A crowd is already assembled by the time she leaves wardrobe — a fair woman with doll-like eyes and nearly impossible measurements. As she makes her way into view, she is surrounded by lights and cameras. De-signer Bob Crowley smiles in accomplishment.
This, however, is not the famed Fashion Coterie in New York’s Plaza Hotel, but rather a day on the set of “The Crucible” in Boston. The woman isn’t a model but actress Winona Ryder. Here, authenticity takes reign over flash, clothing is purposely downplayed, and vogue is merely a word from a distant century.
Unlike the bold colors of modern fashion, Ryder is adorned in natural, earthy colors, true to common 17th-century clothing dyes. The fabrics are worn, some even made from the antique bed sheets of French farmers.
“They were very, very simple clothes and everything was hand-stitched,” Crowley says, recounting Ryder’s attire in “The Crucible.” “I didn’t want them to scream at you ‘costumes!’ ”
Costume designer Colleen Atwood had a similar approach in “Little Women.” The clothing she both restored and created for Ryder’s character “Jo” was more relaxed and slightly unkempt. This was done to reflect not only Jo’s modest economic status, but also her humble, philosophical demeanor. “The costume has to serve the story,” At-wood maintains. “It’s always tempting to make things look a little richer because it’s prettier, but it’s also inappro-priate.”
Still, these worlds are similar. Just as fashion design is essential to those immersed in the booming clothing indus-try, costume design is equally important to an actor’s performance and a film’s success. And nowhere is it more important than in the period film. Ryder, whose credits also include “The Age of Innocence,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Looking for Richard,” attests to this.
“Obviously what I wear is quite crucial to my performance,” she says. “The extremely restricting corset in “The Age of Innocence” showed me somewhat how it felt to live in a time of repression. It changed my movements, made them more appropriate. And the rawness of “The Crucible” wardrobe brought me back to the ruggedness of the 1600s.”
The shrewd judgment of a great costume designer can certainly lend validity to performance, but the alliance is definitely two-fold. The actor must be open and often willing to step out of familiar comfort zones. Having worked closely with designers on several period films, Ryder is no stranger to this.
Acclaimed costume designer Gabriella Pascucci, who created Ryder’s costumes for “The Age of Innocence,” re-members her agreeable nature, despite obvious discomfort. “The corsets were very tight, but Winona had a lot of passion — she was very willing and passionate to work with them.”
“Little Women” designer Atwood recalls how easily Ryder adapted to the ungarnished role of “Jo.” “The great thing about dressing Winona is that she would go for character even though she’s a beautiful woman.”
“She was extremely appreciative,” Crowley adds. “She put the costumes on and loved them from day one.” He re-members her loving her shoes in particular. “Tiny, little things can make a large statement on someone like Winona.”