Thursday, 6 June 2013

Titanic: Switched at Birth Part II

Regular readers will know I'm fascinated about where the line falls in costume design between being inspired by others designs and creativity. After my post on the similarities between Amidala and the Cobra Woman you'll understand my excitement when the picture below appeared in my facebook feed yesterday.

1912, Les Modes (Paris)
Tailored suit for the afternoon by Linker & Co.
Kate Winslet as Rose in Titanic
Costume design by Deborah L. Scott

Obviously they are the 'same' outfit, but equally obviously changes have been made. I much prefer Scott's use of black on the collar and the stiff man shirt collar and tie underneath, very necessary for a film costume where the area framing the face is the most important part. Equally I think her skirt is a much neater, geometric shape and the thinner stripe of the fabric is much cleaner. However I do think something has been lost in the sizing down of the buttons, and while I think it was a wise costume design choice to lose the fur trim, I am an absolute sucker for vintage fur and part of me is disappointed by the choice to remove it. Almost unbelievably, Winslet's (or should I say Scott's) massive hat appears to be a scaled down version of the original, but is a much more opulent design.

I was blown away by how beautiful this ensemble (the Titanic one) was when I saw it at the V&A Hollywood Costume Exhibition. My major memory of this look is the famous shot of that amazing hat as her head turns to reveal her face, but the actual outfit below the neck is far more striking.

While studying I was lucky enough to be taught a class in costume design by Australian costume designer Margot Williams - probably most famous for costuming 'The Proposition' (2005). She used a moderately successful horror film that she worked on called 'Ghost Ship' (2002) as an example piece for us. The IMDB blurb for the film reads as follows: A salvage crew that discovers a long-lost 1962 passenger ship floating lifeless in a remote region of the Bering Sea soon notices, as they try to tow it back to land, that "strange things" happen... 

 If you're not too squeamish, here's the opening sequence of the film on YouTube. And believe me when I tell you that working with both vintage styling and blood together is the sort of thing most costume and makeup professionals dream about (as long as they don't think about the stressful practicalities too much). Not being a fan of the horror genre, I wasn't that interested in the rest of the film, but I love the opening 4 1/2 minutes.

I'm not unaware of the similarities between the two films: ocean liner where majority on board die, modern day crew revisit the remains... a happy coincidence used to illustrate my point.

Because of the practicalities all the 1962 costumes had to be made from scratch. Noone wants to get blood (even of the fake variety) on vintage clothing, but also they needed multiples: clean ones, bloody ones, half ones (or sometimes both halves at the same time for different actors) and whole ones.

I remember her telling us that she did extensive research into designs and styles of the period, and then drew all the dresses from memory without any first hand material in front of her to distract her. All the designs, though inspired by historical accuracy, were her own.

That has always stuck with me as how good costume design works. In theory.

However in practice it's never that simple.

How is copying a vintage design any different from choosing and styling an actual vintage piece from hundreds of other pieces, because it perfectly suits your vision? Or even buying a dress from the high street for an actress to wear? 

Scott made some very conscious decisions on customising the dress to suit her purposes. Nobody could accuse her of making a direct copy. But it's definitely an 'inspired by' piece. Either way it's fascinating to see the inspiration.

What are your thoughts? Is this clever costume design or downright plagiarism?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post! I don't think this is plagiarism at all. I work in the film industry (locations), and it seems like the goal of the film crew is to create a world that makes sense for the characters and that helps to define them. So it makes perfect sense to me to replicate an outfit that a woman like Rose might've actually worn! It's authentic and looks amazing, even if the costume designer didn't imagine it into being.