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Contenders: Voters Prefer Period Costume Design, but Contemporary Designs Are in the Mix

Period Costume Design Oscars Billie Holiday
Mank: Netflix; Emma: Focus Features; Unite States vs. Billie Holiday: Takashi Seida/Paramount

What will the costume design branch of the Academy favor this year? Will it be the lushness of period, or will voters favor something else, something contemporary? Or will they pick a winner who lands in the history books?

Whoever they choose, there are a plethora of eras to select from. David Fincher’s “Mank,” n will most likely nab a wealth of craft nominations and maybe even go home with Oscar in several categories.

Costume designer Trish Summerville is no stranger to Fincher’s world, having worked on “Gone Girl” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Summerville brought the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood with gowns and suits to “Mank.” Her costumes on the grand black-and-white “Mank” have been garnering awards buzz since the first photos were released. And many consider her the front-runner in this category.

Besides, it’s well-known that Hollywood loves stories about Hollywood, and “Mank” checks that box as it goes behind the screenwriting process of “Citizen Kane.”

She and production designer Donald Graham Burt used the noir and monochromatic filters on their iPhones to see how the color would convert for Fincher’s film.

Dressing her leads in salmon, green and aubergine hues built texture on-screen. Should Summerville land a nomination, this would mark her first foray into Oscar territory.

Looking at landing a possible sixth Oscar nomination is British costume designer Alexandra Byrne for her frocks on the Jane Austen classic, “Emma.” Byrne’s last win was for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” in 2007. And she’s a pro when it comes to period dramas having also worked on “Hamlet,” “Finding Neverland” and “Mary Queen of Scots.”

For “Emma,” Byrne relied on a world of pastels to aid director Autumn de Wilde’s adaptation. Another period film the voters might lean into is “The Personal History of David Copperfield.”

Costume designers Robert Worley and Suzie Harman were told by director Armando Iannucci to go bright in bringing a modern twist to the film. It is a far cry from the bleak, cold world that is synonymous with Dickens.

Jumping to the ’60s, Regina King’s “One Night in Miami” could also stand a chance here in her reimagined telling of a meeting between 20th-century legends four legends: Sam Cooke, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown. Francine Jamison Tanchuck’s body of work includes “Glory,” “Boomerang ” and “Just Mercy.” She has yet to break in with the Costume Designers Guild and the Academy, but maybe this will be her year.

Similarly, Charlese Antoinette Jones who worked on Shaka King’s “Judas and the Black Messiah,” stands a chance at bowing with the guild and Academy. Should either Jones or JamisonTanchuck surprise with wins, they would make history by becoming only the second African American to win in that category.

Ann Roth is responsible for the costumes of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Yet despite 130 credits to her name and four Oscar noms (for “Places in the Heart,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “The Hours” and “The English Patient”) Roth has only taken the Oscar once, for “The English Patient.” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” could see Roth land her fifth nomination and is another strong contender in the category. She will become the oldest Oscar costume nominee if she scores. Roth set out to create a rubber suit for Viola Davis who plays the title character Ma Rainey, but since Davis was still on another shoot, Roth used Aretha Franklin’s measurements instead. It was through her research of the period (the 1920s) that Roth learned Ma probably had a horsehair wig because of her social status. Hair department head, and a leading contender in the hair and makeup Mia Neal, sought horsehair from Europe to create Ma’s wig. Together, they recreated a look that reflected the authenticity of the period.

Other contenders to watch are Lou Eyrich for “The Prom”; “News of the World’s” Mark Bridges; Michael O’Connor for “Ammonite”; Paolo Nieddu, who worked with Prada to create some of Andra Day’s looks in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”; and Sandy Powell for “The Glorias.”