While scrutinizing this year’s official Academy Award class photo, my eye was immediately drawn to red…not just those few actresses wearing scarlet-hued dresses, but also the neon crimson hair of costume designer Sandy Powell. It’s appropriate that color would draw the eye to her, as she used it to create some of this year’s most stunning and effective costume designs, including the instant classic Cinderella gown made up of many layers of painstakingly dyed blue fabrics. She is pitted against herself with two 2015 nominations, one for Carol, the other for Cinderella. Not so coincidentally, in both she dressed Cate Blanchett. The last time the two worked together, for 2004’s The Aviator, both took home Oscars (Blanchett for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn).
“Synergy” is an overused word, but I can’t think of a better way to describe the relationship between the two. Powell recently told The Hollywood Reporter, “I hope there’s more to come for Cate and me…Half the work is done with somebody like that. She’s very astute visually and absolutely has a sense of her own style.”
Like Edith Head, who was nominated for such a variety of films from The Heiress to Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Powell is comfortable working in both minimal and ornate milieus, and with all kinds of directors, from Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) to John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) to Martin Scorsese (The Departed), becoming a favorite of both Jordan’s and Scorsese’s. Powell has collaborated with each of them six times, and now with Todd Haynes on three projects. Here’s a few of my favorites:
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Powell was nominated for both this and Shakespeare in Love in the same year. She won for Shakespeare, but the clothes in Goldmine are just as stunning to me. The film was also her first with Haynes.
Far From Heaven (2002)
Haynes was famously inspired by Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows and to match the intense Technicolor hues, indicated Pantone color palettes for each scene to Powell and production designer Mark Friedberg.
The Aviator (2004)
Powell’s designs, as noted above, won her an Oscar, a well-deserved one, as each character was a fairly well-known personage. Casting is part of the magic but the clothes are always appropriate. The designer also showed Howard Hughes’ growing mental distress with a progression from custom-tailored suits and shiny shoes to off-the-rack suits and tennis shoes (after Katharine Hepburn leaves him) to, well, not a stitch, as he descends into complete paranoia.
“I always enjoy the challenge of dressing an actor in something that’s ugly or in bad taste; what’s difficult is persuading them it’s right for the part – because even the best actors, with the highest integrity, will always be a bit vain. They might try to get out of it by saying “This doesn’t quite fit” or “It doesn’t suit me”. But how many people do you see day-to-day who are dressed perfectly in well-fitting clothes?”
— Sandy Powell
Carol and Cinderella costume round-up (check back for more links)
This Is How Cate Blanchett’s Carol Coat Came Together (and Fell Apart)
Oscars: What It’s Like to Dress Cate Blanchett for Both Cinderella and Carol
This post is part of The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by myself at Paula’s Cinema Club, Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled, and Aurora at Once Upon A Screen. Week 3 is dedicated to THE CRAFTS, check out the other posts here.