Designer Spotlight: Sandy Powell

Picture heavy post.

This post is even shorter again than the last; I had planned to post it in February but completely forgot to finish it, so it’s a little slapdash. It’s also formatted a little differently and I’ve left out so many of the films I’ve seen that she’s worked on, because I got a bit overwhelmed.

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The third post in my ‘Designer Spotlight’ series is focused on Sandy Powell OBE. Born in 1960, Powell is a British costume designer who has won three Academy Awards (for Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator and The Young Victoria) and worked with directors such as Derek Jarman (Caravaggio is her first film credit), Martin Scorsese and Todd Haynes.

Like Colleen Atwood, Powell often collaborates with one of my favourite directors – this time, with Todd Haynes. She designed the costumes for one of my all-time favourite movies, Velvet Goldmine, a glam-rock faux biopic which marries the career of David Bowie with the narrative structure of Citizen Kane. Naturally, the costumes are a vital element of the film, aiding in the construction of the central character Brian Slade and all those around him.

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This is my absolute favourite costume of the entire film. It’s like a fop and a glam-rock star had a baby. The contrasting textures and competing patterns should be overwhelming but they’re tied together with the colour palette, lilac being used as an anchor throughout. You can see the costume in action in this video.

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The feathered neck piece is so dramatic, which works perfectly for this scene: the ‘death’ of Brian Slade, which turns out to be a hoax. The silver bodysuit is the perfect colour to show up the bright red blood.

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Again, the contrasting textures are eye-catching and the costume recalls 18th and 19th century men’s fashions.

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This scene is a lot of fun and there are so many fabulous costumes in it. Mandy’s dress in the first screencap above is easily my favourite: I love all the colours, the oversized hat and the gorgeous platform sandals.

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I love how everyone in Brian’s entourage sort of has a theme with their costumes. Mandy has her leopard print for one, seen here in this magnificent skirt suit.

I apologise for the quality of the Velvet Goldmine screencaps. I have a really old copy of the movie and the resolution is clearly not that great.

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Next up is Carol, also directed by Todd Haynes. Carol is a stunning film in general but the costumes are just perfect. They tell us a lot about the characters and how they change along the way. When they first meet, Therese’s costumes are quite youthful but also what I suppose you could call sensible or plain (I wouldn’t, but I can’t think of a better way to describe them). Carol, by contrast, is very glamorous in her fur coat and elegant dresses.

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I love the elegant, structured lines of Carol’s dresses. The details like the collar and cuffs in the one above are just lovely. The accuracy of the costumes is so important to creating an authentic world for the characters to populate. “…Powell’s costumes needed to be distinctive but factual. Without them as a guide, even a superb performer like Blanchett or her co-star Rooney Mara could find it hard to create a believable character.” (Source).

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Everyone loves this robe. How could you not? It’s so cosy and it’s plaid.

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By the end of the film Therese has adopted a much more ‘sophisticated’ look.

Further reading: How Costume Designer Sandy Powell Made Cate Blanchett’s Stunning “Carol” Looks

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Just one costume from Orlando (dir. Sally Potter) because the post would be too long if I included all the costumes from the film that I love (i.e. all of them). This fabulous Rococo dress is both exquisite and over the top with its wide panniers. The flowers and looped accents tie Orlando to her surroundings as they are repeated in the flowers on display and even the frame of the lounge she is sitting on.

As an aside, I love how the entire aesthetic of each time period is reflected in the film, not just in the fashion but in the lighting and overall design as well.

Now for the films I don’t remember that well…

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Once again, Powell created perfect ’50s costumes for Haynes’s film Far From Heaven, but the palette is much brighter than in Carol, reflecting the colours of Douglas Sirk’s films from which Haynes drew inspiration.

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Powell’s work for Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator won her an Academy Award, and deservedly so.

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I don’t remember Mrs Henderson Presents (dir. Stephen Frears) very well but I remember loving the costumes a whole lot.

As I said in my opening, I left so many films out of this post because I got very overwhelmed. I suppose these posts are more a brief overview highlighting favourite films that certain designers have worked on. I really ought to have included Caravaggio, Interview With the Vampire and Cinderella, at least (while I didn’t love the latter as a whole, the costumes were divine) but this would never have been published if I kept tinkering away.

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OK, here’s just one from Cinderella (dir. Kenneth Branagh) because it’s one of my all-time favourites.

I think it’s obvious through this series that I love costumes that are almost like extra characters. Costume is always important in cinema but it is more obviously important in some films than in others, and these tend to be the films I am most drawn to: period pieces, sci-fi, fantasy, superhero flicks etc., musicals and so on.

Not sure who’s up next but maybe Bob Ringwood, because I just recently rewatched Batman Returns.

 

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3 thoughts on “Designer Spotlight: Sandy Powell

  1. COMPREHENSIVE and so rich with illustration! excellent share of such stunning visuals! does your generosity know no bounds? ;-p

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