By Susan JAMES
Running through April 25, the Los Angeles Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing celebrates the Oscars with its 23rd annual Oscar Costume Design Exhibition. Free to the public, the exhibition features over 100 costumes from 23 outstanding 2014 films including the five costume design Oscar nominees – “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Inherent Vice,” “Into the Woods,” “Maleficent” and “Mr. Turner.”
The exhibition is a potpourri of period pieces, contemporary color and flamboyant fantasy. Details on designs for big screen extravaganzas like Janty Yates’ ancient Egyptian haut couture for “Exodus: Gods and Kings” or Marlene Stewart’s condensed costume history of the Western World for “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” are stunning. According to Costume Designers Guild President Salvador Perez, designers are architects who often build from scratch the fabric constructions that bring characters to life. Ruth E. Carter, who designed the 1960s Civil Rights looks for “Selma,” sees designers as explorers who research not only historical films and documents but who take period, never worn, pieces and age them until they look as if they’ve been lived in for years.
Some of the most sumptuous costumes on display include Anushia Nieradzik’s 18th century gowns and lace hats for “Belle.” Intricate ruching and flourishes of silk bows and knots that decorate the costumes would do credit to an aristocrat at a European court. Nieradzik’s principal influence was the portrait of the movie’s real life, mixed race heroine Dido Belle and her English cousin.
“For artists in the 18th century,” she explained, “the main priority was status.”
She dressed the two girls with equal elegance making Dido (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) the visual peer of her cousin. From a purely fantastical point of view are Ngila Dickson’s designs for “Dracula Untold,” which include a flowing gown of blue and gold brocade with a fur collar and delicate seed pearl headdress and necklace inspired by authentic 15th century Central European clothing. The gown, worn in the film by Dracula’s wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon), was designed to flaunt the femininity of the only principal female character in the movie. Next to the display stands the black and red armor worn by her husband, Vlad (Luke Evans), which Dickson describes as “visceral, rawer and more chiseled.” A rampaging red dragon, both a signature and a taunt, curls across the chest piece as if about to launch itself against an army of invaders.
Among the historical displays, fantastical fables and superheroes, from
“Guardians of the Galaxy” designed by Alexandra Byrne, to “X-Men: Days of Future Past” designed by Louise Mingenbach, are less assertive costumes that set the scene for films like “The Theory of Everything” designed by Steven Noble, “Big Eyes” designed by Colleen Atwood, and “Gone Girl,” designed by Trish Summerville. Their laid back looks reflect the 1940s, ’50’s and today and are both true to the times and to the characters who wore them.
Costume designers often say that contemporary is the hardest period design to get right because everyone alive has an idea of how people dress. Colleen Atwood relied on magazines and newspaper looks from the 1950s to dress her “Big Eyes” characters. “Simple, real and understated” are the three words she used to describe her costumes.
At the other end of the scale are the eccentric looks on display by Milena Canonero for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The signature fashions for Tilda Swinton’s Madame D., represented by a flamboyant red and yellow outfit with matching hat and gloves, were inspired by the paintings of Gustav Klimt. Focusing on a realistic look for the 1940s but incorporating whimsical touches that match the tone of the film, the designs are a prime contender for this year’s Oscars.
“The look of each actor has to have its raison d’être,” Canonero explained, something with which all costume designers would agree whether they are launching Birdman into the air over New York City or sending Moses across Egypt’s Red Sea or simply dressing an everyday housewife boarding a taciturn artist in early 19th century Margate. Costumes are part of the architecture that supports the story and FIDM’s 23rd Oscar exhibition has a style and a mood for everyone.