La La Land has been wowing the awards circuit, but as the biggest event of the season approaches, the neo-musical will find the competition stiff in at least one category – costume design.
Five estimable nominees are competing for the best costume design at the Oscars: Jackie, La La Land, Florence Foster Jenkins, Allied, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, the Jacqueline Kennedy biopic, has an edge over its rivals since period and fantasy productions have traditionally held the edge at the Academy Awards over movies set in the present. However, none of the other titles can be underestimated. This year’s nominees are all women who have previously been in the running for or have won Oscars for their ability to create costumes that perfectly express the movie’s themes. Here is a rundown of their creations. The Oscars will be held on February 27.
Madeline Fontaine for Jackie
One of the most iconic first ladies in American history had a fashion sense that continues to be celebrated. Pablo Larrain’s biopic Jackie explores the aftermath of the assassination of American President John F Kennedy in 1963 on his young wife Jacqueline, played by Natalie Portman. “This movie belongs to history, and is so much embedded in our collective memory,” Madeline Fontaine, the movie’s costume designer, said after winning a BAFTA award.
Fontaine’s filmography includes Amélie (2001), A Very Long Engagement (2004) and Yves Saint Laurent (2014). She worked hard on creating Jacqueline Kennedy’s sartorial legacy – boxy suits, A-line dresses, pillbox hats – for the screen version. “We had to be sure to have this be as close as possible [to] the original one… We needed this to be as historically correct as possible,” she said in an interview. Among Fontaine’s major challenges was Kennedy’s Chanel pink suit, the red dress worn at the first public tour of the renovated White House in 1961, and the threads in which she appeared during her husband’s funeral procession. Kennedy was in the pink dress when her husband was shot dead on November 22, 1963, while sitting next to her in a motorcade.
The blood-stained suit has been sealed off from public gaze at the National Archives in Maryland. “We were not able to see the original – no one is,” Fontaine said. She consulted archival photographs and television footage to recreate the costume. The buttons, chain, and the label were provided by Chanel.
Consolata Boyle for Florence Foster Jenkins
Consolata Boyle had no shortage of primary material to recreate the New York City socialite often regarded as one of the world’s “worst opera singers”. Rather, Stephen Frears’s biopic Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep, had a problem of plenty in terms of visual references. Jenkins’s costumes were nearly as astonishing as her off-key voice, including self-designed eighteenth-century ball gowns and accessories resembling crowns and angel wings and made out of feathers and flowers.
Boyle, whose credits include Angela’s Ashes (1999), The Queen (2006), The Iron Lady (2011) and Miss Julie (2014), consulted the US Library of Congress, The New York Times archives, and society magazine coverage of women’s clubs to ensure that every costume set the tone for “a childlike quality and unreality”.
The same attention was devoted to the clothes worn by other characters in the film, including Hugh Grant as Jenkins’s partner. “There’s a search for all the stuff, finding everything that’s right for the particular mood of every scene, whether it be evening wear and day wear and rougher pieces or high society pieces,” Boyle said in an interview.
A BAFTA award winner for The Queen (2006), Boyle had previously outfitted Streep in The Iron Lady (2011). The actress had to wear padding to match Jenkins’s bulky shape.
Mary Zophres for La La Land
Damien Chazelle’s critical darling La La Land is loaded with nostalgic nods to classic American and French musicals. The romance between a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) plays out against a vivid colour-coordinated backdrop that strives to achieve a balance between modern and ageless.
Costume designer Mary Zophres, who has worked extensively with the Coen brothers and in the films There’s Something About Mary (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Iron Man 2 (2010) and Gangster Squad (2013), opted for simple and bright-coloured outfits. “I was going for timeless as opposed to too vintage looking or too 2016,” she said to Entertainment Weekly.
Zophres’s research includes re-watching classic musicals and studying photographs of actresses across time periods. Her references included Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Strictly Ballroom (1993), Romeo and Juliet (1996), Boogie Nights (1997) and Catch Me If You Can (2002). “I wanted women in the audience to be wooed by Ryan, and the men to feel romantic about Emma,” she told Hollywood Reporter.
The colours of the costumes depict the moods and emotions of the character. When the two characters fall in love, Mia’s dresses are pastel and her skirts have greater volume. Sebastian wears two-toned shoes in keeping with the profession of his character. Mia’s pink halter outfit is a reference to the one Ingrid Bergman wore for her Hollywood screen test, Zophres said.
Colleen Atwood for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Colleen Atwood is the most experienced nominee in the 2017 list. She has been nominated 12 times for an Oscar, and has won for Chicago (2002), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and Alice in Wonderland (2010). Her credits include Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Gattaca (1997), Public Enemies (2009) and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016).
David Yates’s 1920s-set fantasy adventure Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an adaptation of the JK Rowling book of the same name. The fantasy adventure follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an author who protects magical creatures from anti-magic extremists called the New Salemers and inspired by the Salem trials that targeted people accused of witchcraft in 1692 and 1693.
For Fantastic Beasts, Atwood created 1,000 costumes and rented an additional 3,000 to create an authentic 1920s New York City look. She pored over photo archives, especially of the Salem trials and old reels of flamboyant mayor Jimmy Walker, whom she described as “quite a dresser” in his time.
The New Salemers appear in grey-toned clothes, the male wizards sport subtle yet louder colours (such as the blue tailcoat worn by Scamander), and the female wizards wear stylised pointy witch hats and leather coats.
Among the film’s most striking costumes is the embroidered gown and turban of Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo), an important figure in the fictional wizards’ society.
Joanna Johnston for Allied
Robert Zemeckis’s World War II drama Allied is a critical dud, but if nothing else, its characters (played by Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard) are turned out in their very best, whatever the occasion.
Costume designer Joanna Johnston has collaborated extensively with Steven Spielberg as well as worked in Out of Africa (1985), Forrest Gump (1994), The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015). She reportedly had only two weeks for her research. Johnston looked at military uniforms and insignia and modelled Cotillard on Ingrid Bergman to complete the movie’s debt to the classic movie Casablanca (1942).
The polished vintage look includes prints and wools that match the weather in warm Casablanca and chilly London, the two major locations. The lead characters are both undercover agents, which they conceal through their modish clothes. Cotillard’s apparel includes shimmering gowns and glamorous silks, while Pitt’s character is kitted out in elegant suits and brogues.