Sometimes it starts with shoes or another piece of wardrobe that helps an actor bring to life a character.
And some of the visionaries behind the most outstanding wardrobes in cinema released last year will vie for top honors in the costume design category at the 89th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and airing Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on ABC.
More than 100 costumes from several Oscar-nominated categories, including Best Costume Design, are currently on display at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum’s 25th annual “Art of Motion Picture Costume Design” exhibition in Los Angeles (free and open to the public, running through April 22).
The exhibition highlights the craft of the costume designer and presents some of the most striking wardrobes of the big screen from 2016, as well as the 88th Academy Award Best Costume Design winner, “Mad Max: Fury Road” from designer Jenny Beavan.
Below, we chat with some of costume designers on how they brought drama to the big screen from head to toe.
“La La Land”
Costume designer: Mary Zophres
Synopsis: The retro-inspired musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as romantic interests is a cinematic love letter to Los Angeles.
Nominated for Costume Design
Style philosophy: “It’s romantic and both the characters had the love for the past and nostalgia, but it has its foot in fantasy and foot in reality. It’s heightened but still reality with a very classic silhouette. I didn’t want to make it look like she was in vintage, but she was a girl who was inspired by the films she watched and that’s how she dresses. She’s proper and he finds beauty in that.”
What shoe styles did you use? “We discovered through rehearsals that they had to be in dance shoes. It worked better. Emma did ‘Cabaret’ and knew that coming in, so it was matter of finding them because some dance shoes aren’t so attractive. [Ryan] loves that brogue-looking men’s shoe.”
Did you consider heel heights for the dance scene? “I used the highest that she could work in — it was a 3-inch with a platform in the front.”
“Live By Night”
Designer: Jacqueline West
Synopsis: Ben Affleck’s Roaring ’20s and Prohibition-era drama features Zoe Saldana and Sienna Miller.
What shoe styles did you use? “Ben’s shoes are all custom and he wears a size 15. We made all his shoes from research photos. We made all of Zoe’s shoes — a lot of huarache and woven shoes from the ‘30s because she was Cuban.”
What was your fashion philosophy? “From the very beginning I started showing Ben real people from the prohibition era — the first part of the film to the Great Depression. For every character I based it on a real person at the time.”
What were some standout moments for you? “I remember finding jeans for Sienna, which didn’t make the movie. They were fabulous but real jeans from the ‘20s, and I found these working boots that I but bows on them like ribbons around to give them femininity from pictures I’ve seen of Norma Sherera.”
How was it collaborating with cast? “I couldn’t asked for two actresses that got the body language down. Hips forward, all the right moves — it was thrilling to work with. I’ve been working with Bens for six years — he’s got the best shoulders in the business.”
Designer: Arianne Phillips
Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Shannon)
Synopsis: The Tom Ford-directed drama follows Susan (Amy Adams), an unhappily married art gallery owner who laments the actions of her first past after reading an emotionally disturbing book written by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Aaron Taylor-Jackson and Michael Shannon’s parts play out in symbolic form through parallel storylines from the novel. It’s Ford’s first time returning to filmmaking after a seven-year hiatus following “A Single Man.”
What shoe styles did you use? “I found this really cool pair of green boots from a costume house and I chose them because of the toe shape and heel shape. I thought, I don’t know if I should show this color to Tom because it’s so outrageous. He might just think I’m crazy.”
What was your favorite wardrobe piece? “I knew it took place in Texas, so I wanted him in cowboy boots. When I saw those cowboy boots it spoke to me — he’s grungy and wears jeans. It became one of my most favorite things in the movies — the green cowboy boots. It created a silhouette of someone completely unpredictable — in these Kelly green cowboy boots.”
Designer: Sharen Davis
Synopsis: August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis as a working class family in the 1950s.
Nominated in Best Picture, Best Actor (Washington), Best Actress (Davis), Best Adapted Screenplay categories
What was your style philosophy? “This was based on a famous play that won Tony Awards. I had to loosely base a few silhouettes and clothes from there, but a play is a little overstated due to the fact that it’s onstage and fantasy. In a film you want people to feel that it’s real. For Viola’s character, the colors were more subtle, but with the arc in her character, she keeps getting better and better. She’s always tailored and put together, even in a housedress.”
Where did you source your wardrobe? “Everything was made — we shopped the fabrics and made the dresses, and Denzel’s, but the shoes were rented.”
What was the standout moment? “The funeral of a family member that takes place later on. I wanted [Viola Davis] to look very put together — happy and glamorous. Even though it was a hard time I wanted you feel that she was happy.”
Designer: Renee Ehrlich Kalfus
Synopsis: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae bring to life the true story of black female NASA scientists Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson working amid racial and gender equality tensions.
Nominated in Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress (Spencer) categories.
Style philosophy for the film? “I wanted to take this and make it fresh — knowing the reality but having a fresh look. One of the things that resonate is that it’s still a contemporary story. From my perspective I brought texture, tonality and classicism so that it could be timeless and look fresh. A lot of that period you can look at and say, ‘I can wear that now.’ ”
What research did you do? “There was past footage and we were able to get home photographic albums. Some of the most fun research for me was archival Ebony magazines. You have wonderful, in-depth articles from someone from the time and all the ads — every page had girdles, bras and stockings.”
What shoe styles did you use? “In terms of doing a period, you can bring a lot of period shoes, but finding that stuff is hard and they are pretty beat up. We had to find the silhouette — the heel, point, and vamp — but find that stuff new so that they can run, walk and be in it for a period of time. We did a tremendous shopping for kitten heels and pointed-toes, but all of the background actors and our extras were in period shoes from costume houses.”
Standout style moment: “[Janelle Monáe’s character] had a pair of vintage Marc Jacobs slingback kitten heels — they were in my stock. I kept these shoes and coveted them. I bought them for ‘Chocolat’ and kept them because they were the same era — very early ‘60s. They were spectacular and Janelle loved them.”
Did you collaborate with cast on style? “I went to Chicago, where they were filming ‘Empire,’ to see Taraji. I brought her patterns from the ‘60s and I said your character really sewed her own clothing. She got so excited and said, ‘I can’t wait to not be Cookie’ (the Fox series spitfire matriarch Cookie Lyon).”