Costume Designers ball a perfect fit

Lack of TV makes kudofest intimate, uninhibited

It may seem odd that the Costume Designers Guild created its annual awards to raise public awareness of designers’ achievements, yet staunchly refuses to televise its annual presentation. The decision to restrict electronic media to arrivals, however, has made the event one of the most intimate and uninhibited of the season.

“One of the charms of our event is that we don’t have electronic media coverage,” says board member Mary Rose, who chaired last year’s event. Award presenters and recipients relish the freedom of giving heartfelt, often hilarious, speeches without the restrictions imposed on kudocasts. The results are often spontaneous and inspiring in an era of P.C. awards speeches that lapse into laundry lists of thank-yous.

In accepting the distinguished director award at last year’s event, Warren Beatty provoked howls of laughter by describing the strange intimacy between actors and costume designers, while expressing his relief at no television.

Paying respect

Newly elected guild president Deborah Nadoolman says the board makes an effort to invite only those actors, directors and producers who share a special appreciation for costume design.

Nadoolman says Hilary Swank, Robert Downey Jr., Tim Curry, Jane Kaczmarek and other stars who helped out at last year’s awards were there because their love of costume design made them a perfect fit.

“It wasn’t an obligation or something their agent set up. It was on a personal level. You got that from the actors. They were joyous participants in the event.”

The guild has reunited some of the great collaborators of costuming at its three prior events, including Bob Mackie and Carol Burnett, Nolan Miller and Aaron Spelling, and Milena Canonero and Beatty.

Designer Albert Wolsky, chair of the awards slated for March 17, describes the evening as “very gala,” just the antidote for a group used to working behind the scenes in casual clothes while slaving over the images of others.

“We don’t get together very often,” Wolsky says. “It’s very nice for a whole bunch of us to be all dressed up together. We’re all very happy to see each other. This kind of interaction is unusual.”

“It’s really the feeling of a family gathering,” Nadoolman adds. “My experience has been that in between courses, everyone’s up, the tables are empty, and people are visiting with one another.”

Short and sweet

One of the original reasons for creating the awards was to honor designers customarily overlooked, such as those excelling in contemporary design, says Wolsky. Yet the guild has avoided the pitfall of award overkill. There are only four competitive categories: excellence in film — contemporary; excellence in film — period/fantasy; excellence in television — contemporary; and excellence in television — period/fantasy. The guild preselects honorees for the Hall of Fame Award, the Rit Color Career Achievement for Television Award, the Bulgari Career Achievement for Film Award and the Distinguished Director Award.

The upcoming event will induct Helen Rose into the Hall of Fame, and fete film designer Theadora Van Runkle and TV designer Rhett Turner for career achievement.

“We limited how many awards we were going to give because everybody said it’s so boring to see that,” says Rose. “At the hair and makeup awards, you see nothing but people going up and down the stairs.”

Also distinctly missing from this affair are the designer clothing endorsements that turn participants at every other awards show into walking advertisements. When costume designers parade the red carpet into the Beverly Hills Hotel, there will be no stylists lurking. Costume designers will mix vintage with couture and outrageous with demure. Only their talents stand out.