Fantasy, imagination and craft inform Oscar worthy costumes

AP News
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Posted: Feb 26, 2016 8:17 PM
Fantasy, imagination and craft inform Oscar worthy costumes

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Costume design is one of those arts that's often taken for granted during awards season. There's an old saying in the below-the-line crafts that if you're noticing their work, it's only because there's a problem.

But for the designers behind the scene and the directors and actors they support, they couldn't be more essential.

This year, the Oscar nominees for best costume design span a wide variety of genres, from action and fantasy to romance.

The Associated Press spoke to each of the nominated designers about their process and their work.

PACO DELGADO, "THE DANISH GIRL"

Spanish costume designer Paco Delgado actually had a wealth of information about transgender artist Lili Elbe for "The Danish Girl," thanks to photographs and the portraits done by her partner Gerda Wegener.

"In those times, society and etiquette for dressing was much more rigid. To wear a skirt wasn't a fashion statement, it was a gender statement," Delgado said. "You wore skirts if you were a woman and you wore trousers if you were a man."

The most powerful costume for Delgado was thus the gender-bending suit Lili wears in Paris on the day she goes to research female organs and then gets beat up in the park by some toughs.

Ambiguity is particularly powerful concept for Delgado, and nothing captured that quite like that suit that Redmayne wears in this crucial moment of transition, with the soft fabrics, silk shirt, high-waisted trousers, and unmistakably feminine jacket.

"Sometimes ambiguity is more offensive to certain people than assurance of a sort of assigned gender."

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JACQUELINE WEST, "THE REVENANT"

Jacqueline West had an unlikely mix of inspirations in costuming fur trapper and frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) in "The Revenant": a picture of a Russian monk and a Karl Bodmer painting of a hunter-trapper for the Arikara Nation.

"All the stages of mankind had to be in that costume — the ego and the disintegration, and how nature strips the ego from everyone," West said. "I wanted all of that to be part of this costume. When you're clothing philosophical ideas it's quite a challenge.

There are few fabrics more controversial than a fur, but West did have control over how she obtained the real skins and furs. With the help of a fur trading company that buys everything from natives and even the Parks department — which provided her with the bear skin — she was able to do so in the most responsible way possible.

Unsurprisingly, the infamously brutal conditions of the shoot took its toll on costuming too, but sometimes in unexpected ways. When Glass has to hide away in a body of water, West had to design a replica of the fur he wears throughout that was two sizes bigger, so that it would fit a dry suit underneath.

"If Leo went in that water he would have frozen to death," West said.

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JENNY BEAVAN, "MAD MAX: FURY ROAD"

To create the post-apocalyptic world of "Mad Max: Fury Road," costume designer Jenny Beavan went straight to the trash.

George Miller had been developing "Mad Max: Fury Road" for over a decade by the time Jenny Beavan was called on to start working on the costumes, so she had his vision and Brendan McCarthy's graphic novel to get her started.

In this world of scarcity and war, Beavan imagined that the characters' clothes would be decorated by the everyday items that were no longer useful in that world, whether it was car parts, kitchen utensils or just junk, making each its own visual feast of everyday detritus.

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SANDY POWELL, "CAROL" AND "CINDERELLA"

Sandy Powell got to create two memorable entrances for Cate Blanchett this year — one behind a dark, wide-rimmed black hat as the wicked stepmother in the live-action reimagining of the classic fairy tale "Cinderella" and the other as a lonely housewife in a 1950s department store, catching the eye of a pretty young thing for the first time in "Carol."

"Someone's first appearance in a film or in a story is really important," Powell said. "There's a restraint to ("Carol") which is completely opposite of "Cinderella" ... In 'Carol,' she had to stand out, but not in a really obvious way. She had to look like one of the shoppers."

Powell decided on a pale fur coat for Blanchett's character Carol, accented by coral accessories.

"It's a very flattering color for fair skin and blonde hair and it's a fresh color for winter," Powell said. "There's something a bit optimistic about those colors."