Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design

One of my favorite  books is the lavishly illustrated and comprehensive behind the scenes look at a century of costume design in the cinema. (It also happens to be the sister to my book on a century of Hollywood art direction which is in the works at Harper Collins).

Written by Deborah Nadoolman Landis,  former President of the Costume Designers Guild, Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design (Collins Design, 2007) offers many never before seen sketches and photographs from films of all genres. Landis, an Academy Award nominee, worked on diverse films such as Animal House and The Blues Brothers (she married the film's director John),  Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Michael Jackson Thriller video. She is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable on the subject of costume and film in Hollywood.

Like a great set, costumes set the mood, define the character, provide inspiration and have been known to start many a fashion trend. Landis notes that "more than a few acting careers have been launched on the basis of an unforgettable costume" and many have left an indelible impression. Who can forget Givenchy's take on the little black dress and pearls for Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's?

Or  Faye Dunaway's entrance in
Theadora Van Runkle's  micro-mini suit for the sixties film Thomas Crown Affair?

And famed designer Edith Head took her cues from director Alfred Hitchcock, who wanted Grace Kelley to look like "dresden china" in the films Rear Window and a "fairy tale princess" for  It Takes A Thief.

Often the costumes become a character of sorts, taking front and center stage. Academy Award winning designer Catherine Martin and Angus Straithie's elaborate costumes for the musical Moulin Rouge! became an integral part in establishing the character Sabine. The Australian designer used actual Swarovski crystals for Nicole Kidman's stunning  corset which became quite taxing for the dance numbers. 

Perhaps the most extensive designs are those found in the genre known as  "costume dramas" a.k.a. period films. Heavily researched, authentically reproduced and labor intensive, the costumes for Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette had to reflect the decadence and frivolity of the period. Academy Award winning costume designer Milena Canonero purposely created a fresh young look with pinks and turquoise as opposed to the jewel tones used in most period films. (Canonero designed another one of my favorites -- Out of Africa).  If you haven't seen the film, it's great eye candy.

Photograph credits: Courtesy of Collins Design