SPOTLIGHT ON: Costume Designers

spotlight on costumiers

All illustrations by Chloe Leeson

‘Spotlight On’ aims to highlight the efforts and achievements of women across a range of film roles, so each month, we’ll be choosing a department to praise, where SQ writers can talk about their faves. This month is costume designers.

Colleen Atwood

colleen atwood

Colleen Atwood began her career as a fashion advisor in Washington in the early 1970s while studying art at Cornish College of the Arts. She then moved to New York in 1980, studying art at New York University. She began her film career as a production assistant and a costume designer assistant. Atwood slowly made her way into work as a costume designer for theatre, film and even Sting’s concert tour. Her career changed when she met Tim Burton, who then on used her for the majority of his films such as Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood, Big Fish, Planet of the Apes, and Sweeney Todd. Atwood’s impressive filmography now includes over 50 films. Other notable films include Into the Woods, Snow White and the Huntsman and Little Women. Her work on Chicago, Alice and Wonderland and Memoirs of a Geisha earned her Academy Awards. Currently, Atwood designs costumes for superhero television series Supergirl, Arrow, and The Flash. Atwood’s method varies from film to film, every approach comes down to “serving the story.” Atwood believes that “Costumes are the first impression that you have of the character before they open their mouth- it really does establish who they are.” There are scores of interviews with Atwood available online, such as from The New York Times or Variety, if you are interested in a more in-depth analysis/explanation of her methodologies for specific films. –Caroline Madden

Milena Canonero

milena canonero

Milena Canonero was born in Italy where she studied art, design history, and costume. She then moved to England and began working on commericials, where she met many film directors. Stanly Kubrick gave Caonero her big break, he hired her to work on A Clockwork Orange. She worked again with him on Barry Lyndon (which garnered her first Academy Award) and The Shining. Canonero has also won Academy Awards for her work in Chariots of Fire, Marie Antoinette and The Grand Budapest Hotel. In addition to film, Canonero also designs costumes for international operas. Canonero draws inspiration from her meticulous research and personal photography.  She has been interviewed stating that with each project, she changes the tune of her vision, approaching each film with a new perspective and method. Canonero believes that costumes, more than the set, can both simplify or complicate a character. She is considered a character designer who works closely with the director to craft a specific entity, often using colors to reveal the character’s psychology. For more on Canonero, visit Fascineshion and Abrams & Chronicle. –Caroline Madden

Sandy Powell

sandy powell

Sandy Powell is British Treasure, awarded an OBE in 2011 she can do it all, period, fantasy or everyday wear, there isn’t a genre that Sandy hasn’t tackled. After dropping out of Central Saint Martins (which makes me physically sick to think about), she got her start in film with director Derek Jarman, working on Caravaggio.

She’s a proud Brit, raised in Brixton, she evokes all the wonder of an androgynous and wild Bowie-esque artistic with chameleon-like tendencies (just look at how much her hair has changed over the years, oh and she also wore a Bowie suit for the BAFTA’s this last year). A large amount of her work has been based in period Britain too, with a keen eye for history she has worked on The Young Victoria, Orlando and Shakespeare in Love.

However she doesn’t just deal in period costume, one of her frequent collaborators is Martin Scorsese, she’s costumed The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed and Shutter Island for more modern clothing but also Hugo, Gangs of New York, and a simply stunning and vivid take on the 1930’s in The Aviator for which she won an Oscar, making her count 3 in total.

She is most notable for her most recent works though, Carol and the 2015 version of Cinderella, both of which she was nominated for an Oscar for. Whilst Cinderella might be the more show-stopping of the two films, the detail and process and pain-staking research that went into creating the costumes for Carol is truly astounding, you can watch more about it here, where Powell explains just how long it took to get that fur coat perfect.

Her upcoming projects include How To Talk To Girls at Parties and Wonderstruck, which sees her reunited with Carol director Todd Haynes. –Chloe Leeson

Catherine Martin

catherine martin

Married to Romeo and Juliet director Baz Luhrmann, Australian born Catherine Martin is a costume and production designer that has collaborated with Luhrmann since their days in college together. She lent her hand to production design for Strictly Ballroom and the iconic 1996 take on Romeo and Juliet, but didn’t take to being Baz’s costumier until 2001 when she created show-stopping costumes for Moulin Rouge for which she won an Oscar in both costume and production design. She was also nominated for Australia, but struck gold again in 2014 for Luhrmann’s re-vitalised imaging of The Great Gatsby in which she collaborated with iconic designer Muiccia Prada to take original Prada archive designs and bring them up to date for a modern and bright take on the 1920’s. Laden with rich tones and a sickening amount of beads, the visual feast of gowns was said to be more about how exciting the 20’s would seem to Fitzgerald at the time, as opposed to a historical take on the period.

 She has also been a keen producer by Baz’s side too, most recently for the upcoming Netflix show The Get Down (for which she also designed costumes), a look at a rabble group of youngsters in the Bronx in the 1970’s, which airs in August, 2016.

A woman of many talents, she is also an interior designer, her and Baz collaborated on a suite named The Fitzgerald Suite in The Plaza Hotel, inspired by art deco and The Great Gatsby style. –Chloe Leeson

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