Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – S1.E16
There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit, and the vermin of the world inhabit it. And it goes by the name of London! We hope you are hungry because this week we are having meat-pies! Our co-hosts dive into the Victorian world ofSweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street! Listen along as Elizabeth and Spencer go song by song and break down the costumes by Academy-Award Winning costume designer Colleen Atwood. Even Daniel White, Audio Engineer for The Art of Costume Blogcast, joins in on all the meaty fun!
At long last, The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will open its doors to the public on Thursday, September 30, 2021. Located in Los Angeles, this exciting new museum is the largest in North America devoted to exploring films and film culture. This brilliant new museum also emphasizes the importance of costume design and costume designers’ essential roles in the film industry. I was honored by The Academy Museum with an invitation to tour the exhibitions before the public, and I’ll just say, it was worth the wait!
It felt like a dream walking through the halls of The Academy Museum, full of costume surprises around every corner. Though I walked in with an idea of what I would see, I constantly came across acquisitions that made the hair stand up on my arms.
We first moved into a large gallery containing a chronological walk-through of Academy Awards history from 1929 to the present, an overview of the origins of the Oscars and the Academy, memorable wins and infamous snubs, Oscars fashion, and wraparound screens showcasing significant acceptance speeches.
The moment I knew I was in for quite the magical evening was when I came across the infamous 1986 Bob Mackie ensemble Cher wore to present an award at the Oscars. I was standing in the presence of one of the most famous outfits to grace a red carpet! Me being a Cher super-fan, I felt like I could have passed out. Luckily for me, Assistant Curator J. Raúl Guzmán (and my brilliant guide for the evening) was there to catch my fall.
We then proceeded on to The Identity gallery. The Identity gallery was the museum’s shining North Star for those who love and respect costume design art. Within this gallery, there are more than forty costumes and costume design sketches on view representing a wide swath of film history from the last century, including Lady Sings The Blues (1972), The Wiz (1978), Frida (2002), Us (2019), and Rocketman (2019). In addition, there is a display highlighting a single costume designer, which opens with costumes designed byMary Zophres. And yes, you will see The Dude’s bathrobe ensemble worn by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski (1998).
There was one costume; however, I could not take my eyes off. Honestly, I never imagined myself stepping into the presence of the famous May Queen gown designed byAndrea Flesch worn by Florence Pugh in Midsommar (2019). Honestly, images don’t even do this gown justice, and I would say just seeing this gown is worth the price of admission.
The fun continued as we made our way through The Academy Museum and into The Encounters gallery, full of unique costume design. This gallery looks at the artistry that brings the worlds of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror to life, featuring original set pieces, costumes, and iconic characters, including C-3PO, E.T., and R2-D2. There were some showstopping costumes in this exhibit that I have always wanted to see, such as the iconic Edward Scissorhands costume by Colleen Atwood. Of course, no exhibit would be complete without the famed Dora Milaje armor worn by Okoye (Danai Gurira) in Black Panther by Academy Award-winning costume designerRuth Carter.
One of the most magical moments within The Academy Museum took place in The Encounters gallery as I approached a costume that still sends chills down my spine. Why it was none other than one of the infamous gowns worn by Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. What else is there to say? It was powerful and actually brought me to quiet tears. I was happy I snuck away from Assistant Curator J. Raúl Guzmán for a moment so that he couldn’t see me quietly having an emotional moment.
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures dedicates quite a lot of space to the legendary costume designer, Eiko Ishioka. On my tour, I got to see Ishioka’s Oscar she won for her costume design work on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the envelope and card to announce her well-deserved win, and even the Japanese poster for Francis Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now, designed by Eiko Ishioka.
Aside from all of the fantastic costumes I have shared with you, the seven-story, 300,000-square-foot museum will open with:
the 30,000-square-foot core exhibition Stories of Cinema, offering celebratory, critical, and personal perspectives on the disciplines and impact of moviemaking, past, and present
the temporary exhibition Hayao Miyazaki, the first museum retrospective in North America of the work of the acclaimed filmmaker and Studio Ghibli
The Path to Cinema: Highlights from the Richard Balzer Collection, with selections from the world’s foremost holdings of pre-cinematic optical toys and devices
Backdrop: An Invisible Art, a double-height installation that presents the painting of Mount Rushmore used in North by Northwest (USA, 1959)
And The Oscars® Experience presented in the East West Bank Gallery, an immersive simulation that lets visitors imaginatively step onto the stage of the Dolby Theatre to accept an Academy Award®.
I cannot recommend this experience enough. I could have spent all day in this museum. Actually, I kind of did spend all day, and I still don’t think I saw everything I wanted to. This museum recognizes the importance of costume designers and gives proper credit to the incredible designers around the world, past and present, for their imperative contributions to film. Tickets are available now, so please head to the website for The Academy Museum and reserve your spot today!
Costumes in the Heroes Section of the MoPOP’s newest exhibition, Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume
I am beyond excited to share with you all an exciting new exhibition of fabulous costuming to visit this summer! Previously, only Disney’s D23 Expo attendees were given a chance to see the Heroes & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume exhibition. Now, you too have an opportunity to immerse yourself in this brilliant collection of more than 70 original pieces spanning more than 6,000 square feet of museum space!
In Seattle, Washington, The Museum of Pop Culture, in collaboration with the Walt Disney Archives, is currently hosting the new exhibition, Heroes & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume, open now to the public until April 17, 2022.
I was granted the opportunity to visit the exhibition this month, and I was absolutely thrilled. The exhibition walks you through a magical world of costumes, highlighting some costumes seen on some of our most favorite heroes, and villains too! Some pieces you will see are fresher in memory, such as pieces from 2019’s Dumbo, designed by Colleen Atwood. Other costumes are a brilliant blast from the past, such as the oldest costume on display, Mary Poppins’ traveling dress designed by Bill Thomas and worn by Julie Andrews in the 1964 film. Stepping up to each platform was a real thrill as there was no telling which costume you would encounter next.
“Costuming is an essential element of storytelling, and Heroes & Villains exemplifies the richness of character we hope our films portray. It has been thrilling to collaborate with MoPOP’s curators to bring a selection of the stunning pieces we have at the Walt Disney Archives to Seattle.”
Becky Cline, director of the Walt Disney Archives.
Some of the first costumes you meet upon entry that instantly took my breath away belonged to Brandy and Whitney Houston. That’s right, we are talking about costumes from the film Cinderella, with costumes designed by Ellen Mirojnick. I mean, what a moment! We all know and love the costumes, but there is something magical about seeing Whitney Houston’s Fairy Godmother dress in person!
As I made my way through the exhibit, I was stunned to come face to face with The Sanderson Sisters. Well, not flesh and blood, but their costumes were there for all to see! The three witches’ dresses from Hocus Pocus (1993) worn by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy — all designed by Mary Vogt — plus the vacuum! This, to me, is worth the price of admission alone!
I was extremely pleased to come into contact with one of my all-time favorite costumes—the legendary Queen Narissa dress from Enchanted worn by Susan Sarandon, designed by my friend, Mona May. Honestly, I felt a bit emotional once I realized this dress was here. Somebody, please pinch me! There is SO much detail in this piece; I am not sure I can explain the beauty – you must see it for yourself. The colors and dragon scale textures are a sight to behold.
Look, I don’t want to give away all the surprises, but as a community, we have been talking a lot about the brilliant costumes of 2021’s Cruella, designed by Jenny Beavan. So I was blown away when I realized that costumes worn by THE Glenn Close in 101 Dalmatians and 102 Dalmatians were there! If you are sharing in the Cruella de Vil love right now, then you are going to be excited to see multiple costumes of past Cruellas.
As much as I would love to talk about every single costume (you know I would) with you all, part of the magic of this exhibit is rediscovering some of your favorite Disney costumes you have come to love over the years. Every color, textile, and sketch filled me with such joy and loving memories that only can be tapped by the power of Disney. So please, lovers of costume and Disney, take me up on this advice and run, don’t walk to the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, Washington, to see Heroes & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume exhibition.
Sweeney Todd has been one of the most iconic and long-lasting characters of the Victorian Period. Making its first appearance as a villain of the Victorian penny dreadful serial The String of Pearls, in 1847, his tale became an urban legend in London. In 1979 the acclaimed Tony-Award winning Broadway Musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” by Stephen Sondheim, gave the character a much deeper personality and depicted him even more as the demon he always intended to be.
The most recent version of this story is Tim Burton’s 2007 musical film “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street“, which is an adaptation of the Broadway musical. In this film, just like in other occasions, we witness how Tim Burton and the legendary costume designer Colleen Atwood, unite forces and talent to create an amazing Gothic-Victorian world, of course with the outstanding performance of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter as the main characters.
“I’ve worked with Colleen Atwood many, many times, and she’s as important as anybody on a movie. Costumes are another character in the movie. Most of the great actors I’ve worked with, when they put on the costume they become the character. It helps them find who the character is” -Tim Burton
Sweeney Todd, former Benjamin Barker, is a barber who is unjustly convicted by Judge Turpin, a man who wanted to take his family from him. Todd is exiled to Australia and after many years, he is able to return to London, seeking revenge against Turpin. He starts working as a barber again, but hate has invaded his entire soul and killing becomes an obsession. He murders his customers with a razor while his partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, bakes their flesh into meat pies.
The story takes place in London sometime between 1830 – 1865, and it combines elements of different parts of the city. It portrays a suffering and poor English society with classic and gothic elements as well. Atwood shared in an interview for USA Todaythat her main inspiration for creating the costumes for this musical was the music itself. She said, “It’s the starting point of all of it. It’s a moody piece, so I wanted a lot of texture in the costumes. I wanted you to be able to feel them on screen.” One of the main plots in the story is the class struggle that both Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett face in their lives due to power abuse. Costumes are an excellent means of exposing the difference in social classes, where people had to either wear worn out and recycled clothes or have a shiny cravat and top hat if they were wealthy. The main silhouette of the period is absolutely accurate, we see bustles, chemise, and corsets in the ladies clothing, and frock coats, vests, trousers, top hats, and cravats for men. Every single detail in the costumes works within the period and status of each character, creating another magnificent work of art by the outstanding Colleen Atwood.
“He (Tim Burton) is a director that appreciates the texture and nuances of costume. That’s a real treat for a costume designer to work with” – Colleen Atwood
The main character, Sweeney Todd, depicts an obsessed madman who has been through a terrifying time in prison and is hardened to life. His costumes are rather simple since he is not aware of what he is wearing and really does not care at all. “He enters the world with a shell on, like an insect shell. His jacket has a sheen” Atwood said. Todd is re-entering a world he had left behind, so, his costumes express this new person he has become in order to seek revenge and clearly not be recognized; he is not Benjamin Barker anymore. He is introduced as if he were a walking corpse who has come back to London to fulfill only one duty, murder Judge Turpin.
His outfit represents that of a working-class man. He is wearing a black leather frock coat, a brown velvet double-breasted vest, tight-fitting striped trousers, and a white linen shirt with detachable high collar and front tucks. The latter being a very distinguished element since it ends up fully spattered with blood many times throughout the movie. His garments all have been through a distressing process, creating a wrinkled and stained appearance. No matching on colours or etiquette styling. The final touch of his look is the white streak in his hair which represents the last bit of life left within him.
“When I first spoke to Tim about Sweeney Todd, he wanted to create a world that felt mid-victorian, without making it too precious, and tried to have a little bit fun with it as well” -Colleen Atwood
Left: Colleen Atwood design for Sweeney Todd. “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Accessories are always precious elements that complement the look of each character. “I really felt he needed some heavyweight to his feet like he was dragging weight, and his boots are quite heavy and have nails around the outside of the sole on top”, says Colleen to USA Today. Bringing a character to life is a process that both the designer and the actor have to contribute to, and most designers use their time in fittings to finish creating the look. “For Sweeney Todd, Johnny and I tried on some different stuff. Then we found this neck rag that I had, and he put it on and we were like: that’s Sweeney. That was our starting point for the character”, shared Atwood. Not to mention the razor blade that he is always carrying, which more than a prop, it is an essential part of the character.
Mrs. Lovett, on the other hand, is a lonely woman who lives her life driven by love but acting in a selfish manner. She is always taking advantage of the situation and getting away with whatever suits her. As she begins to thrive with her meat pie business, she transforms into a new woman. “She evolves throughout the story and her costumes become quite ornate”, said Colleen Atwood. She is wearing an 1840’s long skirt with a ruffle and bustle at the back, and a tight-fitting bodice with low rounded neckline. Her undergarments include a black hourglass corset with a pointed waist, laced at the back, a long sleeve chemise, and a pair of bloomers. The latter had been recently introduced to society as a more comfortable garment for ladies. Her main colours are always dark and somber, with a little tint of blue and dark red. As Sweeney, her costumes go through a distressing process as well, in order to portray her social class and the dirty work she does for a living.
Her main accessories are the black lace boots with heels which are a staple in the era, and her mesh fingerless gloves. She also wears a gothic style headpiece. This hat distinguishes her from the other ladies from the era which all wore close-fitting bonnets or knitted caps. Her messy curls and pale skin complement her goth look. She wears a lot of sheer fabrics with embroidery and beading, and some striped or polka dots prints that give the character a much more authentic look. All of her costumes have a lot of texture, including ruffles and frills on the neckline, and lace on her sleeves. These rather delicate textures contrasting with the stiff skirt and corset show both sides of her personality, being soft but mad and always driven by love and despair.
“A good costume is really about a great silhouette. So if you can create a great costume through that with colour and shape, people will get the picture” -Colleen Atwood
Right: Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd, Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett. “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Many Victorian films always portray the rich society of England, due to the Industrial Revolution. However, it is amazing to realize how through the use of textures, accessories, silhouettes, and colour it is possible to create a still Victorian but gothic and mad world. Colleen Atwood, a multiple costume design award winner, has always surprised us with her talent. This movie, being a classic tale, is not the exception of her expertise and passion.
Now that spooky times are coming, take a look at this bloody and gothic piece of art, that is always a treat to watch due to the talented crew that made it possible. Hopefully, you will end up being mad and delighted about the flawless production that it is.
To learn more about Colleen Atwood’s work and the rest of the costumes from the film I invite you to check out the following links used as reference: