sandy Powell’s top 10 film costumes of all time

Getting Sandy Powell to name her 10 favourite film costumes of all time is “really, really difficult”, says the three-time Academy Award-winning costume designer: “It’s not easy, and it changes all the time.”

The London-based designer is in town for a masterclass in collaboration with the Melbourne International Film Festivaland ACMI, where some of her costumes are currently on display at the Scorsese exhibition. She has designed costumes for six of Scorsese’s films and three of Todd Haynes’, including Carol, with Cate Blanchett​ and Rooney Mara.

Sandy Powell is an Oscar-winning costume designer whose creations are on display as part of ACMI's Scorsese exhibition.
Sandy Powell is an Oscar-winning costume designer whose creations are on display as part of ACMI’s Scorsese exhibition. Photo: Jason South

Fairfax met with Powell and got the scoop on some of the film costumes that have inspired her.

1. Dirk Bogarde​ in Death In Venice, 1971. Director: Luchino Visconti​. Costume Designer: Piero Tosi​.

Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice.This was one of the first films I noticed clothes and costumes in, and one of the first films to have a really profound effect on me. I realised there was a job involved in creating costumes for film. I saw it when I was 14; I saw it repeatedly, actually. I bunked off school and watched it with a girlfriend many times. It was the men’s outfits that really stuck in my head, and Dirk Bogarde in his white linen suit and white panama hat. What’s genius about it is it’s this white suit with a red tie, and then a red band around his hat. And this contrasts with the white, the dyed black of his hair and the dyed black moustache. That scene at the end where he’s sitting in the deckchair and he’s sweating and the dye is running down his face … it’s just an extraordinary image, that’s my No.1.

2. Liza Minnelli in Cabaret, 1972. Director: Bob Fosse. Costume Designer: Charlotte Flemming.

Going back to the 1970s: I was a teenager, it’s a time that you’re really influenced and inspired by things. Sally Bowles’ stage outfit in Cabaret – the little shorts and the halter neck and the bowler – everything about it, really, it’s just really decadent and sexy and naughty and fun. I saw it at the movies with my mother, must have been underage. What’s great about Death in Venice andCabaret is that they’re ’70s versions of those periods.

3. Claudia Cardinale​ in The Leopard, 1963. Director: Luchino Visconti​. Costume Designer: Piero Tosi​.

Piero is the costume designer’s costume designer. I did get to meet him once and what was amazing is that he knows my work. It was incredibly flattering to hear that he teaches my work to students. There’s that fabulous ball scene in The Leopard with all the women wearing these amazing 1860s crinoline ball dresses. Claudia Cardinale is wearing this dress that’s white, it’s just fantastic. It’s enormous but incredibly lightweight. It’s simple and fine and gorgeous, and it stands out from all the others in the room. And I suppose, thinking back now, that was my main inspiration for the Cinderella ball gown. Tosi is a genius. (Powell was nominated for an Oscar for her work on Kenneth Branagh’s​ 2015 film.)

4. Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, 1940. Director: George Cukor​. Costume Designer: Adrian (Adrian Adolph Greenburg).

Almost everything Adrian touched was perfection.That white gown that Katharine wears in the film was in the Hollywood Costumes exhibition (at ACMI in 2013).

Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart
The Philadelphia Story.June 27 SUN The Philadelphia Story2It was the inspiration for my Cate Blanchett dress in The Aviator that’s in the Scorsese exhibition – the length, the shape of it. It’s got this embroidered piece under the bust. The Philadelphia Storyis one of my favourite films of all time and I’ll never tire of watching it.

5. Charlotte Rampling​ in The Night Porter, 1972. Director: Liliana Cavani​. Costume Designer: Piero Tosi.

Portiere di notte
Year: 1974
Director: Liliana Cavani
Charlotte Rampling
Dirk BogardeCharlotte Rampling’s look is pretty iconic. When she’s wearing the long, black trousers and the braces and the gloves, it’s decadent and sexy. It’s kind of outrageous. I haven’t seen it in recent years but it’s extraordinary.

6. Maggie Cheung​ in In the Mood For Love, 2000. Director: Wong Kar-wai. Costume Designer: William Chang.

William, the costume designer, is also the editor and the production designer – which means he has complete control over how his films look, which is why they’re so extraordinary. Normally I’m really against characters changing their outfit every time you see them because I find it really distracting, but what’s so genius about this is that every time you see her it’s the same dress but in a different colour. It’s a cheongsam with an extremely high collar which is super sexy. I think this is the only colourful outfit in my top 10 – which is really weird because I love colour and I use it so much.

7. The Draughtsman’s Contract, 1982. Director: Peter Greenaway. Costume Designer: Sue Blane.

The Draughtsman's Contract.

This is set in the 17th century. Every costume in it is either black or white but with tons of detail. It looks beautiful, it looks sumptuous, it looks expensive – when in fact it was an incredibly low budget film. Sue Blane did the costumes. She only designed for about three films, then decided she hated it and now she just does theatre and opera. She’s an amazing designer. She was one of the designers I really looked up to when I was starting out. She also did The Rocky Horror Show. The clothes in The Draughtman’s Contract were all made out of calico. Cheapest undyed cloth and black cotton – that’s it, nothing else. Just beautifully cut and beautifully made. Genius. That was one of the films that really inspired my work.

8. Fred Astaire in The Belle of New York, 1952Director: Charles Walters. Costume designer: Gile Steele.

Fred Astaire in just about anything is great, but especially Fred in a 1930s tailcoat. Nobody looks as great in tails as Fred Astaire, it just looks like it’s been sprayed on, yet it has movement. I kind of despair these days when I see men wearing tailcoats and they just look so hideous. They look so horrible because none of it fits properly. I know the story has been circulating that I put Leonardo DiCaprio in a corset for The Aviator. It’s true, I did. Not like a boned corset that you lace up the back but one of the heavily elasticated corsets that you have for men. I put all the men in one of those. It sort of smooths everything out and it makes them stand up straight, there is nothing more hideous than seeing a man in a well-fitting suit – especially tails – with bad posture.

9. Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, 1971. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Costume Designer: Milena Canonero.

A Clockwork Orange - l-r: james marcus,warren clarke, malcolm-mcdowell

What Milena Canonero did for those boys and Malcolm McDowell with the bowler hat was completely and utterly iconic and has never been seen before or since. It was terrifying. I think the design, that look, was incredible and very clever.

10. Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, 1959. Director: Billy Wilder. Costume designer: Orry-Kelly.

I thought I’d better pick an Orry-Kelly. It would be obvious to go for the Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot – and that is genius, it is genius, it doesn’t look remotely 1920s. It looks like it’s been sprayed on but it must have so much construction underneath it. One of my favourite films though is Fashions on 1934 with Bette Davis, where every single outfit is amazing. 1930s Hollywood is probably one of my favourite periods to look at. I think what this list shows is that what I love is good fit – fit and silhouette. That’s what impresses me.

[Source:-Sydny Herald ]