Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Clothes on Film

Natalie Portman in Black Swan, wearing a pink double-breasted coat from an original design by Amy Westcott, the film's costume designer.

Doing research on the Rodarte exhibit in L.A, I came across a fascinating and eye-opening interview with Black Swan costume designer Amy Westcott. I found it on the wonderful Clothes on Film, which features articles on costumes in movies. Recent offerings on the site include analysis of subjects that make a costume design fan like me swoon: Grace Kelly’s blue chiffon dress in To Catch a Thief, and Sharon Stone’s white dress, with matching jacket and nude slingbacks from the notorious interrogation scene in Basic Instinct.

What I found especially interesting in the Clothes on Film interview with Amy Westcott was learning that she, not Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, did the bulk of the costuming work in the film. Since I loved the looked of the clothes, especially the colors—pale pale pink, dove gray, the shades of white, the use of black—it was hard to know, as a filmgoer, if the Mulleavy sisters were responsible for this or the idea belonged to another costume designer. There was a lot more press about what the Mulleavy sisters did for the film than on Ms. Westcott’s more important role as overseer of every single stitch that made it into the movie. Ms. Westcott clears up the mystery on what costume designers do, comments on the Mulleavy sisters’ contribution to the film, and shares her feelings on being shut out of an Oscar nomination for Black Swan.

Mila Kunis (Lily) and Natalie Portman (Nina) in Black Swan. I loved the use of black and gray on Lily, Nina's dark doppelgänger.

The controversy between her and the Mulleavy sisters reminds me so much of the tensions between legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head and famed couturier Hubert de Givenchy, in work done for looks Audrey Hepburn wore in several films, including Sabrina, for which Ms. Head won an Oscar in 1954, though there is debate over who designed the “Sabrina” dress; Funny Face, in which both she and Givenchy were nominated for an Academy Award for best costume design in 1957, but did not win; and 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which received no nominations. Givenchy did the clothes Audrey wore in the film and Pauline Trigère dressed Patricia Neal in her role as Mrs. Failenson. Edith Head is listed in the credits as “costume supervisor.”

If you like costume design in film as much as I do, you will want to check out the Clothes on Film site. Not only is it an excellent resource, it’s just plain fun to read.


sacramento said...

I remembered when my mother used to have all her fashion ideas and dreams from films, even now, I am amazed at the beautiful dresses in the 40s films.
I shall have a good look my dear Jill. Thank you so much for sharing.

fashionoverfifty said...

I am reading (again)about Chanel and the period SHE did costumes in film. It only lasted a year--not as much as a success as all had hoped. Love old films and the old dresses. They serve as great inspiration to me! Thanks for the informative blog!

Veshoevius said...

Just read the interview with Westcott from your link - heard about the furore when she got nominated for a BAFTA and I think bits of this interview were scattered around the net - very interesting to read the whole thing! As much as I love the designs of Rodarte their behaviour over this leaves a lot to be desired.

jill815 said...

Hi Sacramento, I know what you mean, when I am feeling kind of down about fashion I will watch an old movie, especially from the 40's, 50's and 60's, and be inspired by clothes all over again.

jill815 said...

Hello Fashionoverfifty! I'm glad to see you here. I need to see the films where Chanel did the clothes. Is 'The Last Year at Marienbad' one of them? I need to check it out. I have read about how Coco and the film industry didn't get along so well, I must do more reading on this topic.

jill815 said...

Hi Veshoevius, I'm with you, I don't think the Mulleavy sisters handled this well. They should've been more vocal about working with Amy Westcott. Their ballet costumes were just gorgeous but it seems sad that there had to be bad feelings about who was getting credit and who was not. And it's a shame the costumes as a whole didn't get nominated for an Oscar.