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Fashionista Gal: A look at Oscar nominees for Best Costume Design

by Jennifer Ortakales / Beacon Correspondent • January 24, 2013

Ornate ball gowns, crowns, and military uniforms dominate the nominations for Best Costume Design at the Oscars this year. All five period films will be judged not only on accuracy, but on how the designers set themselves apart and take their films to another level. Only a couple truly accomplished this by distinguishing their own style while also furthering each character’s role.  Here’s the list of nominees, ordered from what I think is least likely to win to most likely.

 Lincoln  is favored among many viewers to win Best Picture and Best Actor, but in my opinion, it is least likely to win Best Costume Design. This is for the reason that Joanna Johnston’s costumes were just as boring as she is to watch in the film’s special features (look her up on YouTube to witness her dreariness). The costumes were well made and accurately depicted the time period and characters, but their function stopped there. Granted, most of the costumes were military uniforms and suits for congressmen, but they still served no other purpose than to clothe the actors, and that is not enough of a qualification to win an Oscar. 

The next film in the running is Anna Karenina, one that hasn’t gotten much award season buzz because it was either unwatched or forgotten by most. An adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel of the same title, it is set in Russia during the 1870s. According to nominee Jacqueline Durran, the costumes were partly inspired by 1950s couture silhouettes. Each character’s wardrobe had a unique trait to communicate his or her role. 

Karenina’s husband wore streamlined and simple tunics to reflect his power and influence, while Princess Betsy Tverskoy had a Geisha-themed style to reflect her exotic personality. Durran’s costumes are pretty to look at and may be worthy of a couture runway for their detail and luxury. However, they lack enough complexity to win her the award.

Mirror Mirror is the only children’s movie nominated, but one of the two nominated films that are based on the story of Snow White. Unfortunately, designer Eiko Ishioka passed away a year ago, but her playful and extravagant designs were surely made to capture young audiences even after her death. She made ball gowns, headpieces, and dwarf clothing that could only be made with a childlike imagination. Ishioka used patterns and colors that seemed inspired by her hometown of Tokyo, with its eclectic and fearless street style. She even made hats topped with miniature ships that could shoot cannons. Her grand imagination alone could win her an award, but going up against the costume design of four significantly more dark and profound films, Mirror Mirror won’t be taken as seriously by the Academy. 

The next film, Les Misérables, involved many dynamic costumes. From peasants to military officers, high-society to prostitutes, designer Paco Delgado was required to design a wide range of clothes for a large cast that emphasized the class system during the French Revolution. He often used the color red to symbolize tragedy and hardship. Another important role of his costume making was showing the transformations every character went through. Jean Valjean goes from a bewildered prisoner in red rags to a respected mayor in sophisticated suits and jackets. Fantine begins as an innocent factory worker in a pale colored, conservative dress, but becomes a prostitute in a torn, red dress that leaves her exposed in the cold and reflects her fragile state. This progressive idea demonstrated how much thought Delgado put into his designs to tell a story through clothing alone, and gives him a very good chance of winning. 

The contrasting take on Snow White this year was presented in the film Snow White and the Huntsman. The movie itself didn’t get many positive reviews; however, costume designer Colleen Atwood outshined the actors for arguably the most innovative accomplishment in costume of the year. Armor made up the majority of the movie’s costumes, and Charlize Theron’s character Queen Ravenna wore Atwood’s best pieces. Her dark, edgy wardrobe was inspired by contemporary techniques, trends, and materials, blurring the line between medieval and modern. One dress had a leather bodice with a peplum formed with quill-like embellishments, while the rest of the dress was made to look like armor using layers of metal scales. The most iconic piece in the film was Ravenna’s feather cloak with a high, protruding collar. Atwood was conscious of what materials were best for her garments and created meticulous pieces that stood out as the most outstanding visual elements of the film, making her the most qualified nominee for Best Costume.