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Feb 12 2016

Interview: Sandy Powell on Color,Character,Carol,Cinderella,and Cate

Sandy Powell on the set of CinderellaSome people rush to movies if their favorite movie star's face is prominent on the poster.Others swear allegiance to directors.Obsessive cinephiles go for all sorts of reasons.One of ours at The Film Experience is Sandy Powell.亚博主页If she's the costume designer,we're there,no questions asked.We sat throughThe Tempest(2010) just for her and trust me that that's devotion.

Meeting her in person earlier this season to talkCarolandCinderella,which brought her her 11th and 12th Oscar nominations andcould well bring her a 4th Oscar,was a personal joy.I had talked to her once before by phone but in person we were able to look at costume stills together and had a great conversation.This cinematic MVP was a fun,lively,and personable interviewee.I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.

NATHANIEL R:  I intervewed you once a long time ago and I was really taken aback by something you said.You implied that you were surprised and amused by analytical readings of your work.

SANDY POWELL: I was talking about that today withJudy Beckerand she said thing "I've learned so much about my work today!".People read things into it that you weren't consciously thinking about.But they're not bad things!You start thinking "maybe subliminally..."You start taking credit for it!

A lot of the time you work so fast that you make snap decisions and you don't know what it's based on.I do work instinctively and intuitively.I don't sit and analyze.I don't think about the significance and "What shall I consciously put on her or him or her to convey that?"I do what feels right.And quite often just by doing that you've got it right,you actually have given something so symbolism.

NATHANIEL R: Do you start thinking of full outfits while you're reading a script?

her answer and much more after the jump...

costume sketches from Carol & Cinderella

SANDY POWELL: Not at all.Quite often when you're reading the script there's no cast attached.I don't allow myself to have specific ideas about a character without having a face,do you know what I mean?


I might have a feeling about a silhouette or a color but that might change when you meet the actor.I might have been thinking of a tall thin person and you get a short curvy person or a dark person as opposed to a light person.You have no idea.

That makes sense.

The body really makes a huge difference,who it is.

Well Cate Blanchett.Her version of Carol Aird -- who knows what she would have been with a different actress -- is quite a glamourpuss.She's so perfect looking.


I was surprised by how full her color palette was.A lot of times a movie will have be defined by a specific color for a character but she wears a ton of different colors.Huge wardrobe!

Carol Aird where's a wide variety of colors.Cinderella's stepmother is usually in green.Cate looks great in anything.

She does.Sometimes designers do allocate a color to a character.I do that sometimes myself if that's what's correct.But I don't feel like -- she wears different colors but they're all tonally very similar.It's not like she's wearing black then yellow then green.They're all tonally out of the same palette.

One of the fun things about the movie is that there's dialogue about theclothes.

Is there?

Yeah,the hats,the gloves.So when something is in the script...

Well the fur coat is in the book!You're commenting on Carol being quite glamorous -- there are passages and passages and passages in the book of Therese looking at every tiny detail,the texture of the stocking,the texture of the gloves.The mystery of what's inside a woman's purse.All those tiny details is what She's looking at the texture of the all those tiny details is what Therese is completely intrigued by.

When something is in the script,like the fur coat,is it harder to choose them?

That was key.The fur coat is very important.It's a big statement.Carol was always going to be in a fur coat.I didn't want her to be swamped in fur.I wanted it to be a short coat so we saw a bit of skirt and leg coming out.The actual shape and the silhouette  -- I wanted the light color.I found plenty that were the right shape but in a dark brown.They would have done but I really had in my head that it had to be a pale color,similar to her hair.

You work with Scorsese a lot but his movies are always about men.So I have this theory that after each Scorsese you feel the need to explode with color.

Well,thatiswhat happened!I mean,I didWolf of Wall Streetfollowed byCinderellaandCarol.AndCinderellawas the complete antithesis ofWolf of Wall Street.Squeaky clean and female - it was very extreme.[Laughter]

I was amazed at your bravery.


Yes.It's the MOST color in one frame at a time -- even in one dress.[Laughter]

Oh,I know.I'm glad.Yes,even the ballgown has got a lot of color in it.

The blue one?

People think it's blue but it's got layers and layers of colors to make that blue.

Really?With that dress you know it has to be iconic.When you're doing something like that or the fur coat in Carol 'this is something people will be talking about!' do you go through a lot of iterations?

I didn't actually know people were going to talk about the fur coat!I just knew -- I was obsessed that it had to be a light color,not white.There's something luxurious and a little unusual about it being a pale color.It wasn't easy to do.It was made out of a lot of bits of old fur coats,pieced together.I didn't think about it being iconic but I knew it was really improtant because this is what she's wearing when Therese first lays eyes on her.

And later she wears it when she's buying the Christmas tree.It's a pinpoint moment of someone falling in love.This movie is amazing at conjuring romantic assocations.


I love her character so much.Her wardrobe doesn't read as typical "butch lesbian"but it's also more masucline.

It is,yes.She actually had a lot more clothes.Some of her scenes were cut.I understand why they're cut because the film is perfect...


...but it's a real shame because I actually had more clothes then I could use for her.I really enjoyed doing her character.It's a shame we didn't get to see them all.

I have to ask about two more outfits.Let's start with Carol's pajamas.The first time you see them they're laughing and testing perfumes and its...


..And the next scene everything about the same outfit reads erotic.

Yeah.The second time you see them they don't have the robes over the pajabas.I deliberately made Cate's robenot sexy,not silky.It's practical.It's solid.It's got shoulder pads.I could have done the satiny root but we decided to make it a bit more practical.I don't know why I did that?

Well that way you get this amazing shift in mood.

It would have been weird having Therese in her cotton pajamas and then -- It would have been too obvious.I didn't want it to be "sexy"like the minute she's in the robe 'Sex is about to happen!'

Okay one more.Thisis my favorite outfit in the whole movie.

It's my favorite,too.

Here I will do the thing you object to where I project on to the outfits!

No,no,no.Let's see.You actually might have something.

Ilovethat the detail on her chest reads like a heart.

Yeah?[Looking at it again] The scarf comes around the neck and there's actually a little button hole in the lapel of the jacket and it comes through.

It reads so beautiful as 'wearing your heart on the outside'.Which is something Carol doesn't actually do.

No she doesn't.

So it makes this great friction with her character.

Yeah!I mean she's really flirty in this scene!


I love this!My one regret is you only see it in its entirety for split second.Later on at the party,it's the jacket off and just the dress underneath.

I imagine that happens a lot in movies,though.

[Sadly] Yeah.You rarely see the whole thing.You don't see the shoes or...

Powell has won three Oscars: Shakespeare in Love (1998),亚博主页The Aviator (2004),and Young Victoria (2009)

NATHANIEL R: So next you're working with John Cameron Mitchell?!


It sounds very intriguing.

It is.What do you know about it?

Well,it's sort of sci-fi.

It's not sci-fi.It's set in 1977 London.Punk!

But doesn't it have aliens?

There are aliens.It's a real world with visiting aliens.It's the 70s again but a different bit of the 70s thatVelvet Goldminedidn't touch.

And you get to costume Nicole Kidman!

She's playing a punk priestess.

When you work with glamorous actresses,fashion icons like Cate or Nicole,does your work become more collaborative?

Not necessarily.I mean they're involved.I like dressing people who like clothes,who enjoy wearing them,and know how to wear them.Sometimes you dress someone and they just stand there!'Put some life into it.Do something-- bring it to life!'


Actors like those two make your job a lot easier.

more Costume Design|moreCarol|moreCinderella|Oscar Visual Charts

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Reader Comments (13)

How on earth I just realized that both of Sandy Powell's oscar noms this year is for dressing Cate Blanchett?!
Hope she will win it for CAROL.

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

I am more in the Cinderella camp,actually.I love the way the costumes as stylized in the movie in a way that makes them both modern looking and fantastic.It is hard to describe what I mean bit the designs have something to them that make them out of this world in both a retro and a forward looking way.It puzzles me and I adore it.Carol is classy and gorgeous and that movie is all mood whichbthe costume designs really add to.If she'd win for that,I'd be perfectly fine.
This was my fave interview so far this season!Great job,Nat!

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Great interview,it's great how you are able to get right into the details of her work.
If she were to win for Cinderella I wouldn't be too surprised or disappointed.There were some nice touches in that film,and the blue dress really looked the part.

"Sometimes you dress someone and they just stand there!'Put some life into it"- who would she be thinking of ?

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

The heart-on-the-outside analysis was everything.

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Lovely interview!She sounds so fun and smart.

February 12,2016 | Unregistered Commenterremy

LadyEdith-the first person that crossed my mind was Natalie Portman,but I can't pinpoint why.

The only thing that makes me not want Sandy Powell to win this year (I still can't decide which of hers is the better,but she's my top two) is that it ruins her bizarre "I only win when I beat you"rivalry with Colleen Atwood.

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

SanFran -- thank you.I was proud of myself?;)

Carmen -- thank you.

LadyEdith -- i'll survive if she wins for Cinderella but i really wanted it to be Carol if only to stop this absurd nonsense where no Todd Haynes film has won an Oscar for anything!

Craver -- it's easy to forget somehow.I think because the work is so different within super different films and Cate is supporting and not the focus of the first film

February 12,2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Best Costume Desginer to Dress Up Cate Blanchett Award goes to.......Sandy Powell!!!

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

Great interview!Cate + Sandy + Todd is cinematic nirvana.

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

This is awesome!Great job Nathaniel :) I want her to win for Carol too.

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterEz

Terrific interview.I wanted it to go on and on...it sounded like you were building a good rapport.

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

I think she's a genius.Period.

February 13,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Omg,what a joy of an interview!I was completely engaged and could picture you having this conversation.I hope Powell gets her 4th Oscar.This woman is pure class.Thank you for sharing this!

February 14,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJones

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