2016 Best Costume Oscars Recap

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It’s time to award our OWN Frock Flicks Oscar for Best Costume Design! And, yeah, the Academy had their own award show, as did the Costume Designers Guild and the Make-Up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild, so let’s talk about who was nominated and who won.

Of course, our own Oscar award is the most important! You all voted, and the winner by a MILE is… Crimson Peak, designed by Kate Hawley!

We admit, we’ve been lax in reviewing this movie (we actually got together to go to the theater so we could podcast it, but got distracted by brunch and cocktails). All of the images that have come out have shown Hawley’s designs to be not just stunningly gorgeous but also perfect for gothic horror. As promised, we will podcast this movie as soon as possible so we can all discuss the fine points of this amazing work!

I do think this was the obvious choice from our readers, given that we’re all coming from the historical angle. Although many of us appreciate 20th-century films, we prefer the complexity of the costumes of the earlier centuries. Face it, there’s just more fabric to work with, and then you get corsets and bustles/hoops/paniers and better hairstyles and…

Crimson Peak (2015)

Holy crap, it’s semi-appropriate back lacing!

Crimson Peak (2015)

THIS.

Crimson Peak (2015)

Looks like a shawl turned into a bodice?

Crimson Peak (2015)

LOVE these trains.

Your runners-up were:

In fourth place: Carol (Sandy Powell) … And a three-way tie between Brooklyn (Odile Dicks-Mireaux), Far From the Madding Crowd (Janet Patterson), and Macbeth (Jacqueline Durran). I’m impressed that both Carol and Brooklyn ranked so high. Obviously anything designed by Sandy Powell is going to be quality, and there was certainly a lot of publicity for Carol in the lead-up to the Oscars, but 1950s isn’t the shiny choice (semi-ditto for Brooklyn). And I’ve heard such varying things about Macbeth — some people praising the historical references, others talking about shitty nylon crystal organza — that I can’t wait to learn more.

Carol (2015)

Carol: your first runner-up.

Luckily we already have a review of Far From the Madding Crowd and a preview look at Macbeth, but we’ll add detailed reviews of Brooklyn and Macbeth as soon as we can.

In terms of what didn’t place… our readers were far less impressed with The Danish Girl than Hollywood was. I would say that that’s because of it’s 20th century setting, but that didn’t work against Brooklyn or Carol. It’s possible that fewer people have seen it, or its mish-mash of decade references worked against it. There was SO much press about the film’s costumes and designer Paco Delgado that clearly the studio was throwing a lot of money at its campaign. I very much hope that it’s not because of an anti-LGBTQ bias, but it’s possible.

There were very few votes for The Revenant, and I just don’t think mud and beards is any of our cup of tea. I do think Suffragette‘s overall greyness worked against it, although I would have thought it might have placed higher due to its dedication to getting the year 1912 so spot-on. And Victor Frankenstein seems like it should be up there as a contender against Crimson Peak, but its women’s designs look so very Late 19th Century-ISH that I think it could be very meh.

Victor Frankenstein (2015)

Victor Frankenstein: When is this film supposed to be set?

Now, let’s look at the other (lesser) awards that have been given out this season!

The Academy Award for Best Costume Design

The nominees for Best Costume Design are chosen by the costume designers branch of the Academy, and they selected Mad Max: Fury Road (Jenny Beavan), CarolCinderella (Sandy Powell), The Danish Girl, and The Revenant (Jacqueline West). I think a lot of people assumed that either of Sandy Powell’s films (Carol or Cinderella) were the obvious choice, and I do wonder if the double nomination worked against her?

That being said, as someone who has actually seen Mad Max: Fury Road, let me tell you a bit about why that was my choice and why I’m excited it won. One percent of that happiness comes from Jenny Frickin’ Beavan, who is one-half of the dream team (along with John Bright) that designed most of the Merchant-Ivory films (they won the Oscar for A Room With a View; they also designed Howards End, Jefferson in Paris, Sense and Sensibility, and a whole lot more).

But far more importantly… I thought that the costume designs in Mad Max: Fury Road were incredibly creative and inventive. I do think Crimson Peak would have been a strong contender if it had been nominated, but it wasn’t.

A good example of Beavan’s work is the designs for the female characters. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has to be presented as a super badass, completely on par with the male characters in the film. The New York Times explains how the designers, “eliminated some of her more feminine features. First, they vanquished her long, blond locks, a look that was also practical, considering the desert heat and their busy production schedule, [hair designer] Ms. Vanderwalt said. ‘And then the rest of it became about protecting her body,’ said Ms. Beavan, who bandaged her breasts flat, and used that bandaging as a motif for the rest of her look” (Behind the Makeup and Costumes of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’). There’s nothing about Furiosa’s look that sexualized, which is SUCH a nice change from most supposedly badass, catsuit-and-heeled-boots-wearing female action heroes.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Furiosa: totally badass.

You can then contrast Furiosa’s look with the “wives,” women who have been forced to be sex slaves for local warlord but run away early on in the film. These characters are sexualized, certainly, but it’s the contrast between their diaphanous white bandages and the harsh desert with which they have to contend that communicates the lives they’ve been living before the movie starts. We also get to see them develop their own badassery, as as they do, their white costumes get ripped and torn and dirty.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

All four standing women are the wives.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Diaphanous white bandage-y gear doesn’t hold up to an endless road chase across the desert.

Most of all, I’m excited for Beavan’s win because of the history of the Oscar when it comes to Best Costume Design. Usually, it’s the biggest and sparkliest film that wins… and that’s usually one that’s got a historical or fantasy setting. While I loves me some historical film (hello, this is Frock Flicks!), I am hopeful that the win for Mad Max might mean the inclusion of a broader range of films in future nominations and wins.

The Costume Designers Guild Awards

The Costume Designers Guild Awards are where you really want to look if you want to see what the industry values in terms of design and craft. Instead of one category for costume design in which every film has to compete with each other a la the Academy Awards, they sub-divide their awards into multiple categories: period, fantasy, and contemporary (they also give an award in each category of film, TV series, and and “short form design”). While the Academy Awards tend to honor big historical films, the sub-categories of the CDG Awards means that all the contemporary films aren’t competing against (and being overshadowed by) the historical and fantasy epics — and the fact that historical and fantasy are separated means there’s a higher chance of your film being recognized.

This year, the winner for Excellence in Period Film was The Danish Girl, with the other nominees being BrooklynCarolCrimson Peak, and Trumbo (Daniel Orlandi). I’m glad to see Crimson Peak get recognized, but it’s interesting that the rest of the picks were all set in the 20th century. I can’t imagine Sandy Powell not getting a nomination in a year in which one of her films are out, so that seems like a slam dunk. The others do seem quieter, however they were also gunning for other categories at the Academy Awards, so it’s possible they benefited from all the press campaigns.

The Danish Girl (2015)

The Danish Girl: the winner of the Costume Designers Guild Award for period film.

The fact that Excellence in Fantasy Film is a separate category means that Mad Max: Fury Road – this year’s winner — wasn’t competing against The Danish Girl (I wonder if that means Danish would have won the Oscar if Mad Max hadn’t?). The other nominees were Cinderella (a strong contender), Ex Machina (Sammy Sheldon Differ; no idea!), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (Kurt and Bart, who may have the best designer team name ever; still haven’t seen it), and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Michael Kaplan; zzzzz, what happened to all the fabulosity of Amidala’s wardrobe?). As I’ve said above, I think the costumes of Mad Max were probably the most inventive of the year, so I am totally down with it winning in this category.

In the area of television, The Knick (Ellen Mirojnick) won for Outstanding Period Television Series, with other nominees being Mad Men (Janie Bryant, Tiffany White Stanton), Masters of Sex (Isis Mussenden), Outlander (Terry Dresbach), and Penny Dreadful (Gabriella Pescucci). Having seen only one episode of The Knick, I can’t fully comment, but what I saw in person at the FIDM Art of Television Costume Design exhibition really impressed me. This is the first year that period and fantasy TV have had separate categories (they used to be merged into one). Mad Men won that combined category in 2009, which can partially explain it not winning in its final year. But Penny Dreadful hasn’t ever won, and that seems like a miss (hopefully a future season will)! I was glad to see Outlander honored with a nomination, but season one’s costumes were so subdued that I think it will have a much stronger shot when it moves to season 2 (all France, all sparkle, all the time).

The Knick:

The Knick: the winner of the Costume Designers Guild Award for period TV series.

In the category of Outstanding Fantasy Television Series, Game of Thrones (Michele Clapton) won, and much deservedly — except that it did win last year, too, and were the most recent season’s costumes so very different from the previous ones? I know, I know, they’re theoretically not looking at past seasons. The other nominees were Once Upon a Time (Eduardo Castro; I don’t watch it, but I liked the costumes I saw on exhibit), Sleepy Hollow season 2 (Kristin M. Burke, Mairi Chisholm) AND Sleepy Hollow season 3 (Mairi Chisholm; that’s got to hurt your chances to compete essentially against yourself), and The Wiz Live! (Paul Tazewell; apologies to the designer, but I have lived thus far in blissful ignorance of this occuring).

The Makeup and Hairstyling Guild Awards

Makeup and hair are such an integral part of the overall look of a costume that I think it’s interesting to look at their guild awards. There’s a ton of categories, not all of which I’m going to touch on, so check out this Hollywood Reporter article if you want to know more.

In the category of Feature Motion Picture, Best Period and/or Character Makeup went to Mad Max: Fury Road (Lesley Vanderwalt, Nadine PriggeAilie Smith), with other nominees being Brooklyn, Carol, Cinderella, and The Danish Girl. Best Period and/or Character Hair Styling went to Cinderella (Carol Hemming, Orla Carroll, Wakana Yoshihara), with Brooklyn, Carol, The Danish Girl, and Mad Max: Fury Road also nominated.

Cinderella:

Cinderella won the guild award for Best Period and/or Character Hair Styling.

In Television and New Media Series, Best Period and/or Character Makeup was awarded to Game of Thrones (Jane Walker); Key & PeeleMasters of SexPenny Dreadful, and Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary also nominated. Best Period and/or Character Hair Styling also went to Game of Thrones (Kevin Alexander, Candice Banks), with fellow nominees being Agent CarterKey & PeeleMasters of Sex, and Vikings.

For Television Miniseries, Best Period and/or Character Makeup was won by American Horror Story: Hotel (Eryn Krueger Mekash, Kim Ayers, Sarah Tanno). The other nominees were BessieFargo, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, and True Detective. Best Period and/or Character Hair Styling also went to American Horror Story: Hotel (Monte C Haught, Darlene Brumfield, Frederic Asperas), while Astronaut Wives ClubBessieGrace of Monaco, and The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe were also nominated.

What did you think of all the various costume award winners? Have you recovered from the Mad Max upset?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

9 Responses

  1. Sarah Lorraine

    I loved the costumes in The Danish Girl so I was sort of sad that it didn’t win. However, it did reinforce my belief that only waifish young men should ever wear 1920s dresses.

    Reply
  2. Trystan L. Bass

    I totally respect what Beaven did for Mad Max re: costumes telling a story, but I still don’t want to see it. However, I really want to see Carol bec. it looks like a gorgeous version of the 1950s (also, story is relevant to my interests!). And duh, Crimson Peak, me likey the goth pretties.

    Reply
  3. Magda

    I’m really glad that Mad Max won – it’s nice to see a truly original designs (by that I mean not period based) win for once, especially when they are as good as they were. Still, can’t wait to see Carol, there is a possibility that I will not survive all this prettiness. Also, I’m very happy for The Knick – fantastic series with gorgeous costumes, perfect cast and quite a lot of blood (so I wouldn’t really recommend it to everyone)
    Oh, it’s not a back lacing on the CP gown, it’s a decorative panel (there is period gown in one of the museums, from 1876 I think, with the same thing. Very dark blue one…)

    Reply
  4. Robyn

    I wonder how they differentiate between fantasy and period. I feel like Penny Dreadful is closer to the former.

    Reply
    • Robyn

      Okay, not “closer” as it is obviously period but the show is pretty much a fantasy.

      Reply
  5. Amy

    I’m sorry I really think the costumes in Crimson Peak weren’t very good, they were cut badly, and some of the fabrics and trims were just wrong for the design, it lacked the finesse, it definitely had lots of potential but it wasn’t executed well.

    Reply

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