Designer Spotlight: Eiko Ishioka

Picture heavy post.

A lot of my ‘reviews’ focus quite a bit on costumes, so I thought I would start writing about some of my favourite costume designers. For one, it will give me something different to write about. For another thing, it will make me actually research some costume designers. I can only think of a few off the top of my head – Eiko Ishioka, Colleen Atwood, Edith Head – and as someone who has an appreciation for costumes, it’s about time I start to look at the people designing them, more often.


As it was an idea I had while watching Immortals (don’t ask how many times I’ve seen that movie), I decided to start with the late Eiko Ishioka, who designed the costumes for that film (arguably the most impressive aspect). She also designed the costumes for one of my favourite movies, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for which she won an Oscar. I’ve mostly focussed on these two films, as well as Mirror Mirror: The Untold Adventures of Snow White, as I’ve shamefully yet to see any others.

Eiko Ishioka was born in Tokyo in 1938. Before costume design, she previously worked in advertising and then in production design, when she worked with Paul Schrader for Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. But it is her surreal, over the top costumes for which I best know her.

1bramstokersdracula03Of course I had to start with this dress from Dracula. It’s so iconic! I remember reading something where Ishioka mentioned she was influenced by frilled neck lizards, which I just love. (Note: I think it was in the video I’ve posted below). As a part-time cosplayer this is on my ultimate dream costume wishlist. copyLucy and Mina make a stunning pair. Their costumes reflect the differences between these two friends – Lucy is often seen with her hair down and in flowing gowns, her shoulders exposed, even before she starts transforming, while Mina is more reserved and modest by contrast with high necks, rows of buttons and carefully coiffed hair. is a prominent colour in Ihsioka’s designs. I’ve chosen three of my favourites from Dracula and Immortals that use red (although, after watching a video, I’ve learnt the bottom dress is actually orange – oh well!). The top image shows Dracula’s armour, equally as iconic as Lucy’s frilled neck gown. I love how the armour both seems to recall Samurai armour as well as following the musculature structure of the body. I also love the many faces of Dracula in the film, and how the costumes transform Gary Oldman into different aspects of the character.

The second image shows the oracle, Phaedra, and her circle from Immortals. I don’t know what to say about these, except that they are very striking (and remind me of lanterns).

And the bottom is Lucy’s sleepwalking dress, which I chose over Mina’s red dress just because this scene is so mesmerising (albeit slightly less so in still images). Even though the dress is actually orange, it looks red in these pictures so I’m just leaving it there. soft green of these two outfits is so fitting for Mina’s character, and well suited to Winona Ryder’s complexion. As mentioned, Mina is usually seen in high collars, in very ‘prim and proper’ costumes, but they are far from plain. The draping of the skirt in the first image contrasted with the straight row of small buttons up the bodice is lovely. And the embroidery detail and the unusual collar on the second makes me drool just a little.

1Belosnezhka_Mest_gnomov_2012_x264_BDRip_720p_22561Belosnezhka_Mest_gnomov_2012_x264_BDRip_720p_2858 (1)I’ve only recently watched Mirror Mirror, so I haven’t had as much time to think about the costumes. But I love these two that Snow (Lily Collins) wears. First is her bandit leader getup with off the shoulder bishop sleeve blouse, embroidered vest/corset and palazzo trousers. She wears this straight after her puffy white ballgown, and it obviously reflects her transition from cloistered palace life to joining a band of thieves, hoping to overthrow the queen. The second image is her wedding dress and it is so outrageous with that gigantic bow and rich colours. I love that she doesn’t wear a white dress for her wedding and that it also recalls the colours of the famous Disney Snow White dress.

75bfdfaff77ddfaca4fffbedd57f57a4The Olympians definitely have the most attractive costumes in Immortals. While all the costumes are well suited to the characters, I just can’t resist gold and shiny! The image above shows Isabelle Lucas as Athena, the goddess of widsom and war strategy among other things. headgear for all the Olympians is really out there – it’s not overly practical but they’re gods! I think it reflects the idea of them being remote from humanity, too, when you look at how different their costumes are from the mortals. The gorgeous gold cloak, with braided detail that Zeus wears is amazing.

1Belosnezhka_Mest_gnomov_2012_x264_BDRip_720p_01251Belosnezhka_Mest_gnomov_2012_x264_BDRip_720p_0189Speaking of gold, here’s some from Mirror Mirror! But where the gold of the Olympians made them seem removed and above humanity, this dress that Snow wears, with all of its delicate floral patterns, reinforces her sweetness. (Although, thinking about it, she is also removed from humanity/the people of the kingdom, being shut away in the castle by her stepmother.) not so pretty, but equally impressive costumes from Immortals. The use of lines/geometry and contrasting textures makes the more ‘plain’ costumes far more fascinating than they seem at first glance. I’m noticing so many interesting details looking more closely, like the frayed edges of the tunic Henry Cavill wears under the leather armour. Theseus is poor, after all, so it is a fitting detail. helmet, worn by Mickey Rourke as King Hyperion, is legitimately terrifying but I had to include it. It’s so striking!

2Belosnezhka_Mest_gnomov_2012_x264_BDRip_720p_2064And one last image. This time it’s the nobility all dressed up for the queen’s wedding in Mirror Mirror. Talk about power clashing!

Here is an interview where Eiko talks a bit about the creative process behind the designs for the costumes in Immortals, and about balancing historical research with ‘far out’ ideas. (I think ‘far out’ may have been one of her favourite phrases). You can see some gorgeous sketches of helmets (worn by the Titans in the film) behind her. I also liked how she talked about discussing functionality and comfort with the actors in her process.

Also recommend watching this one. I’m intrigued by the idea of ‘the costumes are the sets’.  The costumes in Dracula are so expressive, though, and I think it worked.

the-fall-12OK, I lied. Here’s the actual last image, from The Fall. I honestly cannot justify not having seen this film, yet. I’ve already mentioned the prominence of gold in her work, and in the Dracula video above she mentions drawing on Byzantine art as an influence, which is clearly evident throughout her body of work, and can be seen above as well.

I was going to wait to do this post until I’d seen some more films but I figured there were enough images, already! Please let me know if the format works (i.e. are there too many photos? Not enough actual information? Too much writing? Is the ‘header’ image for the post a bit cheesy? etc.) and I’d love to know who some of your favourite designers are, as well.


5 thoughts on “Designer Spotlight: Eiko Ishioka

  1. The Fall is just a visually arresting film! Like breathtaking!

    Oh and another movie I really loved for how it looked was The Cell because as it turns out is also done by Eiko Ishioka! Thank you for the post about her 🙂

    • I definitely have to watch the fall ASAP! And the cell, too. The combination of Tarsem Singh and Eiko Ishioka was a wonderful one.
      Oh, you’re welcome! Thank-you for reading and for the comment 🙂

  2. Pingback: Designer Spotlight: Eiko Ishioka | oohaaaaablog

  3. Pingback: Designer Spotlight: Colleen Atwood | The Sofa Cinephile

  4. Pingback: The Fall, 2006 | The Sofa Cinephile

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