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Sandy Powell, a costume designer, has taken the lead in contextualizing her figures' attire and enhancing her artwork. It would be wise to stress Powell's contribution to dressing according to timelines when describing her job. The costumes from films like The Other Boleyn Girl, The Wolf of Wall Street, Interview with the Vampire, and Gangs of New York would be analyzed in this situation. Her Oscar-winning designs for The Aviator, The Young Victoria, and Shakespeare in Love will be further examined. Finally, the characterization of her work would examine the modernization of the characters in Cinderella and dressing of the lesbian lovers in Carol. Through this, she does ensure that her dressing would portray the reality of the times that such dresses were fashionable. In her work, Powell has moved away from the ordinary stretch pants that are made of soft and stretch fabrics to fitted body that would be weird to most people to create a nostalgia of New Look (Munich 176).
In her work, Powell has been specific about the timing of the events that would then influence the dressing and costume design. For instance, Powell had to utilize aspects of real place, real time and give real period to the costume designs that were used in Carol. Different from this, Powell had a different platform to choose something different in Cinderella, a fantasy movie. For this case, she had to set the costumes to fit the period within the 19th century. Powell could do lengthy research that would involve the manufacturer of the clothes to come up with costumes that fitted an era. She says that “Isabelle’s colors weren’t so unusual; I wanted a very French look for her so she is in a lot of navy and burgundy which are colors easily found now” (Lynch 28). For Gangs of New York (2002) and Shutter Island (2010), these films uses fictional characters that are inspired by the historical events. as for the Aviator (2004) the lives of famous historical figures is elaborated (Lynch 58).
Using these illustrations, it is evident that cultural influences influenced the creativity of Powell in the design of costumes. For instance, the design of the costumes used in Cinderella involved searching and examining images from the 19th century. Similarly, Powell had to look at the images from period 1952 to give specificity to the timing of the costumes used in Carol (ATKINSON). From this concept, it is clear that Powell employed reflective method as a way of shaping the design of the various costumes used in the various movies.
Gangs of New York – 2002 - Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallon and Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher Costume Designer – Sandy Powell DVD still
Of particular concern in her designs was the manner that each of the images that showed the culture of the people in particular periods influenced her work. For instance, each of the costumes would be fit for particular period of time as depicted in the images obtained for each of the videos. For instance, the striking features in Cinderella were the ball gown and the shoe. She further utilizes the tight white breeches with knees that were baggy to bring out the historical dressing code while dressing Prince in Cinderella. Indeed, Powell had to go back to the images taken within the 1890 to find a shoe that would fit the time of the movie. On the other hand, the gloves, mink coat and the stockings used in Carol were unique to the period around 1952 (ATKINSON).
Through these analogies and analysis of the various designs of her costume designs, it becomes clear that the historical aspects shaped Powell creativity. It could also be seen in her design of the queen’s costume in the film Shakespeare in Love that Powell was so much interested in capturing the historical context of such a character. Indeed, “Sandy’s great gift is her ability to make historical costumes look contemporary. She manages to be both true to the period and modern”(Lynch 59).
The color, texture and style in regard to social values of the designer
Costume design is a crucial aspect of giving meaning to the film characters and use of shape, fabric, color and juxtaposition creates the characters.
In most of the works done by Powell, choice of color and texture of the costumes has always been done with a lot of precision. For this case, it is worth nothing that most often than not, Powell used bright colors in her work. For instance, Cinderella had the 1920’s style of floral and large pale pink flowers that were decorated with some hidden blue cotton voile. These were colors used to depict feminism for the female characters. For Cate in the film Cinderella, most of the colors are green and the rest are also cool colors. These are the unfriendly colors. According to (Munich 176), Powell has utilized the New Look design to depict gender differences that then gives skirts a wide base than in the films of Sirk and Minnelli. The choice of this exaggerated nostalgia though does not depict the social values of Powell, it was a deliberate concept of the feminism.
The use of colors has been used expressively to show the social class of a character. Nonetheless, difference in the choice of color can be used to describe the social class. The same character Cate in the film Carol has been dressed in the most popular colors that did not only depict the historical time but also the social class of the character. It is descried that Powell has utilized vibrant colors that are in many cases self-consciously accessorized (Munich 176). The colors were beautiful muted tones, steamy blues with some grays, some highlights of coral and red and soft taupe. These light colors were used to indicate her wealth and luxury. For sure, the choice of color, style and texture could indicate the gender and social class.
As in the movie The Aviator, to express Gardner’s image; that is, her alluring charm and glow, a vivid red color was used. As for her costume, her splendid and fascinating image was expressed by the 40s’rectangular- shouldered tailored suit, exotic peasant blouse and showy accessories (Lee and Cho).
In regard to the style used by Powell, it is clear that she dressed every actor depending on their role and gender. She used color differences to emphasize on this aspect. For instance, she dresses the Prince in Cinderella with fitting uniform. Nonetheless, it is in her choice of color that Powell did not bring out the masculinity of Prince as she dressed him in greens and light blues with some white colors. More to the use of color and style to depict the gender roles, Powell used a lighted gown for the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. The luminous design given to such a character would have also depicted her as a woman. For this case, it can be argued that Powell used color and style to demonstrate gender and social class.
In the Velvet Goldmine, Powell brings out the visions and eras by using the design that captured the dressing of the 70’s. Through her work she brings out the time period’s singular aesthetic that was characterized by skintight suits and pixie cuts (Taubin). The use of bright colors in the film was a depiction of the feminism aspects of Powell. Furthermore, Powell brought out the notion of feminism in the creation of the Queen Elizabeth costume that was hugely flamboyant. She used fabrics that were sumptuous in making the exuberant dress. In this case, it would also be prudent to understand that Powell used color, fabric designs and style of costumes to depict the social class of the characters. These patterns of dressing become evident especially in dressing the Queen (Taubin). The choice of the queen’s costumes that ranged to thousands of dresses was by no coincidence as Powell had to demonstrate aspects of social class (Breitman and Milnor).
Indeed, there could be nothing more amusing than the choice of texture that Powell gave to her costumes as per the gender and social roles of the characters. To depict the feminism aspect of her characters including Carol, she chose the gorgeous blond mink fur coat for her. The choice of her texture brought out the feminism aspect of the exotic features of Carol (Munich 177). In combination of the texture with the pale color, a lady of higher social class was created. Nothing was by coincidence in the choice of texture and color of the costumes that Powell gave to each of the characters in the films. Women were given a feminism character look with the styles of each of those giving the class of the character. The deliberate look that Carol is given with that trimmed and closely tailored grey dress depicts a social class. Powell said that “there is something about rich people wearing light colors as it depicts luxury and sophistication” (Mandalit Del Barco). As such, the dozen fabric-covered buttons could not go unnoticed. Indeed, Powell has been used the nonverbal cues that include choice of colors, style and textures to demonstrate social values.
By far and wide, Powell has been consistent in her designs and this has been plausible in most of the films. She has been distinct in choosing the style of costumes. For this case, most of the costumes have remained to be descent and the characters would rarely be seen in revealing cloths. It is in this regard that one can argue that Powell is a respecter of modesty dressing that is also intertwined with her love for precision and juxtaposition. Although she overemphasizes on the aspects that bring out the best out of female characters through colors, she has also been sharply critical to bring out the best of male characters by using outfit style and texture of the costumes.
ATKINSON, NATHALIE. “Inside the Evocative Design of Todd Haynes’s Carol.” 22 Dec. 2015. The Globe and Mail. Web. 3 May 2017.
Breitman, Ilana, and Kristina Milnor. “The Clothes That Launched a Thousand Ships: An Analysis of Costume Design and Historical Accuracy in Filmic Portrayals of Helen of Troy Featuring Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy (2004) and ‘Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts,’ Episode 1.12 of Xena Warrior Princess (1995-2001).” n. pag. Print.
Lee, Ye-Eun, and Kyu-Hwa Cho. “A Study on the Costume and Color Image of the Movie< The Aviator.” Fashion business 10.5 (2006): 28–44. Print.
Lynch, Julie. “From Character to Cloth: Analysing Costume Design on Screen.” University of Sydney., 2013. Print.
Mandalit Del Barco. “Sketch To Impress: How An Oscar-Winning Designer Costumes The Stars.” NPR.org. N.p., 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 3 May 2017.
Munich, Adrienne. Fashion in Film. Indiana University Press, 2011. Print.
Taubin, Amy. “Behind the Scenes of Todd Haynes’s Upcoming Domestic Weepie, Far from Heaven.” Film Comment 38.2 (2002): 10. Print.
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