Michael O’Connor: The Frock Flicks Guide

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The name Michael O’Connor may not ring many bells, if any, for you, but as soon as I start listing the films for which he’s designed the costumes you’re going to perk up: The Duchess. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. The Invisible Woman. Let’s take a look at this talented designer’s body of work and appreciate his talents!

 

Nomad: The Warrior (2005)

Set in 18th-century Kazakhstan, the story is about the coming-of-age of a descendent of Genghis Kahn. Yes, I’m a completionist.

“…on the set of Nomad: The Warrior where I was privileged to be working with Hollywood’s top costume designers Marit Allen and Michael O’Connor; they spent several years on the set with me recreating 18th-century ethnic Kazakh costumes for my lead character in the movie Gaukhar.” — Ayanat Ksenbai, lead actress (Ayanat Ksenbai: Constant Craving)

2005 Nomad- The Warrior

 

Wallis & Edward (2005)

A biopic about the abdication of King Edward VIII of Great Britain and his relationship with American divorcée Wallis Simpson (Joely Fisher).

2005 Wallis & Edward

 

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

In 1938 London, Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is down on her luck. She finds a job as social secretary to an American singer (Amy Adams), which transforms her life over the course of a day.

“The way the film was written, I saw each scene transition as, ‘Curtain going down’ and then ‘Curtain coming up’ – the perfect excuse for taking a bit of license. Miss Pettigrew, as the title goes, is living for and in this day, so her changes of clothing are particularly important. We fitted samples on Frances, who knew what would and wouldn’t suit her character – and what would and wouldn’t be too extreme in terms of the changes. For example, there was talk of making the initial costume for her particularly shabby, which we didn’t do.” (Production Notes)

2008 Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day 2008 Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day 2008 Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

 

The Duchess (2008)

A biopic about the leader of fashionable society in late 18th-century Britain, Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley).

“Everything was designed authentically from the wedding dress that would be taken off to every piece of underwear—the corset and the underskirt of the dress—so you could understand the reality of what happened that night when the Duke stripped her naked. Everything she and other characters wore was completely authentic to the time, because it was important to how they showed themselves and what they were supposed to express, along with the restrictions of how they moved.” (Contender – Costume Designer, Michael O’Connor, The Duchess)

2008 The Duchess 2008 The Duchess 2008 The Duchess 2008 The Duchess 2008 The Duchess

 

Jane Eyre (2011)

Yet another adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë classic, this one starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

“There’s different versions [of Jane Eyre], but you can always tell the period [the movie] was made from hairstyles and such. We wanted to go back to the real thing, and set it really when we thought it was written—especially with the cottons, textiles, and textures we used. They’re all based on real designs of the time.” (Michael O’Connor’s Sumptuous Period Costumes in Jane Eyre)

2011 Jane Eyre 2011 Jane Eyre 2011 Jane Eyre

 

The Eagle (2011)

A Roman officer (Channing Tatum) heads to Scotland to find the lost standard of his father’s legion. Apparently the Picts are dressed like Native Americans.

2011 The Eagle The Eagle (2011)

 

The Invisible Woman (2013)

The story of Charles Dickens’s (Ralph Fiennes) relationship with his mistress, Ellen Ternan.

“You have to soak up as much as you can — not just costumes, but politics, music, society. Get it in your skin so that you can squint at an item and know there’s something not quite right about the length of those sleeves, and then realize it’s because the trousers are too narrow. The more you know the easier it is to understand it all.” (‘Invisible Woman’ costume designer punctuates films with precise clothing)

2013 The Invisible Woman 2013 The Invisible Woman 2013 The Invisible Woman 2013 The Invisible Woman

 

Suite Française (2014)

A romance between the French villager (Michelle Williams) and a German soldier (Matthias Schoenaerts) during World War II.

“It’s a fantastic book and I love that period, the 1940s. It’s great for what Hollywood was and fashion and everything… I thought ‘I’m going with this because I believe in this story and I believe in this cast’ … But this is a village in France — it’s not a 1940s musical. And it’s wartime, so you only have to do certain things for that kind of film.” (Michael O’Connor on “Fussy” Costumes & Principal Actresses)

2014 Suite Française 2014 Suite Française

 

Tulip Fever (coming August 2017)

An artist falls in love with a married woman (Alicia Vikander) during the late 17th-century Amsterdam tulip craze.

Tulip Fever (2016) Tulip Fever (2016)

 

Fanny Lye Deliver’d (in production)

A Puritan living in rural England in 1657 “learns to transcend her oppressive marriage and discover a new world of possibility” (according to IMDB).

2017 Fanny Lye Deliver'd

 

Which is your favorite of Michael O’Connor’s designs?

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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.

4 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    The Duchess. Although, Tulip Fever, could make it a tie.
    I love how Mr O’Connor, in the Duchess, was able to convey time passing and Georgina aging from teen to a woman in the clothes.

    Reply
  2. revknits

    Always loved The Duchess, but Tulip Fever could give it a run for its money.

    Reply
  3. lesartsdecoratifs

    Tulip Fever. Because while there is better late 18th century than The Duchess (Milena for Kubrick and Coppola), I am not sure anyone has ever done better early 17th century Flemish fashion. Too bad that I seriously doubt that August 2017 release date. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me so many times I lost count… well.

    Reply
  4. Milla

    I adore the costumes in The Invisible Woman, since I don’t think I’ve seen anyone ever pull off the particularly fussy and artificial quality of decoration in that era so well. Really, really interested in the gorgeous textiles of Tulip Fever (should it ever arrive!)

    Reply

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