You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Period Ruffles and Lace Are Fun to Look at but Contemporary Costumes Are Just as Challenging to Create

When it comes to costume design, Oscar has always loved period and fantasy — and the more beautiful the gowns and fabrics, the better. Last year’s winner — “Phantom Thread” — was a no-brainer. And this year the period category includes “Mary Queen of Scots” and, of course, Disney’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” The sumptuous period costumes for the latter were designed by Jenny Beavan, who has won Oscars for “A Room With a View” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

But among some of this year’s top contenders, a new trend appears to be emerging, one that favors contemporary realism and grit over timeless sophistication.

“I think contemporary costumes — including from the ’70s and ’80s — tend to get overlooked,” says Julian Day, costume designer on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “I’ve done my share of period films, and I think it’s far easier to hide behind, say, Victorian ruffles and lace than more recent clothing where everyone has memories and opinions about the look.”

To get it right, Day did a lot of research. “It helped that most of the really fun, flamboyant stuff, like the stage outfits, was well-documented, so we were able to re-create Freddie’s famous harlequin and silver catsuits, and then [designer] Zandra Rhodes helped with his white batwing top she’d originally made for him from a wedding dress,” he says.

The film’s pivotal Live Aid sequence, which bookends the film, “was also well-documented, but hard to get right, especially for Freddie with the Adidas shoes, jeans and vest,” he adds. “It’s deceptively casual, but so much went into it.”

Jenny Eagan, who says her main challenge on heist thriller “Widows” was designing costumes “for a large ensemble cast that also helps tell their stories,” agrees that the trend “is moving away from that traditional, highly polished, high-fashion look to a more realistic look, which reflects our times and the world we live in.”

Eagan collaborated closely with director Steve McQueen, “who wanted the Chicago setting and the look to be very specific. No fashion show, no frills, but a focus on how the city and all these characters are different from other places and looks.”

She says the easiest character to design for was Colin Farrell’s politician: “Conservative suits, not too flashy, off the rack, and American-made.” The hardest? “Elizabeth Debicki’s character — tall and beautiful. It took a while to find the right balance between that visual and her character.”

In “A Star Is Born,” Erin Benach faced two main challenges: “First, getting Jack’s look, and initially we thought of dressing Bradley Cooper’ Jack as a glamorous rock star with leather pants — Jim Morrison reincarnated,” she says. “But as his character and music developed, we realized he was more grounded than that, and that was his role in the film. So we ended up with the jeans and shirt look, and he doesn’t have a big wardrobe. It’s more of a uniform he wears.”

By contrast, Lady Gaga’s Ally “starts as a waitress, then she’s the side performer to the star, and then she becomes the star, so her arc and evolution in clothing is much bigger. We went from jeans and T-shirts to beautiful dresses, and you see her blossom. There’s more of an emphasis on contemporary looks and fashion this year.”

“Black Panther” presented Ruth Carter with several challenges. “It’s about a superhero, and it’s both contemporary and futuristic. We had to design over 1,500 costumes,” she says. “This world had never been seen before. We worked hard to avoid anything cliché or that would date too quickly, and it had to be innovative and look powerful and regal.” Carter incorporated a lot of bright colors and African prints “to help create strong patterns and textures in the world of Wakanda. There’s no brooding darkness. It’s a very bright, colorful aesthetic.”

For “First Man,” Mary Zophres relied heavily on NASA’s records. “Damien [Chazelle, the director] was very emphatic about accuracy, so all the research was crucial, and we also got a lot of co-operation from the astronauts’ families,” she says. “The big challenge was that the story covers 10 years, so Neil Armstrong had nearly 70 outfits, while Janet [Armstong] had 40 and we also created 21 space suits covering four missions.”

Tellingly, while Zophres feels that more contemporary costumes are in the running this year, she predicts that “ ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ will win. People just love those historical costumes.”

And every costume on screen for “Mary,” including those for the crowds and extras, was created by Alexandra Byrne, well-known for all her period work. “We had a very tight schedule, an even tighter budget,” she recalls. “We shot in Scotland in the rain and mud, so we used a lot of denim, along with the more traditional lace, embroidery and fur.”

(Pictured above: MacKenzie Foy and Keira Knightly wear period costumes in Disney’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.)

More Artisans

  • Queen of Scots Hair and Makeup

    'Mary Queen of Scots' Hair, Makeup Artist Gave Substance and Style to Battling Queens

    Jenny Shircore has done the makeup and hair of several queens over the years: Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (she won an Oscar for the former) and Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria.”  In fact, she had to be convinced to do it again for Saoirse Ronan’s Queen Mary and Margot Robbie’s [...]

  • Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..L to R:

    Ryan Coogler on How 'Black Panther' Broke Barriers Below-the-Line, Too

    With more than $1.3 billion at the global box office, “Black Panther” was one of the year’s biggest hits. Though some people expected just another superhero film, the project turned out to be much deeper and more complex than that. Many called it a social turning point because it was the first blockbuster with a [...]

  • Payroll Specialist Cast & Crew Sold

    Payroll Specialist Cast & Crew Sold to Investment Fund EQT VIII

    Payroll specialist Cast & Crew Entertainment Services has been sold by Silver Lake to the investment Fund EQT VIII for an undisclosed price. Cast & Crew, based in Burbank, Calif., and founded in 1976, touts itself as the premier provider of technology-enabled payroll and production-management services to the entertainment industry. Services include payroll processing, residuals [...]

  • Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard

    New 'Star Trek' Series to Shoot in California, Selected for Tax Credit

    CBS’s new “Star Trek” series, with Patrick Stewart reprising the role of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, will shoot in California and receive a $15.6 million production tax credit. The California Film Commission announced Monday that the untitled “Star Trek” series and eight other TV series have been selected for the latest tax credit allocations totaling $90 [...]

  • Alfonso Cuarón, Emmanuel Lubezki Discuss the

    Alfonso Cuarón Details 'Roma' Cinematography With 'Gravity' DP Emmanuel Lubezki

    As part of an overall push to bring Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” to awards season voters, Netflix’s “‘Roma’ Experience'” played host to guild and Academy members Sunday in Hollywood. The all-day event featured panels focused on the film’s crafts and an audio-visual installation akin to the streamer’s FYSee initiative for Emmy contenders, featuring costumes and art [...]

  • 12 08 _148.NEF

    Mississippi Beckons Producers With Southern Charm, High Incentives

    Mississippi may not be the first state that comes jumps into the mind of a producer considering locations for an upcoming shoot, but the state has a lot going for it, including a picturesque Southern ambience, antebellum homes, rich farmlands, pine forests, Gulf coast sands and casinos – not to mention significant rebates on qualified [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content