In this special, expanded Oscars edition of Sunday Best, let’s take a peek at the five films nominated for best costume design, all of which take us backward in time: to various U.S. cities from 1949 to 2000 (“The Irishman”), 1940s Germany (“Jojo Rabbit”), 1981 Gotham City (“Joker”), 19th-century New England (“Little Women”) and 1969 Los Angeles (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”). Which is your favorite?
“The Irishman,” designed by Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson
Though Powell is a 15-time nominee and three-time winner (for “Shakespeare in Love,” “The Aviator,” and “The Young Victoria”), she and co-nominee Christopher Peterson were surely daunted by the sheer size of their task for “The Irishman,” a three-and-a-half-hour gangster epic that spanned five decades. Star Robert De Niro alone had 102 wardrobe changes, and the extras required some 6,500 items. Powell told The Hollywood Reporter that their brief from director Martin Scorsese was to keep things simple: “Marty told us very specifically these guys are not flashy gangsters and not the ones we are used to seeing. They are much quieter and not as intimidating, and they have to blend into the background and not stand out.” The two designers scoured costume shops, thrift shops and old photographs of the real-life characters in the film, crafting quietly realistic garments that fit a general color scheme: “the ’50s were all about blues and grays; the ’60s greens, mustards and browns; while the ’70s were all browns and burgundies,” said Peterson.
“Jojo Rabbit,” designed by Mayes C. Rubeo
This is Rubeo’s first Oscar nomination; the Hollywood veteran’s previous work in film includes designing the costumes for “Avatar,” “World War Z” and “Thor: Ragnarok.” For “Jojo Rabbit,” a fantasy set in World War II-era Germany about a 10-year-old boy who has an imaginary friendship with Adolf Hitler, Rubeo took her design cues from the young central character and how he saw the world. “This is the age of children, where everything is very vivid,” she said, in an interview posted on Variety.com. The colors in “Jojo Rabbit” are bright and playful, particularly in the stylish ‘40s garments worn by the boy’s mother, played by Scarlett Johansson — “she’s the hub, she’s the color, she’s the life,” said Rubeo. The ultimate effect: a dark era shown through the innocent eyes of a child.
“Joker,” designed by Mark Bridges
Bridges’ most recent Oscar win, for 2017’s “Phantom Thread,” immersed him in meticulous, beautiful midcentury couture; for “Joker,” a dark comic-book howl of pain, things were less elegant. “I was looking for something I hadn’t done before,” the four-time nominee told Deadline.com. The title character, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a frail working-class man whose clothes are shabby and worn; Bridges and his crew overdyed them to make them look faded and threadbare — as if the character, Bridges said, did his laundry all in one load. Though the movie is set in 1981, Joker’s look is very much ‘70s, including his signature vested suit, which was burgundy —“a very hot color in the ‘70s.” An additional challenge was that none of the garments could be vintage; due to Phoenix’s stunt doubles, every costume needed to be in duplicate. “Everything had to be manufactured, and then aged to look like it was from a thrift store,” Bridges said.
“Little Women,” designed by Jacqueline Durran
Durran will forever be enshrined in costume heaven for her creation of that iconic bias-cut green gown worn by Keira Knightley in “Atonement,” one of her six previous nominations. (She won in 2013, for “Anna Karenina.”) For Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” Durran aimed to create “period-specific costumes for the sisters that did not feel period-specific,” she told the Los Angeles Times. This meant a certain looseness, “capturing that free spirit” of the March women, for whom Durran created about 75 costumes. “There wasn’t a stiffness and perfectness to the costumes; we eased up,” she said. And, in a nuance you may not have noticed (I missed it the first time): Jo (Saoirse Ronan) and Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), swap clothes during the film; there’s a waistcoat first worn by Laurie and later worn by Jo. It’s a quiet detail that, as the best costumes do, tells a story.
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” designed by Arianne Phillips
Phillips, previously nominated for “Walk the Line” and “W.E.,” drew on her California childhood to help re-create the fashion of 1969 Los Angeles — and on director Quentin Tarantino’s childhood memories, too. “I asked a lot of questions about how this story came to be, what it means to him and the personal side of this. His relationship with Hollywood and culture at that time, I really related to,” Phillips told Deadline.com. But deep research was also required, for the film’s many real-life characters: Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee. Ultimately Phillips ended up designing more than 1,500 costumes — lots of jeans and jean jackets, Hawaiian shirts, miniskirts, turtlenecks — for a film with 125 speaking characters. Like Durran, she aimed for period specificity but not necessarily documentary-like accuracy. “It’s a fictional interpretation of the time,” she said, “so [Tarantino] allowed us to take license to make it right for our film.”