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!
Thank you to The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures for inviting me to experience this brand new museum, and thank you to Assistant Curator J. Raúl Guzmán for sharing your infinite knowledge with me as we explored this one-of-a-kind experience.
I can’t believe we’ve made it to the 93rd Academy Awards! After everything we’ve been through, it was so lovely to sit back and enjoy The Oscars. I am also so relieved to see that the Red-Carpet fashion is also returning! Nature is healing! Join me as I break down my favorite looks of the night and crown the Best Dressed of the 93rd Academy Awards!
I’ll be honest, I can’t think of a time I have ever seen Carey Mulligan on The Oscars red carpet, but what a brilliant entrance. Carey shined in a gold Valentino Haute Couture gown, and I was captivated the moment she stepped onto that red carpet. One of my favorites of the night!
Whenever someone asked me about my best-dressed predictions for the red carpet, I always said it would be Regina King. I hate to say it, but I might have been right! Regina showed up to this year’s awards in a beautiful, custom blue Louis Vuitton gown with winged shoulders lined in silver. Regina is a master of the red carpet, one of my favorites of the night.
I am in love! Amanda Seyfried graced the red carpet in a sickening Armani Privé gown. The shape of this gown is just incredible. The neckline is just so right, and the fit of this gown is just exceptional.
By far my favorite suit of the night! Coleman Domino rocked this pink Versace suit. In recent years, pink suiting on men has been this new trend that I am absolutely in love with, and Coleman has only added to this fire within me.
Surprising to no one, Viola Davis dominated the red carpet in a white Alexander Mcqueen gown. I love the fantastic cut-outs that blend into the drape of the gown. Viola looks incredible!
Maria Bakalova showed up to the Oscars in a classic Hollywood silhouette. This v-neckline matched with this large tulle skirt is perfect with the matching necklace. While this look isn’t anything new, it’s expertly executed and deserves its praise!
Another day, another slay. Zendaya brought this red carpet to its knees as she graced The Oscars in this yellow Valentino Haute Couture dress. Zendaya looked terrific; I don’t even have words. I love the shape of the bodice with the perfect necklace.
I think it is safe to say I have had Angela Bassett on every Best Dressed list I have ever done, and it’s for a good reason. Angela shut the red carpet down, wearing this red gown in exaggerated, puffed sleeves with a perfect slit in the front. I love this classic silhouette. We have seen this shape on Angela before, but that’s because it’s perfect for her. All hail the queen.
For a long time, I have waited for Trish Summerville’s time on the Oscars Red Carpet, and it was well worth the wait. Costume Designer Trish Summerville stunned in a black and white gown with a strong shoulder. I love the fabric and textile of this gown. Trish, you deserve this moment, and I am so happy for you!
This choice was so simple, which is rare for me. Regina King was obviously tonight’s best dressed, and honestly, no one should be shocked. Regina absolutely killed it! Congratulations Regina! Thank you, everyone, for reading along. If you agreed with my picks for the Best Dressed of the 93rd Academy Awards, let me know in the comments below! I want to know who wore your favorite looks.
Yesterday we celebrated Mother Earth,buttoday 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 Bottom – which 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.
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 Neal, Matiki 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!
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/.
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/.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Behalf of The Art of Costume – Congratulations to Bina Diageler and her costume team
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’sEmma 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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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 .”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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/.
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
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
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
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
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 – “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.”
Congratulations to this years Oscar Winner in the Costume Design category for Little Women – Jacqueline Durran !
Jacqueline’s costume design work for Little Women was truly remarkable. Little Women is a perfect exhibition of period costume design. In true Durran style, the costumes felt obviously special to the characters of this film. Each character honed a unique but subtly different wardrobe that really showed the progression and character development of each this film’s characters. Even though this is a example of period costume design, there was still a refreshing modern perspective that Jacqueline brought to this film that audiences have obviously been connecting with through the run of this film.
All of that aside, the costumes were just absolutely breathtaking ! I will never forget that moment when Florence Pugh’s character prepares to go see the man she is likely going to marry. She marches to the end of the room in a beautiful dress and whips this beautiful, vintage cape around her shoulders. It gave me a rodeo, elegant vibe that I was just obsessed with. When I saw this costume, I knew for sure this was a winner.
I feel that I can speak on behalf of the entire costume design community in saying how beyond proud of you we are, Jacqueline! Congratulations on this prestigious award, you deserve it Jacqueline! For those of you who haven’t seen Little Women yet… get it together please and go see it.
Congratulations to all of this year’s nominees as well. This was a impressive year for costume design and I am dying to see where this new decade takes us as an industry. Looking forward!
Hello everyone and welcome to yet another Oscars edition of “A Haute Second with Spencer” ! Ah yes, I can’t believe we are here. Now for those of you who don’t know, the Oscars red carpet is THE red carpet. It’s Hollywood’s biggest night! As always, I have put together a list of my picks for best dressed. Because it is the Oscars, I had to be a little tough and try not to let my bias take hold so here we go!
NATALIE PORTMAN IN DIOR
I am obsessed with everything about this Dior look on Natalie Portman. This whole picture is just simply art. The gold lace is stunning and the fabrics are so exquisite. My favorite detail though, can be seen by zooming in on the trim of her black cape. Behold, the names of women who were not recognized by the academy. This includes Greta Gerwig, Lorene Scafaria, Lulu Wang, Marielle Heller, Mati Diop, Melina Matsoukas, Alma Har’el, and Céline Sciamma. Absolutely amazing – by far one of the best dressed of the night and an excellent way to begin the decade.
REGINA KING IN VERSACE
All hail Regina King! Damn this Versace gown looks incredible on her! I saw this photo early in the night and I knew instantly this was going to be one of the best dressed looks. Regina King came to show everyone how it’s done, and has the set the bar for this new decade rather high!
ROONEY MARA IN ALEXANDER MCQUEEN
Ugh I am dying right now! Rooney Mara in Alexander McQueen was an instant favorite. First, black always looks amazing on Rooney. The construction of this gown though, is just on another level. The shapes are very sharp and those sleeves! I love everything about this look, I am short on words.
RENÉE ZELLWEGER IN ARMANI
Behold, our 2020 Best Actress in a Leading Role – Renée Zellweger in Armani. I thought this dress was really sharp and looked incredible on Renée. Is it simple? Yes. Is it perfect. YES! Here we have the perfect amount of sparkle, asymmetry, and length. Sometimes less is indeed, more.
CHARLIZE THERON IN DIOR
There is nothing in this life that Charlize Theron can do wrong. Charlize wearing this Dior gown, is a perfect example of that sentiment. There are so many parts to this gown that just make this whole thing flawless. I love the shape of the bodice, the perfection of the leg slit, and of course the train. We are not worthy!
CYNTHIA ERIVO IN VERSACE
The incredibly talented Cynthia Erivo wore Versace to the Oscars and I am over the moon. Cynthia is actually flawless. Not only did we have to watch Cynthia slay the Oscars stage with a live rendition of “Stand Up”, but we had to watch her conquer the red carpet. The one-strap is clearly a trend tonight and I love the build of the skirt. This is just perfect. Period.
BRIE LARSON IN CELINE
Oh, I love this! Brie Larson in Celine is a conjuration of dreams. I am obsessed with this fabric first of all. The crystals are just stunning. My favorite detail though is the cape feature falling from the neck line. This look is just very chic and she looks amazing.
SIGOURNEY WEAVER IN DIOR
If Sigourney Weaver walks a red carpet, she is instantly one of the best dressed. Do not fight me on this. I almost cried when I saw our alien queen as she is one of my heroes, and I feel honored to just breathe the same continental air as her. Sigourney is wearing a Dior gown. Is it my favorite? No probably not. It’s okay- but it’s Sigourney Weaver so you deal with it.
TOP THREE LOOKS OF THE NIGHT
This was probably the easiest decision I have ever made when it came down to picking a top three. Regina King, Natalie Portman, and Cynthia Erivo were on a whole different fashion level this year. They have set the bar so high, I am so interested to see how red carpet fashion evolves through this new decade!
Well that is all for me folks! Don’t forget to comment what your favorite look of the night was! As always, this has been a real joy- so thank you all for taking the time to enjoy the red carpet with me. I can’t wait for the next! Remember, red carpets are cool and all, but what’s even cooler you ask?