LABOR OF LOVE: This year’s BAFTA-nominated costume designers have dressed cinematic heroes from across the centuries, and guess what? They’re a snap compared with creating contemporary costumes.
There’s Julian Day who re-created some of Freddie Mercury’s famous costumes for “Bohemian Rhapsody”; Alexandra Byrne, who explored female power dynamics in the 16th century while outfitting Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan for “Mary Queen of Scots”; Mary Zophres, who experimented with six genres of western dress to create the looks for the six tales of the “Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” and twice-nominated designer Sandy Powell who reimagined Mary Poppins and also offered her take on period dressing in “The Favourite.”
The general consensus among all nominated designers was that contemporary costumes are more difficult to create.
“Everyone has an opinion about contemporary costume. It doesn’t get recognized as something that was ‘designed,'” said Powell, during a costume designer masterclass organized by Swarovski ahead of the BAFTA ceremony.
Day said he had multiple challenges on his hands: Not only did he have to re-create contemporary costumes for the Queen band members in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the clothing was seared into the memory of fans. “You want to pay tribute to the fans and get it right for them, since those costumes are so deeply ingrained in their memory. At the same time, you also need to be creative within the realms of the story and the script,” he said.
He approached the challenge by maintaining simplicity and precision when it came to Freddie Mercury’s most recognizable stage looks. He worked with Wrangler to create denim, and Adidas to provide Hercules boots that were identical to the ones worn by the rock star. When it came to creating the band’s less-documented American tour outfits, he had more room to experiment with Swarovski crystal-embellished pieces or big-shoulder leather jackets.
Day added that having Queen’s lead guitarist, Bryan May, involved in the process was “helpful — but nerve-racking.”
During an initial meeting where Day presented his mood board to the musician, the only feedback May had to provide was that he “would never tuck his shirt in.”
As the relationship evolved, however, he invited Day into his wardrobe and loaned some of his original Eighties clothing for the movie.
Alexandra Byrne spoke of her own challenge of reflecting the struggles of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots in “maintaining power in the world of predatory men.”
She imagined Elizabeth, who was more strategic, as having “this ongoing Net-a-porter account and dressing outfit by outfit,” while Mary who was known as pragmatic, was always seen in multiple shades of blue.
“The choice of color on Mary’s dress was a barometer of her self-esteem. She is seen wearing cobalt at her wedding, when she thinks it’s all going well, and then her outfits slowly tone back down to indigo,” said Byrne, adding that she created the majority of the costumes using denim.
Powell took a different approach to period costume design by restricting the color palette of the female characters’ outfits, on Yorgos Lanthimos’ 18th-century period drama “The Favourite,” to black and white. Instead, she got more colorful and experimental with the male costumes, particularly those of Nicholas Hoult.
“Nicholas had never done a period film before and loved the dandy look, particularly the heels. I always ensured we had a wig for fittings and gave him lessons on how to walk in heels. He got really into it,” said Powell. “The idea was for the women to be makeup-free and have natural looks and for the men to be these colorful peacocks.”
But Powell’s favorite recent film moment was the animation sequence in “Mary Poppins Returns.” She dressed Emily Blunt and the rest of the cast in candy-colored twinsets that matched the colors of the Disney-animated characters.
“This was my favorite scene from the original movie, I had a very vivid memory of it. Here, I wanted to make them part of the animated world, hence why we painted these two-dimensional costumes. It was a trial-and-error process, where we experimented with paint and a lot of flat fabrics,” added Powell.