Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Emperor's Clothers: Designers Sew Up Oscar Nominations

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Emperor's Clothers: Designers Sew Up Oscar Nominations

Article excerpt

TELL THE "Schindler's List" costume designer it doesn't look like she did a stitch of work on the movie and you couldn't give her higher praise.

"People would say, `What costumes have you made for the film? It all looks like a documentary, it all looks so natural,"' costume designer Anna Biedrzycka-Sheppard says of the Holocaust drama.

"That is the biggest compliment I was paid. You shouldn't see the costumes. That was my aim."

In sober, real-life epics such as "Schindler's List," the best costume designs are the most invisible. In glittering romances such as "The Age of Innocence," on the other hand, audiences better be whistling the waistcoats when they leave the theater.

The costumes from the Academy Award-nominated designers this year represent an array of historical eras and international flavors, from American aristocracy in the 1870s to English butlers from the 1930s.

Despite the diversity of the designs, the five costumers are united in their quest for authenticity. Their movie outfits, whether elaborate gowns or simple frocks, consistently must give the film a realistic ring and its actors the fabric to weave convincing depictions.

Designers do not have to sacrifice authenticity, however, to make sure their work has an artistic point of view.

With almost subliminal shifts in hemlines, fabrics and colors, costumers can guide our emotions about characters and story.

"The costumes helped me tremendously," Holly Hunter, the star of "The Piano," has said of Janet Patterson's designs. The actress says her hoop skirts, petticoats, pantaloons and corsets were a real physical manifestation of her character, Ada.

Some of the five Oscar-nominated designers, such as Sandy Powell from "Orlando," have created outfits so jaw-droppingly gorgeous the movie has to catch its breath when their creations first appear. Others, including Jenny Beaven and John Bright from "The Remains of the Day," have to work from a drab color palette ranging from gray to black.

"Quite often, it's best not to be noticed," says Powell.

"But in `Orlando,' the costumes are supposed to be noticed."

Says Beaven about "The Remains of the Day": "The movie's work is so unflamboyant. It's astonishing that we were nominated. It's such a restrained and laid-back look."

Anthony Hopkins' character of Stevens is rarely out of his formal black-and-gray butler's uniform. His declining father wears almost identical clothes, but the shoulders of his suits were altered to make him look droopy, more forlorn.

For accuracy, Beaven and Bright ("A Room With a View," "Howards End") worked with Cyril Dickman, Queen Elizabeth's longtime butler.

Miss Kenton, the comparatively daring housekeeper played by Emma Thompson, conforms to custom and wears conservative dresses even when away from work.

Costumes for "The Piano" are schizophrenic: Ada wears dark skirts and hats with little flair. …

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