You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Darkest Hour,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and More Costumes Take Viewers on a Journey

In any given movie, costumes are about evolution: As a character’s story is told, so do her clothes evolve — or de-evolve — in tandem. And the journeys this year’s Oscar nominees for costume design have taken them in are both familiar and entirely unique.

Jacqueline Durran holds two slots in this year’s set of five nominees, and couldn’t have worked on two more different films. “Beauty and the Beast” is a live-action retelling of the 1991 Disney animated classic, and arguably Durran had it easy: the audience knew what to expect from the signature outfits. That meant starting out with Belle (Emma Watson) in her 18th century French country girl uniform: a blue dress with practical pockets and bloomers. Once inside the castle, audiences would want to see her in the tulle, satin and taffeta yellow dress she waltzes in with the Beast (Dan Stevens). But Durran considered things a step further: any outfits in the castle had to look as if they were MADE by the castle; this led to Beast’s ragged fabric patchwork, and even threaded into his earthy, regal formal look.

Durran’s palette for “Darkest Hour” was considerably smaller: wartime London was not a place for yellows and taffeta. It also took place over a relatively short period of time, so the focus was more on transforming Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill than showing the man himself changing over the years. For help, Durran solicited tailors and companies who outfitted the real Churchill and had them create suits to evoke his quirks and needs that could fit Oldman. What emerged was a sort of modern armor: Winston’s black suit, white handkerchief, bowtie and Homburg hat. With Churchill it was about ease in his dressing; for example, his shoes featured a zip, rather than laces.

London was also the setting for “Phantom Thread,” in which mercurial couture designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) finds a strange kind of love, and changes in the process. Mark Bridges had the challenge of creating not just outfits for the cast, but also to fashion the dresses Woodcock himself would make. A dressmaker who avoids fast fashion and pours his heart and soul into the outfits, Woodcock’s dresses are beautifully made, but not showstoppers. Instead, they are the outward expression of his inner passions. Bridges found some of his inspiration in consultations with Victoria and Albert Museum experts (some of whom appear in the film), who helped replicate the handmade looks of the 1950s and ’60s. As for Woodcock, he is a fussy formalist, often in shirtsleeves and bowtie while working, and presents a sense of being entirely buttoned up — until he meets his match with lover Alma, and begins to unravel.

The first time we see elderly Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) in “Victoria & Abdul,” clothes are her burden: she’s being tugged into all-black mourning gown created by Consolata Boyle, and then dragged down with the badges of her office and an absurdly long train for a state dinner. So it’s glorious to see her shrug off her darks and begin to wear purples, lavenders and even white as her friendship with servant-turned-friend Abdul (Ali Fazal) deepens. Abdul himself also starts out overlaid in heavy embroidered servant’s garb, but when Victoria’s “munshi” becomes part of her everyday life, he shifts into traditionally colored Indian silk outfits — as both characters become more their true selves.

As a fantasy, “The Shape of Water” might have sunk under too much fantastical garb; instead, the magical realism of the story contrasts sharply with the brutalism of the Cold War — a place of metal and seawater green. Using natural fabrics such as wool and cotton, Luis Sequeira, who was not responsible for the water creature’s costume, placed his antagonists in governmental grays and browns. These matched their settings and allowed lead Elisa (Sally Hawkins) to stand out in her blue cleaning-lady costume and thrift-store vintage outfits. But as the film’s story advanced, both villain Strickland (Michael Shannon) and Elisa underwent a transformation. His “just the facts” straitlaced suits and shirts begin to fray, while she donned shades of deep red like an armor — including some glorious red heels — to show her falling in love and as a person of passion, conviction and strength. Once we see those shoes, there is no question: Elisa has become the warrior who will prevail.

More Film

  • (L to R) VIGGO MORTENSEN and

    'Green Book' Lands Post-Oscars Theatrical Release in China

    Fresh off Monday’s news that it had picked up five Academy Award nominations, best picture favorite “Green Book” is set for more good luck. The film will hit Chinese theaters on March 1, the first weekend after the Oscars, which fall on Feb 24, Alibaba Pictures announced on its official social media account. The film [...]

  • Fan Bingbing

    Chinese Celebrities Pay $1.7 Billion in Back Taxes Following Fan Bingbing Scandal

    Chinese film and TV stars have paid some $1.7 billion (RMB11.7 billion) of additional taxes, following the mid-2018 scandal surrounding actress Fan Bingbing. The figure was announced Tuesday by China’s State Tax Administration. Chinese authorities launched a probe into the taxation affairs of the entertainment sector in October. Companies and individuals were asked to examine [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    Film News Roundup: AMC, Regal to Leave 'Roma' Out of Best Picture Showcases

    In today’s film news roundup, “Roma” will not be in the best picture showcases at AMC and Regal, “Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church” gets a release and SAG-AFTRA’s David White has a new appointment. ‘ROMA’ SPURNED AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas are leaving Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” out of their upcoming annual showings of the contenders for [...]

  • First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban

    First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban-Inspired After-Party (EXCLUSIVE)

    Celebrities at this year’s SAG Awards won’t have to go far for some tropical fun. Sunday’s annual post-show gala, hosted by People magazine for the 23rd year, is set to feature a Cuban-themed party space adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. “We’re kind of going back to more of a thematic element. I have some close [...]

  • Paul DavidsonVariety Big Data Summit Presented

    Listen: The Orchard's Paul Davidson on Surviving Sundance Bidding Wars

    Hollywood heads to Park City, Utah this week in the hopes of finding the next big Sundance Film Festival breakout. Paul Davidson, executive vice president of film and television at The Orchard, plans to be in the thick of it. In today’s edition of Variety‘s “Strictly Business” podcast, Davidson opens up about The Orchard’s strategy [...]

  • Young Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie:

    James Gandolfini's Son Michael Gandolfini Cast as Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie

    Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, will play the young Tony Soprano in “The Many Saints of Newark,” the  prequel movie to the television series “The Sopranos.” “It’s a profound honor to continue my dad’s legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano,” Gandolfini said. “I’m thrilled that I am [...]

  • Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born

    The Message of the Oscar Nominations: You'd Better Have a Social Message

    Each year at the Left Coast crack of dawn, when the Oscar nominations are announced, there’s generally at least one major nomination many pundits were predicting that fails to materialize. When that happens, entertainment media tends to rise up as one and say the s-word: snub. In truth, it’s not usually a snub; it’s just [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content