BEAUTY AND BEASTS: “I have a more minimalist sensibility, so the rawness of New York in the Twenties really drew me in,” said Colleen Atwood, costume designer behind the BAFTA-nominated “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
Ahead of the annual BAFTA awards in London on Sunday, Feb. 12, Atwood talked about the process of designing the costumes for J.K. Rowling’s adventure film, as well as for past works such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “Sleepy Hollow,” at Swarovski’s costume design master class this weekend.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them” is nominated for best costume design, alongside “La La Land,” “Jackie,” “Allied” and “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Atwood’s work for “Beasts” has also been nominated for an Oscar.
Atwood said she was primarily drawn to New York in the Twenties, the movie’s backdrop, and to the possibilities of a new life that the city presented at the time. “It was a time when ‘modern’ was becoming accessible. The city’s most developing neighborhoods, such as the Lower East Side, Harlem or the Bronx, drew a constant flow of immigrants, and became the background of the story, bringing it to life,” said Atwood who oversaw more than 3,500 fittings for the film’s extras.
When it came to designing the costumes for the leading actors, which included Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell, Atwood faced a different kind of challenge. “The principal actors don’t change costumes, so you have to create something that you are happy looking at – for over an hour and a half. It has to be interesting, but you can’t over design. You play with texture and color instead.”
She said she focused on details, such as exaggerated coat hems, to ensure that her main characters blended in with the crowds, yet still retained their magical quality. In the case of Redmayne who plays Newt Scamander, the Magizoologist, Atwood recalled endless fittings to ensure his suit was a little too short and a little too tight, in an effort to channel the character’s quirkiness.
When it came to creating Farrell’s character, Atwood said she enjoyed adding glamorous touches in the form of exaggerated shoulders and graphic contrasts, as his character didn’t need to blend in. “He was all about high wizardry,” said Atwood, adding that she combined references from the 18th Century, the Twenties and today. “I wanted his character to have a real edge, so the costume is all about graphic definition.”
Atwood also looked back at other moments in her career, such as her Oscar-winning work for “Chicago,” which she describes as “an action movie – but with beautiful women.” The demands for the costumes to be highly functional – and budgetary limitations – brought a whole host of challenges to the set of the musical, she said.
“You might not see it, but I put stretch right, left and center in those costumes, and the beads were a miracle of science for staying put. We had no budget for multiples, so I held my breath until the filming for each scene was finished,” she said.
Swarovski plans to host more costume design master classes in the U.S. and Asia this year. “We want to pay tribute to creativity. You usually just remember a movie for the actors, but I think design can make or break a movie and the more you hear from the designers, the more you appreciate them,” said Nadja Swarovski.