a dozen speaking parts and almost no costume changes. A couple of brief street or crowd scenes were added to dilute the ‘stage play’ look, but it still feels like a play. Ann Roth (The English Patient, Cold Mountain, The Bird Cage, 9 to 5) has been in the business for fifty years and is a well known costumer, but the difficulty level is not high on this film. It’s not as comprehensively and flawlessly researched as Emma, nor does it have a large cast of characters over a broad range of time, like Mank. It is also not a creative fantasy film like our last two nominees.

Mulan, costumed by Bina Daigeler (The Zookeeper’s Wife, Volver, Mrs. America), is a costumer’s dream in terms of budget. The cast of thousands and budget of millions allowed her to create an historically-inspired fantasy-world largely from her imagination. The costuming for the Chinese legend is very loosely based on the Northern Wei period (5th century – around the same time the Roman empire was collapsing). There is a modern interpretation and many construction techniques used in creating the costumes which makes it impossible to compare it to the three historically-set films limited by the periods in which they were set.

Finally we have Pinocchio. Massimo Cantini Parrini was the costumer, and despite him having won many awards for his work in Europe, I have never heard of him nor seen any of the films he costumed. I also can’t judge this film because I have not seen it, nor will I as I can’t find it on any of my online services. I also can’t find enough stills online to get a good idea of the film’s costuming. However, looking at stills from other films he has done, like Tale of Tales, his work is amazing. Let’s face it though, this film is the long shot. The nomination will bring attention to his work and maybe some offers to do some Hollywood blockbusters, but ultimately, awards are popularity contests and he isn’t well known right now.

So, we have a costumer with a lot of awards from his home country but not well known in Hollywood; a seasoned professional of a small film with a highly trending topic (black history); a fantasy with stupid amounts of money thrown at it by a mega corporation (Disney) with probably an even bigger advertising budget to promote it; a black and white period film with artistically effective but flawed historical costuming; and a beautifully researched period-perfect but boring film. Frankly, it could go to anyone. I would pick Emma but don’t hold your breath – I suspect Mulan or Ma Rainey have better chances.

Added April 26/21: And I was correct, Ma Rainey took home the best costuming Oscar.

2020 Costume Designer Guild Awards

I feel like all I have been doing this past year, when not working, is streaming films and TV programs, so I thought for sure this year I would know all the candidates for the 23rd annual Costume Designer Guild Awards, and yet there are still many on this list I have to watch. That said, if you haven’t seen Emma, the costuming is SUPERB. Here is the complete list of the nominees for the 23rd annual Costume Designers Guild Awards. Winners were announced April 15 and are marked in red.

Excellence in Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film

Jenny Beavan

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Michael Wilkinson

Bina Daigeler

Massimo Cantini Parrini

Wonder Woman 1984
Lindy Hemming

Excellence in Contemporary Film

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
Trayce Gigi Field

Birds of Prey
Erin Benach

Da 5 Bloods
Donna Berwick

Promising Young Woman
Nancy Steiner

The Prom
Lou Eyrich

Excellence in Period Film

Alexandra Byrne

Judas and the Black Messiah
Charlese Antoinette Jones

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Ann Roth

Trish Summerville

One Night in Miami
Francine Jamison-Tanchuck

Excellence in Sci-Fi/Fantasy Television

The Mandalorian: “Chapter 13: The Jedi”
Shawna Trpcic

Snowpiercer: “Access is Power”
Cynthia Summers

Star Trek: Picard: “Absolute Candor”
Christine Bieselin Clark

Westworld: “Parce Domine”
Shay Cunliffe

What We Do in the Shadows: “Nouveau Théâtre des Vampires”
Amanda Neale

Excellence in Contemporary Television

Emily in Paris: “Faux Amis”
Patricia Field & Marylin Fitoussi

Euphoria: “Part 1: Rue – Trouble Don’t Last Always”
Heidi Bivens

I May Destroy You: “Social Media is a Great Way to Connect”
Lynsey Moore

Schitt’s Creek: “Happy Ending”
Debra Hanson

Unorthodox: “Part 2”
Justine Seymour

Excellence in Period Television

Bridgerton: “Diamond of the First Water”
Ellen Mirojnick & John W. Glaser III

The Crown: “Terra Nullius”
Amy Roberts

Lovecraft Country: “I Am.”
Dayna Pink

Mrs. America: “Shirley”
Bina Daigeler

The Queen’s Gambit: “End Game”
Gabriele Binder

Excellence in Variety, Reality-Competition, Live Television

Dancing with the Stars: “Villains Night”
Daniela Gschwendtner & Steven Norman Lee

Paul Tazewell

The Masked Dancer: “Premiere – Everybody Mask Now!”
Gabrielle Letamendi & Candice Rainwater

The Masked Singer: “The Semi Finals – The Super Six”
Marina Toybina

Saturday Night Live: “John Mulaney/The Strokes”
Tom Broecker & Eric Justian

Excellence in Short Form Design

Apple: Shot on iPhone by Damien Chazelle – Vertical Cinema “The Stunt Double” short film
April Napier

The Killers: “Caution” music video
Samantha Kuester

Selena Gomez: “Boyfriend” music video
Dawn Ritz & Kenn Law

Tim Burton Themed Halloween Party short film
Dawn Ritz

The Weeknd: “Blinding Lights” music video
Ami Goodheart

Queen’s Gambit fashion fail…

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…

CAFTCAD awards

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:

Costume Designer’s Guild Awards, 2020

The American Costume Designer’s Guild Awards were held last night and the winners were:

Jojo Rabbit, Mayes C. Rubeo

Knives Out, Jenny Eagan

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Ellen Mirojnick

Schitt’s Creek: “The Dress,” Debra Hanson

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: “It’s Comedy or Cabbage,” Donna Zakowska

Game of Thrones: “The Iron Throne,” Michele Clapton

The Masked Singer: “Season Finale: And the Winner Takes It All and Takes It Off,” Marina Toybina

United Airlines: “Star Wars Wing Walker,” commercial, Christopher Lawrence

Congrats to Canadian Debra Hanson for Schitt’s Creek!

2019 Academy Award Costume Design nominees

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.

The Irishman

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.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

 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. 

Jojo Rabbit

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.

Little Women

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.

Film and Fashion – Ladies in Black

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.

Film & Fashion – Rocketman

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. 

Designer Julian Day and some of the costumes he created for Rocketman

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. 

What to do with a short leading man…

Ingrid Bergman looking up to Humphrey Bogart in 1942’s Casablanca

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.

Bergman in low-heeled sandals and turned-down and slouch-brimmed hats to play down her height
Bogart’s 3 inch platform clog strap-ons

Paris hairstyles, 1944

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!