Costuming The Mother of The Blues: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Yesterday we celebrated Mother Earth, but today we celebrate Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, ‘Mother of the Blues,’ and Ann Roth, ‘Mother of Costume Design’ (in my opinion). These three powerful figures have brought so much to this world. Mother Earth has given us nature and a home to create, discover, love, and live our lives. Ma Rainey has given us confidence, dignity, loyalty, and Blues music while representing the LGBTQ+ community as an openly bisexual woman – a bold move for the 1900s that was definitely taboo. Ann Roth has helped convey Ma Rainey’s story and so many others through her ability to express emotion and time periods through her costumes. We will be talking about costuming the Mother of The Blues and Ann Roth’s work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottomwhich earned Roth an Academy Award nomination for “Best Costume Design.”  

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a sensational biopic filled with powerful storylines, clever characters, and much-needed reflection on America and its unsettling history. It’s based on the 1982 play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom written by August Wilson (notably known for Fences). With many of his works based in the early 1900s, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom takes place in 1927, Chicago. The story follows Blues singer Ma Rainey and her band as they meet for a reimagined recording session at a music studio up North. As the day progresses, they exchange stories and learn lessons about race, culture, relationships, religion, and the music industry.

Because the film mainly takes place on one day, each character mostly has one specific look. It’s the 1920s, meaning we can expect to see many pin-stripe suits and flapper dresses. This is Ann Roth’s specialty. Roth has done much research and works regarding the 19th and 20th centuries, having over 100 credits in Broadway and film. Her credits include The Prom, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Royal Family, The Iceman Cometh, Midnight Cowboy, The Bird Cage, and Mamma Mia! She has worked with many well-established individuals, such as Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Robin Williams, and Glenn Close.

Graduating from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now known as Carnegie Mellon University), Ann Roth began as a scenery painter for the Pittsburg Opera. She moved on to costume design after meeting costume designer Irene Sharaff. They worked on the musical Brigadoon together, and it became one of her first jobs in the movie industry. From then on, Roth fell in love with the costume side of things.   

Interestingly enough, Roth declined the offer to work on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at first. Ann Roth recently finished a project four weeks before she got the call. With the amount of work she likely had to do, she deserved a break. But after a few calls and her passion for fashion, Roth agreed. Little did she know that that decision would earn wins at the Costume Designer Guild Awards, BAFTA awards, and an Oscar nomination.

The style of dresses at this time was very straight and loose, different from the trends of today with tight-fitted, body-hugging wear. The makeup was dramatic, using heavy amounts of eyeshadow, eyeliner, and lipstick, contrarily keeping their eyebrows minimal – an overly arched thin pencil-drawn line. To keep a more masculine, curve-less look, their hair was kept short as well.

This style is well represented in the opening scene where Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis) on stage with a square collared, jam-colored dress. The collar is aligned with many narrow beads crossing each other in a diamond-shaped pattern. A cluster of sequins comes down the center of the dress, which seems to burst out towards the middle and bottom of the dress to make it look fuller. The dress is loose and flows gently as she performs in front of the crowd. The cuffs on the sleeves are outlined in silver, and sequins continue from the dress to the sleeve but are more spread out. The long bell sleeves exaggerate movement since they fall against the dress.

This is an interesting detail to note because Roth had mentioned the use of movement in an interview while talking about Broadway costumes for shows set in the 1920s. She stated that “the construction is different. Also, you are aware of how they move on a stage set. If somebody is coming down the stairs, you have to worry about a train and all the technical stuff you have to worry about. You have to worry about the lights and whether dancers can put their arms up like this…a lot. The construction’s different. Very different.” Roth is right. Even though Ma Rainey’s moves weren’t as flamboyant, she still needed room to sway her hips and interact with the audience.  

With under a month’s deadline to create the entire cast’s costumes, Roth had to think quickly. She used singer/songwriter and Civil rights activist Aretha Franklin’s measurements for Davis’ rubber suit. Thank goodness Roth had plenty of experience with this, noting in an interview with W Magazine that she “probably [had] 100, 200, 300” rubber suits made throughout her entire career.

After Roth did that, Roth just had to worry about accessories and hair. That couldn’t be too hard, right? Wrong. In fact, the wig that Davis wore with the jam-colored dress was made of horsehair! In an interview with Variety, lead hair designer Mia Neal stated, “The book said her performance wigs were made from horsehair, and that was something costume designer Ann Roth had found in her research, and we decided to keep that authentic.” Roth and Neal worked together to find the wig, which came from Europe. Because of how the hair was packaged, Neal ended up having to build the wig strand by strand. The wig was decorated with a scarf tied around Davis’ head and fell down the back of her head.

Dangling from Davis’ ears were gorgeous earrings that held a stone in the middle and three leaf-like detailed dangling stems. Roth also mentioned Ma Rainey’s necklace. Ma Rainey made many fashion statements in her time, proudly boasting feathers, wigs, and much jewelry. Some of her most notable pieces were her $20 coin necklaces. Roth was able to find real 1920s coins and put those together to create such an iconic work of art. Lastly is the ombre feather fan that Davis uses to cool herself off and intrigue the audience while her large smile flashes her gold teeth and captivates the room!  

Davis also wears two other looks throughout the film. During the next performance in the movie, we see Ma Rainey wearing a blue v-neck velvet dress. Roth maintains the bell sleeve look but adds in a slit for variety. There are also shooting stars all over the dress, and one fascinating detail is that the stars towards the bottom of the dress are arranged diagonally to the left and have fringes hanging from them. Fringe is also a prevalent 1920s trend. Davis continues to wear the $20 coin necklace and scarf as she waves around the ombre feather fan.

The last look we see Davis in throughout the rest of the film during the recording studio session. She wears a golden short sleeve deep v-neck dress with very intricate brown and linen-colored detailing and matching earrings. The collar is lined with interconnecting swirls of the same color. Tied around her waist is a golden dress sash that lays against her sides. Whenever she is outside of the recording studio, she dons a fur scarf, pale yellow gloves, and a plaid newsboy hat – possibly to maintain her elite presence.  This time though, Ma Rainey’s finger wave wig is made with European hair.  

One more thing that I do have to mention is the shoes worn by Levee Green (played by the late Chadwick Boseman). Levee Green is the determined yet arrogant trumpet player in Ma Rainey’s band. Being more experienced, the other members’ Toledo (played by Glenn Turman, who reprised his role as Toledo from the 2016 Broadway version), Cutler (played by Colman Domingo), and Slow Drag (played by Michael Potts) try to guide Levee through life, offering him life lessons and advice. But Levee has other motives and disregards everything that is being told to him.

Levee’s shoes first establish this foolishness. Levee spots these eye-catching yellow, pointed-toe wingtip, Broque Oxfords, in a store window right before the recording session. He impulsively purchases the shoes, spending more than he can afford and what the shoes are worth. Now I don’t want to spoil the rest of the plot; however, I will say that these shoes finally made Levee come to his senses. They might be the line between life and death.

Roth states where she found them in an interview with The Times, “in a store on Orchard Street – or maybe just off Orchard Street,” which is in New York, where they happened to be filming.  Roth also added that she wanted the shoes to specifically be yellow, telling the Times that in the 1920s, most men had a brown pair of shoes and a black pair of shoes. Adding to the rarity of the shoes and establishing importance, yellow shoes would stand out the most. Roth also persisted in keeping the shoes one color instead of the two-toned, a usually black and white style that we commonly saw around this time. Roth believed that the visual would not be as powerful with two different colors. So thank you, Ann Roth, for being as passionate as Levee (but not TOO passionate) in creating the shoe that left everyone speechless.  

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): (L to R) Michael Potts as Slow Drag, Chadwick Boseman as Levee and Colman Domingo as Cutler. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to dive into such a fantastic work of art. I wanted to give a special thanks to everyone who was a part of this wonderful movie. The cast did such a great job portraying this story; Ann Roth, Mia NealMatiki Anoff (make-up department), and Sergio Lopez-Rivera (make-up department) did an amazing job bringing these characters and the audience back to the 1920s.  The amount of work that goes into researching, fitting, shopping, and creating is incredible. I am wishing the entire team the best at the Oscars and am hoping for Roth to bring home the Oscar for Best Costume Design.  

Along with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom‘s nomination for Costume Design, actor Chadwick Boseman and actress Viola Davis were nominated for Best Actor and Actress in a leading role. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom also received a nomination for Makeup and Hairstyling along with Production Design. That’s a total of 5 Oscar nominations! 

Like the characters in the film, we can all take a lesson from these three inspirational figures. Mother Nature’s beauty and innocence teach us how to be nurturing and protect those around us. Ma Rainey was not afraid to break barriers and stay true to who she was, even though she lived during a time that worked against her. She did not view herself as inferior, and she made sure that others viewed her the same way. Most importantly, she was also not afraid to stand up for her loved ones – a value that many of us have been demonstrating over the past year.

Last but not least, Ann Roth makes sure that she takes pride in her skill and work. Like the shoe color, she does not let anyone tell her otherwise when she believed strongly in something. As an 89-year-old costume designer, she surely proves that age doesn’t limit your abilities. I admire these values and hope that others will follow in their footsteps to make this world a better place.   

I am sending all of my love and condolences to Chadwick Boseman’s family, friends, supporters, and everyone else he has wonderfully impacted. This may have been his last work, but his legacy will continue to live on.  

Please tune in to the Oscar’s on Sunday April 25, 2021 to see who will take home best Costume designer!  And stream Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix!


Check out these sources to learn more Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the process behind it! 

Eckardt, Stephanie. “How Viola Davis Physically Transformed Into Ma Rainey.” W Magazine, W Magazine, 22 Dec. 2020, http://www.wmagazine.com/story/ma-raineys-black-bottom-costumes-ann-roth.

Grobar, Matt. “Greasepaint And Horsehair: How ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’s Makeup & Hair Designers Captured Essence Of A Trailblazing Blues Singer And Her World.” Deadline, Penske Business Media, 15 Jan. 2021, deadline.com/tag/matiki-anoff/.

Hoo, Fawnia Soo. “’Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ Costume Designer on Dressing Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman.” Fashionista, Fashionista, 18 Dec. 2020, fashionista.com/2020/12/netflix-ma-raineys-black-bottom-costumes.

Lin, Alex. “Who Was August Wilson, The Playwright Of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom?” ScreenRant, ScreenRant, 29 Dec. 2020, screenrant.com/ma-rainey-black-bottom-august-wilson-playwright/.

Maitland, Hayley. “5 Truly Wild Details About The Costumes, Hair & Make-Up In ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’.” British Vogue, British Vogue, 8 Apr. 2021, http://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/ma-raineys-black-bottom-costumes.

Regensdorf, Laura. “Inside Viola Davis’s Swaggering Transformation Into Blues Icon Ma Rainey.” Vanity Fair, 21 Dec. 2020, http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2020/12/viola-davis-ma-raineys-black-bottom-transformation-hair-makeup.

Tangcay, Jazz. “How Costume Designer Ann Roth Helped Viola Davis Transform in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’.” Variety, Variety Media, 6 Nov. 2020, variety.com/2020/artisans/production/ma-raineys-black-bottom-costume-designer-ann-roth-1234823273/.

Tangcay, Jazz. “Why ‘Ma Rainey’s’ Creative Team Used Horsehair to Reflect Authentic Black Hairstyles of the 1920s.” Variety, Variety Media, 19 Dec. 2020, 9:36am PT, variety.com/2020/artisans/news/ma-rainey-hair-viola-davis-1234867032/.

Trojan, Judith. “Ann Roth Oscar Shoe-In for Ma Rainey’s Pitch Perfect Costumes.” FrontRowCenter, 20 Apr. 2021, judithtrojan.com/2021/04/20/ann-roth-oscar-shoe-in-for-ma-raineys-pitch-perfect-costumes/.

Old Adventures In New Costumes – Pinocchio

Directed by Matteo Garrone, this version of Pinocchio (2019) is nothing like the well-known 1940s Disney story about the wooden puppet that came to life. Both visually and story-wise, this new film accurately portrays the 1883 novel written by Carlo Collodi. The film rightfully earned two well-deserved Oscar nominations. One nomination was for “Best Makeup and Hairstyling,” and the other for and “Best Costume Design.” Let’s take a closer look at the wonderfully grotesque costume design by 2021 Oscar nominee Massimo Cantini Parrini.

Greta De Lazzaris/Roadside Attractions

The original novel by Carlo Collodi was published in 1883, as a series for Giornale per I Bambini (Italian for ‘Newspaper for children), with illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti. The historical period and illustrations were significant building blocks in the costume design for this film. As the costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini told the Below the Line:

“The next step in the creative process was to try to be faithful to the illustrations of the original classic novel, and we realized that no one had ever represented these original illustrations in any of the features that have been taken from the classic Pinocchio.”

Below the Line

For Pinocchio’s character, there is a clear similarity in the silhouette compared to the original illustrations. In the book, Geppetto “made his son a little suit of flowered paper, a pair of shoes from the bark of a tree, and a tiny cap from a bit of dough.”

In this new iteration, Geppetto actually makes Pinocchio’s costume from a blanket. This gives an additional layer of narrative importance to this act, as he has to make so many sacrifices for Pinocchio right from the beginning. The most significant difference between Disney’s Geppetto and this newest interpretation is their social status. In Disney’s version, Geppetto is a well-situated, kind, old gentleman prepared for a son and wishes upon a star to get him. On the other hand, this newer Geppetto’s motivation with the puppet is completely different at first. He wants to create a puppet to tour the world and make money out of his wonderful creation. However, when he starts to hear the puppet’s heartbeat, he realizes he has created something much more valuable, a son.

Geppetto’s social situation is told masterfully through his costume. It stands out from the time period of the 1880s, dating back to the tailcoats of the 18th century. He must sell his coat and vest in a scene where he dates the items back more than a hundred years. Another notion with the color of the costume is that their faded look blends Geppetto in with the background. He is on the edge of society.

Unlike Gepetto’s color palette, Pinocchio’s red color is the heart of this film. He is the only bright spot throughout the movie. As Massimo Cantini Parrini told Below The Line:

“I really wanted that color because it made him like a little ladybug fluttering from one adventure to another, and also because in my opinion red is the costume of human feeling.”

Below The line

A thoughtful detail from the Makeup and Special effects department is how Pinocchio’s face becomes more and more chipped throughout the film. Through tough experiences, like his leg burning off, then being chased and hanged, the challenges of becoming a real boy are reflected through these wooden lines.

Poverty affects Geppetto but has its stamp on the whole atmosphere of the film, making it feel more realistic. However, there are several fantastical elements to the movie, like the Cat and the Fox, whose apparels show a long-lost past of wealth. Hunger, dirt, and gluttony overshadow their once elaborate wool coats and ties.

Screenshot from Pinocchio (2019) Distributed by Vertigo Films (United Kingdom)

We get to know the Fairy with Turquoise Hair more, which is a delightful surprise of the new film. Unlike Disney’s glamorous Hollywood star-like Blue Fairy, the ethereal creature we meet, Fairy, when she is only a child. However, she looks lifeless capturing a different kind of magic. Her shiny white skin and turquoise hair remind us of elaborate, porcelain Victorian dolls. Even her costume looks faded and lifeless like the dried flowers in her hair. When we meet her later as an adult, she is wearing the same outfit, as if time stopped for her.

Her nanny, the Snail, is one of the most visually striking characters in the film. A shawl and a bonnet decorate the silhouette of her gown, inspired by the 1800’s house dress. The mauve colors are faded by time with the slime, and the elaborate layers of crocheted fabrics give a grotesque yet comforting and oddly familiar. Every shot in Fairy’s home looks like a surrealist painting. From the mystical lights, the old cobweb-covered furniture with all the creatures that visit radiate nostalgic sadness.

When we compare the atmosphere of Pleasure Island, we can clearly see a difference. Garrone’s film stayed true to the horror of the Island in the original novel. Not the loud, colorful, and welcoming as portrayed in the Disney adaptation. But dry, colorless, dirty like reality was for many children in the 1880s in Italy. In Carl Ipsen’s book Italy in the Age of Pinocchio writes:

“The unnamed man who transports Pinocchio and his friend Lucignolo to the mythical land without schools, books, or teachers, for example, resembles those infamous agents (…) who signed up children in southern Italy and then transported them abroad, either for working in the sort of wandering trades (…) or else in foreign factories.”

This dark historical parallel, and the unfortunate fate that Pinocchio and his friend must face in the hands of greedy grownups makes this tale even darker.

This Pinocchio is a poetic, grotesque tale told through the aged layers of masterfully made costumes. I only highlighted my favorites in this article, but Cantini Parrini created more than 60 amazing looks for the production. Honoring his achievement, there was an exhibition in the Prato, Textile Museum – from 21 December 2019 to 22 March 2020. I hope after the Oscars when museums open again, there will be a chance to see these amazing creations, wonderful sketches, and the collection of historical garments that created Pinocchio.


Pinocchio is available to rent or purchase on Amazon, YouTube. A catalog of the exhibition can also be purchased through this link.


Sources:

“Contender Profile: Costume Designer Massimo Cantini Parrini on Pinocchio.” Below the Line, 15 Apr. 2021, http://www.btlnews.com/crafts/costume-design/pinocchio-costumes-cantini-parrini/.

“From the Big Screen to the Museum: Massimo Cantini Parrini’s Costumes for ‘Pinocchio’ by Matteo Garrone @ The Textile Museum, Prato, Italy.” Irenebrination, http://www.irenebrination.com/irenebrination_notes_on_a/2019/12/pinocchio-costumes-prato.html.

Ipsen, Carl. “Italy in the Age of Pinocchio: Children and Danger in the Liberal Era.” Amazon, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, http://www.amazon.com/Italy-Age-Pinocchio-Children-American/dp/1403973016.

Staff, Modadivas. “Pinocchio in the Costumes of Massimo Cantini Parrini from the Film by Matteo Garrone.” Modadivas Fashion Magazine, 22 Dec. 2019, http://www.modadivasmagazine.com/en/2019/12/22/pinocchio-costumi-massimo-cantini-parrini-matteo-garrone/.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Pinocchio.jpg

Trish Summerville and the Oscar-Nominated Costumes of Mank

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.”

Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies. Mank. Image Courtesy of Netflix

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.

Mank. Image Courtesy of Netflix

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.

Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies. Mank. Image Courtesy of Netflix

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.”

Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz. Mank. Image Courtesy of Netflix

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!


Works Cited

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

A Reflection on the Costumes of Mulan

A costume designer’s job is difficult, stressful, and demanding. However, designing for a movie that already has a dedicated fan base becomes substantially harder. You are placed under a microscope with fans dissecting your every decision and whether they believe you are the right person for the job. When you add on Disney Fan Base that is already in love with this established character, the scrutiny can feel daunting. If Costume Designer Bina Daigeler felt that intense pressure when she was chosen to design the costumes of the live-action adaption of Mulan, it never showed or affected the quality of her work. 

Daigeler proved she was the right choice for Mulan as her beautiful costumes mesmerized audiences, removing the constant comparison to the animated film. Instead, she reignited and inspired a new love for the storytelling of Mulan’s journey. Her hard work has not gone unrecognized as she won the 2021 Costume Designer Guild Award for Excellence in Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film.  These colorful and insightful costumes also brought forth a prestigious nomination for this year’s Best Costume Design Academy Award.   

Disney’s Mulan tells the story of a young woman who didn’t fit in with society’s mold; she fearlessly steals her father’s armor to save her family while knowing it will most likely bring dishonor as she must pretend to be a man to train and become a warrior in the Imperial Army. Through self-discovery, she learns that being loyal, brave, and true is not gender-specific when becoming a hero. 

Mulan fights to become a warrior, a job not allowed by women, and those who have tried are labeled a witch. This theme hits home as they fight for Pay Equity among Costume Designers is being brought to the forefront. As Costume Designer and Costume Designer’s Guild President Salvador Perez stated at the Costume Design Guild Awards, “Our pay equity committee is energizing us all to fight for pay equity. As costume designers, we are such an integral part of the storytelling process, but as our work is traditionally done by women, we are paid much less than departments led by men. It is time for pay equity now.”  Costume Designer Bina Daigeler eloquently stated, “Without us Costume Designers, the movies would be naked.”  

It’s not always easy to articulate how hard the role of the costume designer is. Yet, the director of Mulan, Niki Caro, did so beautifully when talking about Daigeler in an Instagram post. 

“It’s hard to overestimate how important costume design is on a movie of this scale and scope. Costume Designer Bina Daigeler @bina_daigeler_costumedesign began with Mulan’s most critical costume. This costume needed to disguise Mulan as a man but then reveal her as a woman. It needed to take her to war (armor) and move with her through martial arts-based action choreography. Bina approached the design with her trademark intuition and logic and her abundant artistry and creativity. The shots of Mulan fighting are some of my favorites in the movie. I see a fearless warrior, but I also see a real woman, and I love how Bina’s design reveals the strong female body. I love how it moves with Yifei – how it’s both tough and flexible. Bina created something genuinely iconic, and one of my most cherished dreams is one day seeing a whole tribe of little warrior Mulans on Halloween.” 

Niki Caro – Director of Mulan
Photos via El Capitan Theater- Twitter Account

Daigeler wanted to ensure that she was respectful of Chinese culture, incorporating themes, symbolism, and colors into her inspiration and interpretation of her designs. She immersed herself in history,  spending several weeks in China, visiting museums, speaking with experts, and reviewing books. However, it is important to note that this is a Disney fantasy production and not a documentary or historically accurate Film.  The rich and vibrant culture of China can be seen as an inspiration, especially the Tang Dynasty, throughout the costumes and details that Daigeler and her team meticulously created.  

  

“I just tried to soak up every different dynasty there was and to get as much possible visual research of the different periods that are there about the Chinese culture. But we did a Disney movie. We did our own version of the Mulan story. I was never [going] to do, like, a documentary. It’s a mixture of ideas. It’s like when you get a recipe. And you test it, follow your own intuition with ingredients. There’s a lot of base Chinese history, but then, of course, there’s a lot of my own vision of the fantasy of the vision of the director, of the script. “

Bina Diageler interview with Comicbook.com

She mentions in numerous interviews; she obtained the hand embroidery and richness of the costumes because she had the support, time, prep and production time, an amazing crew, and the budget. That included Cathryn Avison assisting with the beautiful embroidery.  

Designing the costumes for this film was not an easy task as multiples were needed, including different variations of the same costume to allow for different action sequences. For example, the leather armor needed to move while fighting, riding a horse, being underwater. As she told Variety, there were approximately six different versions with different materials and weights. Some variations have the plates removed to allow for the required movement in the scene.  

The armor was generally painted leather, with the sections being handstitched, requiring two people trained in tying sailors knots to dress the actors. These alterations to costumes can often be seen as mistakes or continuity errors, but it’s not often having the same costume work in every situation. An example of this would be the stunt version of Mulan’s shoes. The leather boots were actually Stella McCartney sneakers in disguise with her crew wrapping leather around them. These sneakers became so popular most of the departments bought their own pairs. Costume designer Bina Daigeler worked closely with Weta Workshop to build the armor.  

“Our congratulations to Mulan Costume Designer Bina Daigeler for her Best Costume… Oscar nomination announced today. Bina’s designs were creatively inspiring and beautiful in their detail. We are so proud to have had the opportunity to work with Bina and bring her incredible designs to life in the 300 suits of armor we created for the film” (See Photos Above)

Weta Workshop – Instagram

The development of the Matchmaker dress inspired by the Sui Dynasty took a long time. It included a “cheat dress” so that the form-fitting ensemble would work during the action scene while still appearing shapely. The dress was created out of 12 meters of beautifully hand-embroidered fabric, featuring images of butterflies, magnolias, and a phoenix. Disney flew several creatives and Youtubers to New Zealand to give a behind-the-scenes tour of the making of Mulan. Diageler revealed to the tour that this ensemble took two weeks to create, and even the underdress and shoes were embroidered. 

When asked what her favorite costume was, Daigeler explained that it was the ensemble Mulan wears when she takes her father’s sword. She needed to get this costume right as the scene is emotional for Mulan and needed to convey the shift in who she is after the Matchmaker disaster. “In costume design, it’s often easier to the big costumes because you can live out your fantasy, you can be loud, you can be crazy, but trying to make the quiet costumes right… that’s difficult.”  

The shape-shifting witch, Xianniang’s costume, was the most elaborate. Originally the costume had been designed in a more ethereal direction using softer fabrics. Eventually, a member of the visual effect team suggested using the sleeves as weapons. This suggestion allowed Daigeler to redesign the costume, bringing to life this inspired vision. Her first concern was that Mulan and the Witch would have armor. However, that concern quickly dissipated when the symbolism became more apparent. Mulan was able to shed the armor, removing the deceit that was poisoning her Chi. This was something that Xianniang could never do. As the design changed, the earth and grounded colors did not. The hand-stitched costume still gave an organic feel while still connecting with the shape-shifting hawk.  

The beautifully intricate costumes with their detailed embroidery and textiles are a true testament to costume designer Bina Daigeler’s talent. Mulan was the biggest project she has worked on over her 36-year career as a designer. Along with her team making the court, imperial ladies, villagers, and background all in their workroom and she was more than ready for the task and truly deserved all the nominations for her stunning work in this film.

“The Flower that Blooms in Adversity is the Most Rare and Beautiful of All.”

The Emplorer – Mulan Animation Film 


On Behalf of The Art of Costume – Congratulations to Bina Diageler and her costume team

Costume Designer – Bina Diageler

Director – Niki Caro

Assistant Costume Designers – Daniela Backes, Liz McGregor 

Illustrators – Anna Haigh, Warren Holders, Luke Hollis and Long Ouyang 

Supervisor – Jenny Rushton, Bettina Seifert 

To Watch the Tour of Backstage of Mulan and the Costume Workroom

April – Coolirpa (Pictures as provided above – Costume Department behind the Scenes 6:45)

Jasmin – Jazzybum (Pictures as provided above – Costume Department behind the Scenes 11:21)

Reimagining Jane Austen’s, Emma

A woman wearing an empire-waisted dress made of fine, white muslin in a bonnet decorated with delicate ribbon and flowers gazing across the English countryside is the classic image of the subdued Regency-era woman we’ve all become accustomed to. It’s also the image we expect when a new adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s classic novels is announced.

While each new adaptation has taken liberties with this classic image, from the 1996 Emma movie in which Emma practices archery in a striped pink dress or 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries where Mr. Darcey goes swimming only half-clothed; to the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie where deep earth tones telegraphed the gravity of every situation or 2009 Emma miniseries where costume designer, Rosalind Ebbutt, wasn’t afraid of florals. However, each strives to capture the era’s perceived simplicity through a lack of color or embellishment in its costumes.

When the first images of Autumn de Wilde’s Emma emerged, showing a vibrant and elaborately dressed Emma, it looked like de Wilde and Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Bryne had decided to take a lot of creative license with the period piece. With the film clearly leaning into comedic aspects of the story of Emma’s miss conceived plan to use her great wealth and influence to create an advantageous match for her friend Harriet, the exuberance made sense even if it didn’t seem period-appropriate. However, de Wilde was nothing if not thorough when researching her feature film directorial debut.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse Photo: Focus Features
(Left) Amber Anderson as Jane Fairfax (Left Center) Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton (Center) Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton (Right Center) Director Autumn de Wilde(Right) Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightly Photo: Focus Features
Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse Photo: Focus Features

“I was really excited by how colorful the Regency period really was. Color was how you showed your wealth and your class rank…It does feel like a heightened world, but it is based on historical accuracy.”

Autumn de Wilde, in an interview with Fashionista

De Wilde wanted to create a world accurate to the era but in a way that heightened and showed the complexity of the characters. The extremes of creating heightened realities or ones firmly grounded in history for the big screen are challenges Bryne is very familiar with, having designed multiple films in the Marvel universe and historical dramas, including Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots. This allowed her to be ready for the Historically heightened world of de Wilde’s Emma

“I find the period interesting because fashion journals were beginning to be published. These journals and the hand-colored fashion plates played an important part in the definition of ‘fashion’ as a fast-moving, cosmopolitan phenomenon. The clothes emerging from the fashion plates depended on interpretation, ability, money and confidence.”

Alexandra Byrne in an interview with awards daily
Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse Photo: Focus Features

Emma Woodhouse, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, is nothing if not confident enough to wear these emerging fashions around the small village of Highbury, where her wealth and status make her an influential figure, and Bryne’s designs center around this fact. In every room she walks into, Emma is clearly the individual with the most wealth and power in the room.

The color scheme for most of the cast ranges from earth tones to burgundies, and where they fall in that range depends on how wealthy they are. The richer they are, the more burgundy tones in their wardrobe, the poorer they are, the more earth tones. In contrast, Emma’s wardrobe, filled with bright colors and pastels, is a ray of sunshine, allowing her to stand out. This distinction between Emma and those around her is most apparent when she attends her friend’s wedding. All attending the wedding are wearing their Sunday best, creating a sea of burgundy pretty much regardless of class. This allows Emma’s pastel pink jacket and bright white muslin to create a stark contrast.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse Photo: Focus Features
Photo: Focus Features
Miranda Hart as Miss. Bates Photo: Focus Features

This contrast is also apparent in her relationship with Harriett Smith, played by Mia Goth, a newcomer to Highbury with no family to speak of. Because Emma is convinced she is the daughter of a gentleman, she takes Harriett under her wing. At the beginning of their friendship, the vast wealth gap between the two is evident as Harriet’s wardrobe is filled the earth tones signaling her low social status and lack of wealth, while right next to her, Emma is exuding wealth and status wearing bright, rich colors. As her influence on Harriett grows, her wardrobe begins to lighten up; however, Emma’s rank is never in question as she always has more trimmings and expensive accessories.

While it’s clear that Emma is regularly the most high-ranking person in the room, there are two exceptions Mr. Frank Churchhill, played by Callum Turner, and Mr. Knightly, played by Johnny Flynn. They are her love interests in the film and her social equal which means they can afford to look as good as Emma.

(Left) Callum Turner as Mr. Churchhill (Right) Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse Photo: Focus Features

Frank Churchhill was raised outside of Highbury by his rich aunt and is the son of Emma’s close friend. Like Emma, Frank is used to having the money and ability to keep up with the latest styles. He wears bright colors compared to those around him and patterned vests that draw attention to him. When he appears alongside her, there is no visual disparity allowing them to be seen as equals.

(Left) Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse (Right) Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightly Photo: Focus Features

Life-long friend and owner of a large neighboring estate, Mr. Knightly is the only other character that equals Emma’s status and class. Like Emma and Churchhill, Knightly can keep up with the latest styles; however, he ops for a more straightforward refined look. Bryne used color in this simplicity to make his wardrobe complement Emma’s and creates equality between the two characters allowing them to interact on the equal ground despite his lack of fashionable additions.

(Left) Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse (Right) Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightly Photo: Focus Features
(Left) Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse (Right) Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightly Photo: Focus Features

While he isn’t the most fashionable gentlemen, Knightly is always well dressed with outfits that are impeccably tailored and put together. The film reveals how gentlemen of the era create this unique look when it turns the table on the typical period-piece dressing scene.

“I read a diary of a gentlemen, who explained dressing with his valet,” Byrne said. “The measure of a man in the Regency Era was about the quality of his laundry, how clean his shirt was, and how starched white the collar was.”

Alexandra Byrne in an interview with The wrap

Usually reserved for showcasing the intricacies of women’s undergarments, dressing scenes have become a staple in many period films. While this scene is not generally in Austen adaptations, because of her reserved writing, de Wilde decided to add it, but instead of giving it to Emma, she gave it to Mr. Knightly.

“Autumn mentioned that we always see female characters dressing, with corsets and stockings. She wanted to push this idea with Mr. Knightley. Autumn ultimately wants the audience to understand how the clothes work and how the clothing helped compose a day for each of the characters.”

Alexandra Byrne in an interview with The wrap
WARNING: This clip contains nudity
Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightly, Direction by Autumn de Wilde, Cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt, Distributed by Focus Features

While Churchhill and Knightly look like Emma’s visual equal on-screen, some take the style to its extreme. Mrs. Elton, played by Tanya Reynolds, is the first person to challenge Emma’s hold on Highbury society when she moves there as the wife of the vicar. From the moment she first appears, it’s clear that she is a very fashionable woman, but she lacks the class and constant of Emma.

(Left) Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse (Left) Callum Turner as Mr. Churchhill Photo: Focus Features
(Left) Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton (Right) Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton Photo: Focus Features
(Left) Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton (Right) Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton Photo: Focus FeaturesPhoto: Focus Features

“Fashion can be so ridiculous — and I love that about fashion — and I love it especially when the person wearing it does not seem to be aware in how ridiculous it is.”

Autumn de Wilde, in an interview with Fashionista

Unlike Emma, Mrs. Elton overdresses in an attempt to assert the position she believes she should have as the vicar’s wife. She says that she has the “greatest dislike to the idea of being over-trimmed,” however, being over-trimmed defines her style.

When she makes this statement during the ball sequence, she is very much over trimmed in a bright yellow gown with frills, beads, rosettes, a tiara with a matching necklace, and earrings. In comparison, Emma is her white gown with small contrasting rosettes that match the ones in her hair and jewelry that compliments her overall look. She is demure and refined, while Miss Elton is representing everything she claims to dislike.

While this constant over trimming adds to the general ridiculousness of her character, it’s also a reflection of how she tries to forcibly insert herself into Highbury society. Offering unsolicited help and advice to those around her. She is as forthright and abrasive as her fashion.

(Left) Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse (Right) Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton Photo: Focus Features

While it looks as though Emma’s wardrobe is extensive enough to be wearing several new and intricate outfits every day, this was far from the truth,

“I think there is a danger to over costume. I tried to counter this by giving the characters ‘working wardrobes’ so that different looks could be achieved by putting layers and accessories together in different combinations … She only wears three muslin dresses through the film, but they are played with different colored petticoats, gloves, bonnets, spencers, chemisettes, and jewelry .”

Alexandra Byrne in an interview with awards daily

Bryne does this artfully throughout the film and showcases this ‘working wardrobe’ in the first ten minutes. She starts the day getting ready for her friend’s wedding in a simple white muslin dress with a sheer ruffled collar seamlessly added over the top. Emma continues to wear the muslin dress throughout the day; however, she removes the collar to create an entirely different look for the wedding. This new look is achieved by adding a light pink Spencer jacket, cross necklace, fur muff, and lavishly decorated bonnet.

At the wedding luncheon, we see the removal of her jacket and bonnet while adding gloves and a dusty rose overdress. That evening, as Emma relaxes at home, she has one accessory, her necklace, and a dark rose house jacket over her muslin. Through accessorization and layering, Bryne manages to turn a single dress into four unique, varied costumes.

Bryne creates Emma’s seemingly endless wardrobe by layering the muslin dress with brightly colored petticoats to change its color. This illusion works so brilliantly because of the muslin’s inherent sheerness, which allows the colors of the petticoats to shine through transforming the dress to fit the scene.

“So actually, Emma within the film only has three muslin dresses, but with all the accessories and the layers, because the muslin is so sheer, you can put a yellow petticoat underneath, or a pink petticoat and it changes the nature of the dress.”

Alexandra Byrne in an interview with jump cut online

Byrne has taken a story that has been retold time and time again, managing to create a unique look for a beloved character and gain a much deserved Academy Award nomination in the processes. She and de Wilde have opened up the possibilities for what a Jane Austen adaptation can look like and pulled the novel into the 21st century. Alexandra Byrne’s work on Emma is truly a master class in how abundant research, ingenuity, and a focus on the character can breath new life into classics.

Callum Turner as Mr. Churchhill Photo: Focus Features
Mia Goth as Harriet Smith Photo: Focus Features
Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightly Photo: Focus Features
Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton Photo: Focus Features
Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton Photo: Focus Features
Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse Photo: Focus Features

“It’s actually all true to period and I think there is a tendency with period, to make it faded and sepia because we think of antiquity like that. But from doing the research, both on fashion plates and looking at garments in museums – when you look at the fabric on existing original pieces, where it hasn’t been exposed to sunlight (so inside a hem or within a seam allowance) the colours are actually astounding and the colour combinations are astounding. So that gave me the courage to think; actually yes, we really can use colour and as a designer, I think colour is one of our best storytelling tools.”

Alexandra Byrne in an interview with jump cut online

Want to know more? Check out my sources

Hoo, Fawnia Soo. “Autumn De Wilde on the Dreamy, Colorful and Period-Authentic Style in ‘Emma’.” Fashionista, Fashionista, 28 Feb. 2020, fashionista.com/2020/02/emma-movie-autumn-de-wilde-interview-costumes.

Underhill, Fiona. “INTERVIEW: ‘Emma’ Costume Designer Alexandra Byrne.” JumpCut Online, JumpCut Online, 15 Mar. 2021, jumpcutonline.co.uk/2021/02/06/interview-emma-costume-designer-alexandra-byrne/.

Blythe, Finn. “Oscar-Winning Costume Designer Alexandra Byrne Dissects Her Latest Work for Emma.” HERO Magazine, HERO Magazine, 26 Feb. 2020, hero-magazine.com/article/166259/alexandra-byrne-costume-designer-emma/.

Adams, Ryan, et al. “BAFTA Nominee Alexandra Byrne On Costuming ‘Emma.’ Throughout the Seasons for a Jane Austen Adaptation in 2020 – Awardsdaily – The Oscars, the Films and Everything in between.” Awardsdaily, Awardsdaily, 9 Mar. 2021, http://www.awardsdaily.com/2021/03/09/alexandra-byrne-interview/.

McGovern, Joe. “’Emma’ Costume Designer on the Politics of Starch and Male Nudity in the Jane Austen Era.” TheWrap, TheWrap, 24 Feb. 2021, http://www.thewrap.com/emma-costume-designer-on-the-politics-of-starch-and-male-nudity-in-the-jane-austen-era/.

Mia Goth as Harriet Smith Photo: Focus Features

Costuming The Animated World: Stop-Motion Animation

Missing Link. 2019. Photo: © Laika Studios

The art of creating stop-motion animations might be one of the oldest filmmaking techniques ever invented, which date back to the 1890s. Stop-motion uses photography as its medium to bring an object/puppet to life by playing series of photographs in sequence. The advances in photography made this medium effective, and throughout the years, animators have incorporated the use of CGI technology. It is considered an art because of the number of talented people working with their hands to bring characters to life. To achieve the desired motion, 24 photographs are played per second. It is a technique that no matter the amount of technology incorporated into it, the human hand would never be replaced entirely.

The very first stop-motion film created is The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1898) by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith. In this short film, the animators took their daughter’s toys and created a circus in motion. Unfortunately, this film has been lost and there are only photographs that support the existence of it. Since then, many others have continued to create stop-motion animations, by modeling with paper, clay, and puppets. They have all contributed to what we know now as stop-motion films and continue to delight us with beautiful masterpieces.

Creating a film at such a small scale (each human-shaped character is about 10 inches/25cm) demands extraordinary attention to detail in every aspect. From sets and props to facial expressions, hair, and of course, costumes. The different textures created to imitate a fabric or surface, or the movement and weight of fabric themselves regarding the size of the puppet are some of the details that animators, modelers, and costume designers take into account when creating each character.

There are different techniques used to create puppets, depending basically on the needs of the character (movement and physical traits) and the entire aesthetic of the film. Animators mainly use resin, clay, fabric, latex, or foam modelled on top of a metal armature which allows movement and stability to the puppets. 

Left: A Nightmare Before Christmas. 1993. Photo: © Disney Studios

In 1989, the British company Aardman Animations introduced their very famous characters of Wallace and Gromit with a short stop-motion film called A Grand Day Out. This animation gave them an Academy Nomination and was their beginning to what became a worldwide phenomenon. In their animations, costume design is an integral part of character creation and in the same way, there is not a specific role for a costume designer. Animators do the entire job of designing the character from head to toe. The character modeler is in charge of bringing this character to life taking care of all the details that its costume demands. While the character is modeled in clay, all the textures that need to be on its costumes are added (stitches, creases, wrinkles, and seams). Then, it is cast in plaster, which will make it solid and easy to maneuver. Each part is then coloured (or sprayed) with a diluted latex mixture, and details will be hand-painted.

Right: Chicken Run. 2000. Photo: © Aardman Animations

Wallace is most of the time wearing a green knitted vest, red tie, white shirt, and brown trousers, this is his primary costume. But, as storytelling demands, more costumes are designed for him when creating a new storyboard. Due to the technique used to create their puppets, costumes are to some extent simple and not loaded with a ton of details.

A Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton (1993) was the first stop-motion feature film to receive worldwide distribution. For this film, more than 220 puppets were made using clay. Jack Skellington came to life from Tim Burton’s original sketches as the iconic character we know, and whose costume (a black striped suit and a bat-like bow tie) has been undoubtedly a stamp to this character.

“Some of the finest model animators in the world brought the creepy characters eerily to life (…) all of which were textured to have the look of the scratchy, cross-hatched pen-work found in Tim Burton’s original drawings” (Sibley, 2010)

Right: A Nightmare Before Christmas. 1993. Photo: © Disney Studios

Another extraordinary stop-motion film by Tim Burton is Corpse Bride (2005). In this film, animators were pushing the boundaries of the different mechanisms they incorporated into their puppets. Once again, characters and costumes were designed originally by Tim Burton but then perfected by Carlos Grangel, character designer of the film. As usual, Tim Burton’s characters were very long and skinny with large heads and eyes. This was something that modelers had to take into account when creating the armature for each one of them.

One of the most challenging parts of the film was creating Emily’s dress (The Corpse Bride) since it demanded a lot of movement and fluidity. Animators had to create different mechanisms to generate movement in the veil and skirt. Also, some structures have to be placed under the characters’ dresses to maintain the silhouette of the costume while the puppet was moved.

Left: Corpse Bride. 2005. © Warner Bros. Studios

“Every character has its own personality, and personality dictates shape, balance and rhythm. So, every character has its own silhouette, and its important that we can recognize every single character when its on the screen. And they are puppets, so they have to be really graphic, and really stylized”

-Carlos Grangel, Character Designer, Corpse Bride. 2005

Corpse Bride. 2005. © Warner Bros. Studios

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) directed by Wes Anderson and produced by 20th Century Fox was a ground-breaking film in the animated world. It was based on Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s novel of the same name, and whose origin had a lot of influence on the aesthetic of the film. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, we see animal puppets act like humans, which meant they had to stand, walk and sit as if they were human beings. In this case, Felice Haymoz was brought in to be part of the film as the character designer, she describes this as her best job ever.

“I started by drawing foxes, and asked myself ‘What if they had to stand on two legs? What if they have to brush their teeth?. So, starting from the real anatomy of the fox helped a lot, and after that we were able to move into the next stage of what the foxes were going to wear, like ‘Okay, he has to wear this outfit now so his legs have to be more upright.'” -Felice Haymoz, Character Designer “Fantastic Mr. Fox” 2009.

Left to right: Fantastic Mr. Fox sketch by Felicie Haymoz. 2009. © felicehaymoz.com / Fantastic Mr. Fox. 2009. © 20th Century Fox

For this film, the fabric was used to create the costumes, and sewing everything this size demanded it to be absolutely flawless. Using actual fabrics allowed animators to move the puppets more freely since the costumes would just adapt to the “performance” of the puppet. Besides, it is also a better way to achieve greater detail and to make every costume much more elaborate in terms of design.

Left to right: Atari – Isle of Dogs, sketch by Felicie Haymoz. 2018. © felicehaymoz.com / Isle of Dogs. 2018 © 20th Century Fox / Tracy – Isle of Dogs, sketch by Felicie Haymoz. 2018. © felicehaymoz.com / Isle of Dogs. 2018 © 20th Century Fox

Another film directed by Wes Anderson was Isle of Dogs (2018), where once again Felice was in charge of designing the human characters. She used many Japanese references, and costume design helps with storytelling and personality traits for each character. The details and accessories each costume includes are astonishing. In the case of Atari, all those zippers and labels in his overall are impeccable; while on Tracy, even though she is wearing the same uniform as her classmates, her accessories impact her character.

Coraline (2009) by LAIKA Studios was the beginning of the extraordinary productions that this group of creatives has brought to the big screen and who have made impressive advances to the stop-motion animation technique. At LAIKA, the puppet department is divided into sculpture, mold making, armature, casting, paint, hair, and costumes. Every single department works through the different stages of the puppet, so in the end, it will take around 30 people to build only one.

Having this amount of talented and dedicated people work on a specific job and perfecting it as much as possible is what makes LAIKA’s animations so stunning. They have absolutely transformed stop-motion animations. Each one of their films looks so real and unique that it is hard to believe that those extraordinary characters are puppets made by human hands.

Left: Coraline (2009) © LAIKA Studios

Deborah Cook has had the amazing and incredible task of designing the most seamless costumes for the entire Laika universe. As the costume designer, she puts a lot of research into every character and understands how every single detail will speak on its own. Deborah is careful with the fabrication of each of the costumes and experiments with different materials to find the perfect fit for her tiny puppets.

“I just like the detail, I love the level of detail. You don’t get that on large scale costumes. We work so tiny but our character are blown up to the size of a live scale person on the screen” -Deborah Cook, Costume Designer. LAIKA Studios

Left to right: ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) © LAIKA Studios

After experimenting with fabrics and colours, and once the fitting is perfect it will be taken apart to have it as a reference to create all the duplicates. Each main character has around 20 duplicates, and every puppet has to look exactly the same for continuity purposes. The attention to detail that Deborah puts into her work has no comparison. Every button, seam, piping, trim or gather all is there to provide essence to the character and contribute to storytelling.

The ball gown scene in The Boxtrolls (2014) was the first time these animators were dealing with puppets dancing to the same rhythm, wearing Victorian costumes. Part of the creative process included shooting the scene with a group of professional dancers while having the main characters act around them. This choreography provided animators and designers with a glimpse of how the Victorian crinolines looked like and then figure a way of making their puppets look the same.

Deborah Cook designed these Victorian skirts and worked hand in hand with the armature department to build these metallic structures to go underneath and provide the desired movement. In the end, only the main characters and a couple of dancers were animated using stop-motion, the rest of the dancers were animated using CGI. Nonetheless, the computer animators had to make their characters look like the puppets already made.

Right: The Boxtrolls (2014) © LAIKA Studios

The latest film LAIKA has created and one that has set the bar higher than ever in stop-motion animation is Missing Link (2019). In this film, one of the greatest challenges was creating the main character puppet, since his shape was clearly out of the ordinary and his movements were hard to articulate. The film is set by the end of the Victorian and entering the Edwardian era (1890-1910) which presented different challenges for its costumes. First of all, some interesting changes in fashion took place during this period (such as the use of trousers for women). In addition, the attention to detail was once again Deborah’s greatest accomplishment. Every fabric, thread, and trim used encompasses perfectly not only where the story is taking place but also who each character is made to perfection.

Left to Right: Missing Link (2019) / Deborah Cook posing with Missing Link characters (2019) © LAIKA Studios

Animations will always continue to surprise and inspire us by the amount of talent, research and work they bring together. In the same way, stop-motion animations will forever have their place in our hearts due to the complexity of their creation. It is breath-taking to see the process that each one of these films undergoes in order to achieve that stunning final result. Still, in this technique of creating animations, character design and costume design go hand in hand. It is a creative process that cannot exist without the other, and in that sense, the importance of costume design is slowly being noticed by the audience as it deserves.

Thank you, Wallace and Gromit, Jack Skellington, Victor, Mr. Fox, Atari and Tracy, Coraline, and Mr. Link (among many others that I couldn’t include here). And so many thanks to the creative minds behind the magic of these amazing masterpieces, for bringing so much joy to our screens and by inspiring us to create with our hands the unimaginable.


References:

The 2021 Oscar Nominations – Best Costume Design

Anya Taylor-Joy starring in Emma. is a 2020 period comedy-drama film directed by Autumn de Wilde

They are here! I am excited to share with you all the coveted list of this year’s Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design. Congratulations to these five talented costume designers! Over the next month, The Art of Costume team will be providing you an in-depth look at each of these wonderful films. Be sure to read along, and watch the 93rd Academy Awards on Sunday, April 25th, 2021 – 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM.


Emma. – Costume Design by Alexandra Byrne 

Anya Taylor-Joy starring in Emma. is a 2020 period comedy-drama film directed by Autumn de Wilde

Emma. – Following the antics of a young woman, Emma Woodhouse, who lives in Georgian- and Regency-era England and occupies herself with matchmaking – in sometimes misguided, often meddlesome fashion- in the lives of her friends and family.

Mank – Costume Design by Trish Summerville 

Amanda Seyfried starring in Mank – Directed by David Fincher

Mank – 1930s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish “Citizen Kane.”

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Ann Roth

Viola Davis starring in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a 2020 American drama film directed by George C. Wolfe and written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Tensions rise when trailblazing blues singer Ma Rainey and her band gather at a recording studio in Chicago in 1927.

Mulan – Bina Daigeler 

Yifei Liu starring in Mulan – directed by Niki Caro.

Mulan – “To save her ailing father from serving in the Imperial Army, a fearless young woman disguises herself as a man to battle northern invaders in China.”

Pinocchio – Massimo Cantini Parrini

Pinocchio is a 2019 Italian fantasy film, co-written, directed and co-produced by Matteo Garrone

Pinocchio – “Geppetto’s puppet creation, Pinocchio, magically comes to life with dreams of becoming a real boy. Easily led astray, Pinocchio tumbles from one misadventure to another as he is tricked, kidnapped and chased by bandits through a wonderful world full of imaginative creatures – from the belly of a giant fish, to the Land of Toys and the Field of Miracles.”

A Conversation with Nancy Steiner – Promising Young Woman


Event Description from FIDM:

Costume Designer Nancy Steiner’s new film, Promising Young Woman starring Carey Mulligan, is predicted to be a 2021 Oscar contender. Please join us for a fun, hour-long conversation with the esteemed costume designer, hosted by FIDM Fashion Design Co-Chair Nick Verreos, and learn about her incredibly successful career. You’ll have a chance to submit your own costume design questions, so we encourage you to come prepared.

About Special Guest, Costume Designer Nancy Steiner: Steiner’s wide range of work in film and television speaks for itself from her work with Sofia Coppola on cult films The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation to further auteur filmmaker collaborations including Yorgos Lanthimos on The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Mike White on his HBO series Enlightened, and David Lynch for his Twin Peaks 2017 reboot.

She has been nominated for a Costume Designers Guild award twice for Excellence in Contemporary Feature Films for Shopgirl and Little Miss Sunshine, and won twice for Excellence in Commercial Costume Design on campaigns for Bacardi & Cola and Call of Duty.

Steiner began her career in the world of music videos designing costumes for some of the most influential artists around including Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M., Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bjork, Sheryl Crow, Stone Temple Pilots, Air, No Doubt, David Bowie and Rolling Stones just to name a few. She continues to work on award-winning commercial campaigns and is currently in production on the Amazon pilot A League of Their Own with director Abbi Jacobson.

About Your Host, Nick Verreos: Nick Verreos is the co-chair of FIDM’s Fashion, Theatre Costume, and Film & Television Costume Design programs. He is also co-designer of the Los Angeles brand NIKOLAKI, which has been worn by Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, and Beyoncé. In addition, he is the consulting producer for Bravo’s Project Runway; an author of fashion, pattern making, and sketching books; and the face of the popular YouTube channel “Fashion School with Nick Verreos.”

Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design

Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design at SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film – Images Courtesy of SCAD FASH MUSEUM OF FASHION + FILM

The date is February 25th, 2021, and what a historic day it is! It’s officially Ruth E. Carter day in Hollywood! Today, Ruth E. Carter will become the first Black costume designer to receive a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame, only the second costume designer to be honored with a star following Edith Head, who was honored in 1960 at the origin of this iconic landscape.

“A career spanning more than three decades in theater, cinema, and television, Carter’s depth of artistry flowing together with her creative instincts, passion for culture and history, empathy for people, enormous capacity for research, eye for detail, and ability to deliver the director’s vision while infusing her art makes her one of the most sought after and renowned costume designers in the world”

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Though the ceremony was virtual, it was still a fabulous event featuring iconic guest speakers and previous collaborators of Ruth’s, Oprah Winfrey, and Eddie Murphy. We even got to see the making of Ruth’s star! I honestly can’t think of anyone more deserving of this incredible honor. Ruth E. Carter is an icon, a mentor, and most of all, a trailblazer who serves as an inspiration not only to costume designers but all creatives hoping to build a life around their creative passions. I feel like I am speaking for everyone when I say Ruth is simply just, the greatest of all time.

“She opened a lot of doors for us. I’ve seen more people requesting Black designers this year — due to her win, but also partially due to the social climate. Even me being considered [for awards] right now is due to her winning and laying this groundwork.”

Costume designer, Charlese Antoinette Jones – VARIETY.com

“People ask me how did I get RUTH CARTER to be my first guest on my Instagram Live show…. I tell them, I just asked! Without hesitation, Ruth said, “I’m in, let’s do this!” To me, that is Ruth. Authentic, real, and giving to the core. I am so honored to call this star my peer, and more importantly my friend.”

Costume Designer & Host of CONVOS WITH COSTUME DESIGNERS, Mandi Line

While this is all so exciting, the celebration doesn’t stop there! If you thought securing a spot on the historic, Hollywood Walk of Fame, or winning an Oscar was enough, you are so wrong! I am excited to share with you all an exciting exhibition that you can all safely visit in Atlanta, Georgia. This Winter, The Savannah College of Art and Design’s SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film opened the monumental exhibition Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design

Black Panther – Images Courtesy of SCAD FASH MUSEUM OF FASHION + FILM

Within this exhibition, you will be in the presence of costumes from generation-defining films such as Selma, Do the Right Thing, and Black Panther. Nearly four decades of Ruth’s work is currently on display! In addition to Carter’s costumes for stars such as Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington, “the exhibition also features garments worn by luminaries” such as Angela Bassett, Eddie Murphy, Lupita Nyong’o, Rosie Perez, Forest Whitaker, and of course, the late Chadwick Boseman, “demonstrating the varied work her career brings to the screen.”

“The award-winning museum will showcase more than 60 costumes by Carter, as well as sketches and ephemera illustrating the designer’s in-depth historical research and creative process for each project. Carter is an expert storyteller who harnesses the power of visual communication to share vital narratives exploring culture, race, and politics.

SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film
Malcom X – Images Courtesy of SCAD FASH MUSEUM OF FASHION + FILM

The Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design is so expertly curated. Honestly, when I first saw the exhibition,  I felt as though my heart stopped for a second. The pure excellence, vibrancy, and emotional power of Ruth’s work, in combination with the beautiful displays of SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film, is overwhelming in all of the right ways.

“The exhibition was created in that spirit of love of self and it serves to empower anyone with an inner creative with a passion to nurture their own voice, like I did, and are determined to share their story through their art. I want to inspire a new generation, who are already expressing the need to project a profound personal connection of diversity in storytelling and to do it authentically in a way that connects with their creative self. I want to encourage them to trust their voice and embody their Afrofuture no matter who they are or where they come from.”

Ruth E. Carter
Roots – Images Courtesy of SCAD FASH MUSEUM OF FASHION + FILM

Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design is co-curated by Rafael Gomes, director of fashion exhibitions, and Christina Frank, assistant director of fashion exhibitions, in collaboration with guest curator Julia Long. The exhibition is open now until Sept. 12, 2021. For ticketing and more information on the exhibition and SCAD FASH, please visit scadfash.org. 

On behalf of The Art of Costume Team, I would like to congratulate Ruth once again on these incredible achievements and I look forward to many more years of your groundbreaking, innovative work. All hail the queen!


“When I was working on the many Spike Lee films, I got the nickname ‘Ruthless’ by fellow crew members who would say, ‘Hey Ruthless!’ I knew it was because I worked so hard behind the scenes, designing the many looks, gathering materials, and getting hundreds of actors in costume, connecting actor to character through fashion. I’m grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with SCAD FASH in bringing my collection together to share my career experience with everyone.”

RUTH. E CARTER

Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design is open until Sept. 12, 2021

For ticketing and more information on SCAD FASH, please visit scadfash.org. 

Works Cited:

Howard, Nandi. “Ruth E. Carter Will Become The First Black Costume Designer To Receive Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame.” Essence, Essence, 22 Feb. 2021, http://www.essence.com/fashion/ruth-e-carter-to-receive-star-on-hollywood-walk-of-fame/.

“Ruth E. Carter.” Hollywood Walk of Fame, 24 Feb. 2021, walkoffame.com/ruthecarter/.

“’Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design’.” SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film, 25 Nov. 2020, http://www.scadfash.org/exhibitions/ruth-e-carter-afrofuturism-costume-design.

Tangcay, Jazz. “Ruth E. Carter Makes History With a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.” Variety, Variety, 24 Feb. 2021, variety.com/2021/artisans/awards/ruth-carter-walk-of-fame-1234913760/.

The Beauty And The Beast Of Costume Design

Photo 1: Disney’s 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast. Photo 2: Susan Egan as Belle (L) and Terrence Mann as Beast (R) in 1994 Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Photo 3: Dan Stevens as Beast (left) and Emma Watson as Belle (right) in Disney’s 2017 Beauty and the Beast. Photo courtesy of Disney

Valentine’s Day flew by so fast this year but since every day is a celebration of love, let’s celebrate again by talking about one of the most heartwarming, romantic, and beautiful tales as old as time — Beauty and the Beast.

If you are not too familiar with this classic story, it follows a young French woman by the name of Belle (meaning ‘Beautiful’ in French) and a young Prince named Adam. As punishment due to Prince Adam’s selfish and superficial acts, he is turned into a beast. The Beast lives alone in a castle in the woods along with his servants but in order to be free of that curse, he must find someone to truly love him by his 21st birthday — if not he and his servants will live enchanted forever. Ironically Belle finds her way to the castle, thanks to her father, and the rest is history (well THEIRstory).

For more insight, Beauty and the Beast was originally a fairy tale written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve. An interesting fact, Villenueve was inspired by a man named Petrus Gonsalvus, who happened to have Hypertrochosis, a condition that results in excessive hair growth. The inspiration for Belle was named Catherine, who was a daughter to one of the court servants where Gonsalvus was taken in. French fairy tale writer Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont created her own version of the work which became the most well-known version to this day. Her version has inspired many different adaptations of the story, including the ones we will be talking about in this piece: The 1994 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and the 2017 Disney live-action movie adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.

American costume designer Ann Hould-Ward pictured at Broadway show ‘A Catered Affair’ meet and greet

There are many characters and elements to the story but if there’s one thing that people will remember, it’s Belle’s elegant ball gown and Prince Adam’s bold suit. But who is behind these creations and how did they come to be? Let’s first meet Ann Hould-Ward.

Ward is an established American costume designer who has worked with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the American Ballet Theatre. She has also designed for many shows including Into the Woods, The Color Purple, and The Nutcracker. The multi-award-winning Montana native has a lot of experience in the fashion industry but she actually got her start, designing clothes for her paper dolls. She would later graduate with a degree from Mills College and the University of Virginia, eventually moving on to work for her mentor and one of her inspirations — Patricia Zipprodt whose own award, the Patricia Zipprodt Award for Innovative Costume Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology named in honor of the late legendary talented costume designer, was given to Ward in 2001.

Those paper doll clients surely paid off because just years later she would land the opportunity of a lifetime — getting to design the costumes for Disney’s 1994 Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, just three years after the animated version had been released. This was such a huge moment for Ward because this was the first time that Disney would be taking a dive into the Broadway world.

So what was the process behind the two iconic looks? Ward repeatedly mentions a method that she uses throughout many of the shows that she has designed for. Catering to her love of drawing, she first sketches out her ideas. As mentioned in a 2018 interview with Broadway World, Ward describes the importance of sketch stating that “A truly good sketch tells the dialogue of the character with the show and enlightens the director and actor as to where the tactile world of the character exists. It is the road map to good work.” 

After sketching she then moves on to the costume shop where she brings her ideas to life. That is where the draping happens and the fabric choice is made. The fitting is next where the team makes sure that the actors can move freely and comfortably in the costumes. Lastly, it is showtime. Ward expresses that this is one of the most important moments because the costumes are now for the actors to own and for the audiences to enjoy.

Surprisingly the process was not too difficult when it came to Belle’s costume. In an article by Andrew Andler, Ward stated that she, “spent a week with the animators who created the different characters, talking with each one of them, seeing what their research was because they did massive amounts of research.” She also, “studied the initial story of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ the historical nature of the story as a French fairytale from the mid-1700s.” I admire Ward’s dedication to the original work and her determination to make sure that even though she puts her own spin on the costumes, she still stays true to the original designs that we all know and love. She even went as far as using The Leah factor, a self-made technique named after her daughter who at the time was 5 years old. 

In an interview done with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the show’s scenic designer Stanley A. Meyer described the Leah Factor stating that it was where Leah would have to approve everything saying things such as “Oh no, Mommy, Belle’s ballgown has to be yellow. It can be gold, but it can’t be pink.” 

The Leah factor worked well because the dress is absolutely stunning. This extravagant, 30 pound, floor-length, off-the-shoulder golden and yellow gown is rounded with draped fabric to create the classic Belle look. The corset-shaped top half of the gown is filled with ribbon, bows, and flowers — with the center of the top having a corsage-looking piece. The dress has many layers of tulle making sure that the gown is as puffy and graceful as possible. On the skirt of the dress lies many golden bows. The actress Susan Egan who plays Belle in the Broadway musical wears a beaded necklace with jewel earrings and a flower hairpiece to add to the costume. Although contrasting Belle’s original yellow ones, the gown is paired with cream-colored fishnet elbow gloves to complete the look.