This Sunday I will attend an Oscar party and there will be a pool in which we place bets on the winners of each category. I will have no opinion on Best Sound Editing or Best Sound Mixing, no thoughts on Best Visual Effects, nor even Live Action Short, no disrespect to those professionals who contribute those essential skills to the making of great movies. But my interest lies elsewhere.
Of course the red carpet grabs all the headlines and I’ll pore over celebrities in fruit colored frocks as much an anyone. But there are more important sartorial splendors to assess. There’s the matter of Best Costume Design. Now this I will ponder gravely over the course of the weekend right up until the crucial moment when I must cast my selection.
This year’s crop offers everything from rags to riches. Never mind how the movie stars are dressed on Sunday, this is how the movie’s stars were dressed. How those characters we cried and laughed for looked. Those clothes spoke volumes. The Best Costume Design award recognizes imaginative visionaries laboring behind the scenes to make invented characters leap from the screen and and into our hearts and minds. But they never get interviewed or photographed and are offered no top billing. Only around this time of the year are they talked about, but briefly. I must not fail them by making the wrong decision.
1. 12 YEARS A SLAVE
82-year-old veteran and 6 time Oscar nominee, Patricia Norris had the biggest challenge dressing Solomon, Patsey and the other plantation slaves. Untreated cotton and linen was dyed, washed, repeated and smeared with the soil from the different plantation settings to appear drab and threadbare next to the hooped, floral and frilled gentility of the landowners’ wives. Creativity and a powerful statement without access to the sequins and glamour at the disposal of the other contenders.
In contrast, with no need for restraint, the giddy tasseled, feathered, beribboned, diamanté explosions on chiffon and satin reflected perfectly the hedonistic 20s and allowed us to bear witness to an exciting collaboration between two doyennes of style: Catherine Martin and Miuccia Prada. It was period with a twist of contemporary.
There was so much visual stimulation in every scene, but with a story so familiar that had already been explored in multiple interpretations, it was the costumes–and, okay, for a while, the soundtrack–that stayed in my mind. 3. THE GRANDMASTER
The third nominee, and the least well known, is foreign-language martial arts story, The Grandmaster, starring the beautiful Ziyi Zhang from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. East Meets West in luscious silks and creeping floral embroideries; fur trims on simple Asian lines; Nehru collars and cheongsams in moody, ripe color combinations. William Chang Suk Ping’s costumes are ornate and sleek at the same time. 4. THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
Michael O’ Conner, who previously received an Oscar for The Duchess, reportedly read The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield for historical inspiration, as well as trawling the Victoria and Albert museum in London and gazing at the painting The Darby Day by WIlliam Powell Frith before embarking on the designs for The Invisible Woman.
It tells the story of Charles Dickens and his secret love affair with much younger Nelly Ternan played by Felicity Jones, set in the 1850s. Initially Nelly wears dowdy nondescript work dresses but as her standing in Dickens estimations grows, so too do the pastel colors, rich trims and frilled details of her gowns. Ralph Fiennes trussed up in his waistcoat and frockcoat is uncanny as Dickens. 5. AMERICAN HUSTLE
Last, but with all that cleavage and hair, certainly not least, we have the trashy, flashy fabulousness of American Hustle. The combover, the perms, the wrap dress (Diane Von Furstenburg, have you seen a run on your staple this season?), it was one hell of a ride. It doesn’t matter if, like me, you couldn’t quite follow the slipping, sliding plot. I blame it on the dazzle of Amy Adams. Couldn’t think straight, could I?
First-timer Michael Wilkinson paired vintage finds with specially designed pieces bringing back into the style vernacular old stalwarts such as Charles Jourdan and Maidenform to perfectly capture Amy Adam’s fake posh girl persona. I thought she was pure dynamite and that’s why this one will probably earn my vote.Who are you voting for?
If peeking behind the scenes of glamour industries is your poison, my debut novel set in the international fashion industry is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.