Every year when I watch the Academy Awards I am stunned by the beautiful costumes that have made their way onto the screen by the fabulous costume designers vying for the Oscar. Over the last 20 years one name I have heard many times has been Colleen Atwood. (She has actually had 10 nominations and 3 wins during that time!) So, I was thrilled to have a chance to interview her in Los Angeles last month during our Into the Woods press trip.
That excitement built even more when I saw Into the Woods the evening before meeting with her. I love the costumes in the movie with my absolute favorite being the blue costume Meryl Streep wears in the second half of the film. It’s absolutely gorgeous and makes Meryl look even more gorgeous than she already is. Colleen also shared with us some of the sketches for her amazing costumes.
Even at the beginning of the film, the witch is dressed in a dark, dark blue. When asked why she was dressed in blue rather than the “traditional” witch’s black, Colleen told us that when you’re doing a film with a lot of dark and you’re using black, it’s really easy for the black to just turn into a “flat blob” with the digital photography and the lighting. So she put color behind it to make it not just a dead black thing. The blue came forward and felt good with the night sky and the elements of witchery that went with her. When the transformation happens, the blue is amplified with satin and what the witch would have though was beautiful – everything matching. The hair, the nails, the dress the jewelry, everything was blue- because the witch thought that would make her the kind of the kind of beauty her teenage daughter would embrace.
The film is filled with many more beautiful and interesting costumes. The over-the-top outfits worn by Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters perfectly accentuate their bizarre and outlandish personalities. They just wouldn’t be the same without these costumes.
Another beautiful dress is the ball gown worn by Cinderella. Colleen explains her inspiration for the dress: “The costume was created by her mother. And in the early Grimm’s fairy tales, the shoes are gold not glass. So I wanted it to be gold and of the tree and the willow. I started with more green in it, but then I found this great 30s vintage fabric I had been hoarding for a while and it had the right feeling. I wanted it to go through the forest like a butterfly wing – like when you see a butterfly in the light and it goes in the dark and you don’t see it. I wanted it to have that kind of flighty quality to it. And she had to do a lot in the dress. She runs. She goes upstairs. She goes downstairs. I kept the same sort of silhouette, but I made the shape of it more loose and modern and also to get the movement I wanted for the camera.”
And women weren’t the only ones with the gorgeous costumes. The princes had some fine threads themselves. But of course they had to be to compete with the gorgeousness of Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen!
I asked Colleen what the challenges were of doing the more “simple” costumes of the Baker, his Wife, Jack and his Mother. She said that when you not only have simple costumes but also have (at most) only two costume changes for most of the characters that you need to make a costume that is iconic and defines who they are right away. The Baker and his Wife are two working people. Nothing is more solid than the symbol of someone who makes bread. It’s something everyone eats and is made with your hands – you’re touching it. She wanted them to be “of the Earth” and grounded so she used earth tones in their costumes and used materials that were also of the earth like linens, moleskin, and textural materials. These also had be to costumes they could work in because they were very active in them. Said Colleen, “They held up well and they sold the idea of being peasants, but peasants with a job – not totally starving. Like Tracey Ullman and her son were in much worse shape than the baker and the baker’s wife, so their costumes were even more tatty and kind of forlorn.”
If you haven’t yet seen Into the Woods, I strongly urge you to get to the theater this weekend to see it! And if you have seen it more than once or twice (like me) go again so you can sit back and take a fresh look at the wonderful costumes of Colleen Atwood. I am pretty certain that when we hear the Oscar nominees for this year we’ll hear Colleen’s name called and she should be standing on the Academy Awards stage accepting her Oscar in February.
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