Monday, 14 January 2013

And the nomination for the prettiest dress goes to:

So its award season and of course the thing I look for is the nominations for costume design.

The Oscars:
Jacqueline Durran: ANNA KARENINA
Joanna Johnston: LINCOLN
Eiko Ishioka: MIRROR, MIRROR

Jacqueline Durran: ANNA KARENINA
Beatrix Aruna Pasztor: GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Joanna Johnston: LINCOLN

With these nomintations come plenty of articles complaining how these days only fantasy and period films get nominations, leaving the 'real' art of costume design, telling story and character through clothing as a seemingly irrelevant art compared to the art of making pretty things. And I couldn't agree more. A brilliant costume designer once told me that he knew he done well if noone mentioned the costumes in the reviews, the idea being that costumes contribute to the story and character, rather than stand out as show pieces.

But perhaps the most interesting article comes from last year:
Notice the point made at the end: one of the most iconic costume designers of all time, Gilbert Adrian, never received a single Oscar nomination. The man designed, among other great films, The Wizard of Oz(1939)!

Surely it's not an over-exaggeration to say this is the most iconic film costume of all time?

Of course when you look at things a little bit closer, Oscars were first awarded in 1929, but they weren't given out for costume design until 1949. Adrian worked largely for MGM in the 1930s, leaving them in 1941 to set up his own fashion house, and while his beautiful gowns were still used in film, he is only credited as costume designer for one more film in 1952, Lovely to Look At.

It's little surprise then that he never received an Academy Award nomination, let alone winning an Oscar!

But which films did?

From 1949-66, two costume Oscars were given out each year, one for black and white and one for colour, before they were condenced into a single award. Edith Head holds the record for both most nominations (35) and awards (8). The first Oscars in 1949 went to Roger K. Furse for Hamlet (B&W) and Dorothy Jeakins and Barbara Karinska for Joan of Arc (Colour). Yes that's the Laurence Olivier and Ingrid Bergman films, both unarguably falling into the period costume category.

But I'm curious: has it always been this way? Working my way through the list from 1949 to current I plan to watch every film that's won an Academy Award for Costume and write about it in my blog, the film, the costumes, and the designers, and which films they were up against. Has good character costume design ever beaten pretty dresses to the podium?

Right, off to Amazon to see if I can find a copy of Hamlet.

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