The LAMB Devours The Oscars 2017: Best Costume Design

by Jay Cluitt · February 18, 2017 · Featured, LAMB Devours the Oscars · No Comments

Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:

Today, Nikhat Zahra from Across the Universe and Being Norma Jeane talks us through the nominees for Best Costume Design.

On trying to find a suitable quote to start this post, I stumbled upon one by none other than Sylvester Stallone (yes, you read that right). “Clothing is the first step to building a character” says Stallone and while I don’t know if that’s always the case, it is usually the first thing we see about a character that helps us to start understanding them. And when there’s a group of characters in a specific type of costumes, it helps us get the film better too.

When it comes to the Oscars, the powers that be are biased towards period costumes. Period. 2017 is no different. 4 out of 5 nominees have period clothing in them. The one modern film in the nominated list, La La Land, draws heavily on musicals from Golden Age Hollywood and 60s French films. I wish they would be more diverse in their choices but I suppose one cannot have a Mad Max: Fury Road every year.

Speaking of, the one thing that jumped out at me while I was going through the names of the nominated designers was that they’re all women, which is quite a rare thing when it comes to award shows, even though I do not know the statistics behind such an occurrence. Looking back the last few years, this is a unique situation despite women generally dominating the field. Good on you, Oscars!

Anyway, without much further ado, here are the five Best Costume Design nominees in the upcoming 89th Academy Awards:


This was the last film I saw from this list and I watched it solely for this post. One thing I found interesting about the costumes in this film was that they were very much costumes WITHIN the film too. The clothes are there to tell a story, to sell the false identities of two Resistance spies to Nazis. The very first thing we know about Marion Cotillard’s character is what coloured dress she would be wearing and how it helps Brad Pitt’s character to know who she is. Therefore, from a story point-of-view, the costumes are integral for the conceit of the film to work. And they are quite beautiful. Elegant but not ostentatious, which is what a spy wanting to get in with the Nazi elite without rousing any suspicion would want. The first act of the film is set in Casablanca in the 40s so it is difficult not to compare the look to that of the classic of the same name, and there are certain clothing inspirations. I would say that the clothes never managed to outshine their wearers though, which is maybe a good thing? I’m not sure. Joanna Johnston was previously nominated for Lincoln and she has also made costumes for The Boat that Rocked, Back to the Future II (omg, did she design those sneakers?), Death Becomes Her (!!!) and many others.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The token Colleen Atwood nomination. She is amazing, obviously, but this is one name that I expect to hear every year when it comes to this category. To a young Oscar viewer like me, she’s almost synonymous with it, like John Williams is with original score and Meryl Streep is with Oscars themselves. Anyway, this time around, she designed the costumes of the wizarding world as it was in 1920s New York. I don’t think these are the most extravagant outfits of her career, although I totally adored Newt’s whole look. I wish the clothes were more wizard-y but perhaps that’s just me. They were perfectly solid period costumes that gave us a sense of the 1920s but very little more.

Florence Foster Jenkins

Consolata Boyle is no stranger to period films, having designed costumes for films like The Queen and another Meryl Streep vehicle, The Iron Lady. The thing that sets her work apart in this film is of course Foster Jenkins herself. The clothes are as outrageous and wonderful as the character. Honestly, the only true memory I have of clothes in this film is the angel outfit worn by Streep/Jenkins and that says a lot. It’s really fun, exuberant work.


There are many things I loved about Jackie, one of which was a long scene in the middle when the titular character sort of holds a private dress rehearsal for herself, where she wears all of her iconic looks as she drinks and mourns her husband and a life that has been taken away from her. I think this was the most challenging film of the lot when it came to costumes because Madeline Fontaine, the designer, had to recreate the looks of one of the most recognizable fashion icons in world history. The clothes were a huge part of the story because they were such a fundamental piece of this personality as we know her. The pink outfit is unforgettable and the way it is made to stand out is a fantastic artistic decision. Clothes or love for them is seen as a sign of superficiality but they are also more than that. It comes back to that truly awesome Stallone quote at the beginning (the best). Clothes help create a person that someone wants to be seen as. It is both deep and trivial and Jackie achieves that with the help of Fontaine’s pitch perfect renditions.

La La Land

Our not-so-contemporary contemporary savior. I sound like I’m a bit annoyed at it but the truth is that I absolutely adore the clothes in this film. I wish I had Emma Stone’s character’s wardrobe and that I had a man with Ryan Gosling’s character’s wardrobe. The bright colours, simple yet eye-catching, are part of what makes this film such a visual feast. And they are important for factors other than prettiness! They are homages to films like Singin’ in the Rain and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. They are narratively important – for example, the matching blue outfits that both the leads wear when we first hear “Mia And Sebastian’s Theme”, or Stone’s drab ensemble during “Audition” that ensures that the only thing we focus on is her voice and her story and her pain. Designer Mary Zophres is a Coen Brothers regular and had interestingly also done the costumes for Stone and Gosling in Gangster Squad. Due to the overwhelming adoration for the film, she’s the frontrunner, but it is hardly an unfair pick. She has done some wonderful work in this film and deserves any awards that come her way.

So yes, if I had to bet, I’d put my money on Zophres taking home the trophy. However, if it were up to me, I would probably pick Jackie. Two glaring omissions from this list according to me and anyone with eyes are The Handmaiden and Sing Street. I’d happily replace all the period nominees (except Jackie, of course) for the Anglo-Japanese-Korean attires of the former. And for all my love towards Stone’s gem coloured dresses in La La Land, Sing Street is the (sorta) modern musical that deserves the spot the most. Those DIY rockstar looks are to die for. And since we are talking about my picks, my personal ballot would also include the zany, colourful livery of Captain Fantastic, the austere attires from The VVitch, the prudent bikini (yep) and accessories of The Shallows, and everything that is The Love Witch.

Have a great Oscars, everyone!

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