In late November of 2020, the biographical drama, Mank, was released on Netflix. Here we are, days before the Oscars, and Mank has gone on to bring in over 250 award nominations and has collected 47 wins at the time of writing this piece! 10 of these nominations come from the Academy Awards, leading to nominations in “Best Picture,” “Best Performance By An Actor in a Leading Role,” “Best Achievement in Directing,” and of course, the ethereal costume designer Trish Summerville was nominated for “Best Achievement in Costume Design.” Let’s explore the work of Trish Summerville and the Oscar-Nominated costumes of Mank!
Trish Summerville is an incredibly talented costume designer known for her work on some of our favorite films and television shows, such as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Red Sparrow, See, and one of my personal favorites…the pilot for Westworld! Over the years, I have gotten to meet Trish Summerville a handful of times, and she is one of the most kind, coolest people I have ever met in the industry – whose creative vision is just so inspiring. Trish was also one of the first costume designers I ever met and is likely one reason why this blog even exists… so everyone should say thank you, Trish!
The Not-Always Golden Age of Hollywood
Mank takes place during what we call, The Golden Age of Hollywood. The 1930s were full of fashion trends such as long bias-cut gowns, high waistlines, tilted hats, and suits for days. A costume designer’s dream! “We had a lot of research going into it before we started fittings,” Trish tells Filmmaker Magazine. Trish continues by saying, “For daily life, [we looked at] old Sears and Roebuck and J.C. Penney catalogs. And then also looking at Time magazines, Life magazines, and old films that depicted the ’30s and ’40s. Then doing photographic research—since we were dealing with a lot of characters that are real, you can find research information on them.”
Our favorite fashion moments of this period were all represented within Mank. However, Trish Summerville was careful to bring a sense of realism to the film. Trish mentioned to MotionPictures.org that “one of the things [she] really enjoyed about the film was that [they] got to dress every walk of life of the 30s and 40s.” While the Hollywood crowd lived in lavish fashion styles, America was simultaneously feeling the heavy, crippling effects of the Great Depression. Being a costume designer doesn’t mean you are just responsible for the fun, glitz, and glamour of the statement costumes; the designer is also responsible for being true to the realities of the period.
Trish Summerville accomplished this task, responsibly bringing life to the everyday characters of this story. Simultaneously, Trish was not making a joke of a critically serious situation that was all too common for many families. “We’re rolling out of this depression era. You have the people that are living on the dole and don’t have any money. So you see the wear and tear in their clothing,” Trish tells Filmmaker Magazine.
Costuming For a Black and White Film
Costuming a period film is already a challenge in itself. On top of this already large project, imagine finding out Mank is being filmed in black and white? I am a huge fan of this decision, and I find this topic endlessly fascinating. Where do you even begin? Trish being the Oscar-Nominated designer that she is, made this challenge her own.
Trish explained to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that it’s all about “figuring out how to translate color into black and white, so it stays interesting and that everything isn’t the same flat tone. We were going through various rental houses, pulling costumes and clothing and lining them up, photographing them in black and white. Figuring out what colors really worked in black and white and didn’t. And what happened a lot is odd colors that you don’t necessarily think would be the best, colors that read really well in black and white, were like chartreuse, bright green, lavender, and salmon.”
Alright, pause! I am obsessed with the genius of this idea. Trish, lining up garments and taking photos using the black and white monochromatic filter on her phone! Trish mentions in a video with Netflix Film Club that she “actually [liked] working with no color. There was this figuring out how to tell the story without using color so that things didn’t just go flat or things didn’t pop too much.”
I can’t stop geeking out over this idea and I will not apologize for it.
Behind The Wardrobe for Marion Davies
No conversation about Mank would be complete without talking about the breathtaking costumes seen on Amanda Seyfried. Amanda brilliantly played actress Marion Davies. Marion was a very talented actress of the 20s and 30s and was known for starring in films such as Going Hollywood, Show People, Quality Street, and The Patsy. Not only was she an accomplished actress, but Marion also deserves great credit for setting a high bar in the 1920s and 30s Hollywood fashion scene. Marion was infamous for these very lavish parties with William Randolph Hearst at The San Simeon Hearst Castle that brought out the best fashion and the greatest costume parties you could think of.
“They regularly threw the most extraordinary costume parties you can imagine, and guests read like the A-list of Old Hollywood: Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, Jean Harlow and William Powell, Carole Lombard, and Clark Gable. They also entertained U.S. presidents and many other distinguished leaders and artists.” writes film and fashion historian Kimberly Truhler at GlamAmor.com. These parties were The Met Gala before The Met Gala was even a thing.
When it came to Amanda Seyfriend’s portrayal of Marion Davies, Trish told The Hollywood Reporter she “wanted her to look extremely glamorous.” Well, mission accomplished. Amanda looked amazing in every single shot, really becoming quite a focal point of the film. From the burning at the stake scene to the renowned dinner costume party, Amanda’s character delivers these extraordinary looks, one after the other! Yet, it all felt genuine. It felt as though you were observing a moving, beautiful black and white photograph of the time that made you wish time travel was a real thing.
Please, Call me Mank
Finally, another character we must talk about is, of course, Herman J. Mankiewicz. Gary Oldman played the famous American screenwriter, and the story follows Mank as he writes the screenplay for Citizen Kane alongside Orson Welles. Mankiewicz is the lead character of this story who experiences a whole lifetime within the over two-hour runtime. At heart, Mankiewicz is a very charismatic, intelligent, humorous man. However, Mank undergoes many different hardships in his life. For example, battling ongoing alcoholism, detoxing, injury, economic disparities, or the pressures of Hollywood. Mank is never completely put together, which posed an interesting challenge for Trish.
In a conversation with Variety, Trish talked about Mankiewicz’s wardrobe. “We had various periods with him. The present-day showed him convalescing, and then we go to flashbacks at the studios. He has a hip cast, and so we put him in a lot of nightshirts. As it progresses and the cast goes to the thigh and then the ankle, we put him in shorts. We tried to show the heat and his detoxing by sweating in bed. He had those detox sweat dreams, and then we go to the earlier years.”
Trish continued with some historical context. “He’s never perfectly pulled together. Probably the nicest we see him is at the funeral. He didn’t have a lot of money. He’s not somebody who had a closet full of suits. Even if you were wealthy at the time, men probably owned five suits. An everyday working-class person probably had one good suit and a couple of shirts.”
In conclusion, Mank is a fantastic film, emphasized by brilliant, showstopping costume design. From the costumed extras on the movie sets, and the everyday people of America, to the high-fashion parties at Hearst Castle, Trish thought about every detail worn on-screen, bringing together this timeless composition. I firmly believe Trish is more than deserving of this year’s Oscar for “Best Achievement in Costume Design.” We are thrilled to see her recognized for such accomplishments. I am very excited to see what she has in store for us next!
Mank is available to stream today on Netflix and select movie theatres!
Edelbaum, Susannah. “Costume Designer Trish Summerville on Diving Into Hollywood’s Past in ‘Mank’: The Credits.” Motion Picture Association, 26 Jan. 2021, http://www.motionpictures.org/2021/01/trish-summerville-on-diving-into-hollywoods-past-in-mank/.
Laffly, Tomris. “‘Building the Character a Closet’: Costume Designer Trish Summerville on the 1930s Hollywood Style of David Fincher’s Mank.” Filmmaker Magazine, filmmakermagazine.com/110674-building-the-character-a-closet-costume-designer-trish-summerville-on-the-1930s-hollywood-style-of-david-finchers-mank/#.YHyOtehKhPY.
“Painting in Black and White – ‘Mank’s’ Costume Designer Trish Summerville.” Golden Globes, http://www.goldenglobes.com/articles/painting-black-and-white-manks-costume-designer-trish-summerville.
Pener, Degen. “Costume Designer Trish Summerville on the Glamorous Looks of ‘Mank’s’ Amanda Seyfried.” The Hollywood Reporter, 7 Dec. 2020, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/costume-designer-trish-summerville-on-the-glamorous-looks-of-manks-amanda-seyfried.
Tangcay, Jazz. “Costume Designer Trish Summerville Breaks Down the Looks of ‘Mank’.” Variety, Variety, 4 Dec. 2020, variety.com/2020/artisans/news/mank-trish-summerville-costumes-1234845396/.
Truhler, Kimberly. “Cinema Style File–More about 1920s and 30s Screen Star Marion Davies.” GlamAmor, http://www.glamamor.com/2011/10/cinema-style-file-more-about-1920s-and.html