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!


CAFTCAD First Annual Awards

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.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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.

Sgawaay K’uuna – The Edge of the Knife

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.

Schitt’s Creek – Moira Rose channeling Daphne Guiness…

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

2018 Academy Award Oscar Nominees

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: BlacKKKlansmanBohemian Rhapsody, and, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Mary Zophres

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.

The Favourite – Sandy Powell

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’.)

Mary Queen of Scots – Alexandra Byrne

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.

Mary Poppins – Sandy Powell

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.

Black Panther – Ruth Carter

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…

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – Jenny Beavan (best in show….)

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.

Film Costuming – The Favourite

The Favourite is a beautiful looking film set in c. 1705. There are stunning wide angle shots especially of scenes at the sprawling Jacobean Hatfield House that stands in for Kensington Palace where the real story took place (Kensington was unavailable for filming as it currently houses a dozen or so members of the royal family.) The acting is also excellent, especially the parts played by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone. As for everything else — I have some issues…

The trailer implied this was a comedy – it is not. You could call it a dark comedy, but that would mean you find violence, sexual misconduct, bullying and all forms of behaviour that rely upon someone’s misfortune amusing. Also, the story is based on historical truth, but not the facts. The timeline of the actual events is compressed from over a decade to perhaps a year, and period gossip and innuendo is presented as having actually happened (the lesbianism subplot is pure conjecture.) This lack of historical accuracy bothered me at first but there are plenty of clues for the viewer to get that this is a loose interpretation – a re-styled version of history.

Someone who knows the period will spot that this is a superficially accurate period film. The costumes, which are very effective, are artistic re-imaginings of c. 1705 period dress. The costumer, Sandy Powell, uses a strict black and white palette, colours that were used minimally at the time for women’s court dress, and many anachronistic textiles and decorative techniques including laser-cut vinyl. Some gowns are pure imagination. Queen Anne’s white velvet gown with ermine tails was not based on anything the monarch ever wore. There are many images of Queen Anne wearing many different gowns, so this was a conscious decision to distort the truth. 

If you missed the fashion clues, there were other anachronisms and artistic licenses dotting the film. The dance sequence near the beginning includes moves from the gavotte, waltz, disco, and hip hop; the pooled draperies; visible hot air vents; flowers used in arrangements that weren’t yet introduced to English gardens…

So take this film with a grain of salt. It is beautifully styled, but so far from the facts that the only truth that remains are the names of the characters. The usual response to this type of criticism, which I often give, is that ‘It’s not a documentary’, and I agree. But must history be so fictionalized to make it interesting? In our world of alternative facts and truthiness, this film will become history by those who don’t google the facts.

Queen Anne in purple velvet and gold silk, 1702

The House of Eliott – 25 years later

I only saw parts of the House of Eliott when it was originally broadcast 1991 – 1994 because we lived in a building that didn’t have cable. I remember liking the series, and so when a copy of the DVDs came our way, I grabbed it for the museum’s library. We just finished a semi-marathon of watching the series over the past week and although I didn’t love everything, the series is good. The clothing is usually exceptional. Joan Wadge, who did the costuming in series one and three is especially good. There are some problems, especially with hats, in the second series when they brought in a different costumer.

In case you haven’t seen it, the story is about two sisters whose father dies in 1920, leaving them with little formal education and not enough money to survive without working or marrying. The two middle class women set about to ambitiously create a couture house, and, despite a few bumps in the road, their venture becomes prosperous and they become famous.

The series ran for three years but then ended, with no resolve after a season three cliff-hanger finale. The show did become soapier as it went along. The first year is the best in terms of being a really good history lesson about the post World War One world: the economy, society, role of women, and the couture industry. In series two and three, the story drifts at times, introducing characters and unexpected twists and deaths to keep viewers interested. The clothing industry and the two heroines are no longer always the focus. However, even though the two women are often shown as reactionary, quick to anger, and make egregious business mistakes, failing to take sage advice or hire lawyers when they should, you root for them, even when they are arrogant and unlikable at times.

The series is ripe for a reunion movie or series set in the late 40s that picks up the story, this time of middle-aged women in the clothing business in post World War II England. But if it does get revived, I hope they plan to resolve each season, so there are no cliff-hangers!

Costume Designer Piero Tosi

Death in Venice

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, I used to watch the ‘Late Late Show’ movies on T.V. that played into the wee hours of the morning. Many were melodramatic foreign films with fantastic sets and period costumes starring actors I had never heard of. They were usually badly dubbed or had that weird echoey sound like the actors were talking into a jar, but they were mesmerizingly beautiful films.


There was a time from the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s when period costumed films were sumptuously detailed – sure, the actresses almost always wore too much eyeliner and mascara, but the costuming often had meticulous recreations by designers like Piero Tosi – one of the best period costume designers ever (IMHO).

The Damned

Tosi was born in Florence in 1927, and in 1951 he became a costume designer for the film Bellissima, directed by Luchino Visconti. Tosi often worked with Visconti and some of his films, done in the 1960s and 1970s, were stunning. The Leopard (1963) set in Sicily in 1860; The Damned (1969) set in Germany in 1934; Death in Venice (1971) set in Venice in 1912; Ludwig (1973) set in Bavaria between 1864 and 1886; The Innocent (1976) set in Rome in the early 1890s… All of them were beautifully costumed.

Tosi never won an Oscar for a specific film, although he was given an honorary Academy Award in 2013, which he didn’t pick up in person because he fears flying. He did win many other awards for his work, mostly in Europe. Tosi is still with us, but he hasn’t worked in film since 2004.

The Leopard

Sad to hear that Piero Tosi passed away August 10, 2019 at the age of 92.

Fashion Show from late 1929 – Kiddie Revue

This fashion show segment was the finale from a short film called Kiddie Revue, released March 1930 but probably filmed in late 1929, judging by the costumes. The film Kiddie Revue was originally a segment from the unfinished musical March of Time that was to be released in September 1930 about the history, present and future of humour. The film was never finished and segments were released in other productions, or as in this case, as a stand alone short film.

Is There a Museum of Folk?

I don’t know of a museum that specializes in European folk dress – those strange costumes worn for specific carnivals or traditional ceremonies. I am sure European regional museums collect local garments, but wouldn’t it be great to see these pulled together into one spectacular exhibition and catalogue! I don’t even know of any good book that covers this information…

Gilles costume from Carnival of Binche, Belgium – a local festival held in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday where men and boys dressed like the two pictured here, throw oranges to (and at) spectators.


Jester festival commemorating the battle of Murten in 1476 when the Thun army captured Charles the Bold’s court jester. The jester, called Fulehung, chases crowds through the streets of Thun, Switzerland and hands out candy to kids.

A Day in the 1940s

Yesterday I was the guest speaker at Todmorden Mills Museum 3rd annual Fab Forties day. It was a bit of a time-trip for me to begin with because I worked at the museum from August 1985 to March 1987. When I was there, the two original houses on the site were an 1838 house interpreted as an 1850’s mill-owner’s home, and a Regency-style cottage thought to have been built in about 1817, and restored to the late 1830s. However, now the mill owners house has been re-interpreted. The house has been duplexed to represent two 1890s mill workers residences (as it actually had been in the 1890s), and with further research it was discovered the ‘Regency’ cottage was built in 1851, and has been made over to represent a wartime 1940s interior.

The 1940s kitchen

The museum site is beautiful – a little piece of the country in the middle of the city. This was an industrial community from the 1790s until the 1940s. Most of the original buildings are gone but for the two houses, Canada’s oldest paper mill (which is now a community theatre and art gallery), and part of a brewery, (which is now administrative.) Appropriate with the wartime 1940s theme, the back parking lot was once the site of a German POW camp.

It was a perfect setting, and perfect weather, for a trip to the past. Visitors were encouraged to bring picnics and then enjoy the activities which included: the theatre converted into a Victory dance hall, complete with live dance band, wartime food ‘treats’ offered from the 1940s kitchen (warning, skip the mock fudge – its AWFUL!), vendors of 1940s vintage items, my lecture on fashion in the forties, a costume contest, vintage cars, and my favourite – a popsicle vendor (with updated organic flavours for today’s palate.) This is an event to keep your eye out for next year — I think the soccer game and Father’s Day drew some of the crowds away from this year’s event, but there is no reason this shouldn’t become hugely popular in coming years.

Contestants for best costume. The man in an original 1942 uniform won best male costume (more men came in costume but were too shy to compete.) It was a tough call for best female costume but in the end the woman in the brown dress and Victory roll hairstyle took home the prize.