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2016's Favorite Costume Designs

2016 has come and gone already, and it has left us with a wide array of movies to look at: some good, some bad and some simply mediocre.

Here we will not be looking at the quality of the movies themselves, but at the quality of their costume design. And in that regard, 2016 has unfortunately been generally bland. That doesn't mean that there hasn't been good costume designs. It just means that there hasn't been spectacular ones.

For that same reason, this will not be a top 10 so it's just as a top 7 list. Also, the order is rather random. All of the designs mentioned below stand on their own and I don't think they can really be properly listed.

And so, we begin.

I- FASHIONABLE REVENGE: The Dressmaker designs by Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson

This indie Australian movie broke box office numbers earlier this year and that was, in great part, because of its amazing Costume Design. The movie has a ton of narrative and tonal problems, but when it comes to costume, it's close to perfection. Also, the fact that fashion had such a prominent role in the story drew in a lot of attention.

Such was the ambition of this movie, in regards to costume, that two different designers were needed to complete the work; Margot Wilson was charged with designing the costumes for Kate Winslet's character whilst Marion Boyce took charge of the costumes for the rest of the characters.

And it pays off. The movie beautifully captures the magic and beauty of the 50's fashion. It creates a visual spectacle filled with color and extravagant dresses. Every single dress shown on screen fits perfectly into the story and helps the movie move forward.

What makes these designs truly exceptional is that they come together to create a movie that, at its core, is a love letter to fashion. And that love is easily felt through the movie.

If you want to read more about this movie's design check out my articles about the movie: Part I and Part II.

II- GOTHIC RETRO: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children designs by Colleen Atwood

Whenever Colleen Atwood and Tim Burton collaborate, you know there's going to be fun costumes to bask your eyes in, and Miss Peregrine's home for Peculiar Children does not disappoint in that regard.

Burton's new movie marks the 12th collaboration between himself and Atwood. And, whatever your opinion on the movie is, it's impossible to deny the merits of these costumes that perfectly blend the fantasy and whimsical sense of Burton's universe into the world of the 1940's.

As always, her work fins a perfect balance between weird and beautiful, constantly incorporating clues of the character's peculiarity into their day to day clothes.

Also, the fact that she manages to incorporate the vibe (even certain elements) of the Goth aesthetic into a period that, as it is, doesn't seem very compatible with it is a very enjoyable plus to the result.

I'm particularly fond of Eva Green's costume and how it manages to be reminiscent of a bird without including the more obvious references to it (like plumage or birdlike prints). Atwood infuses strength and edginess into it whilst still creating a sense of motherly love and elegance to the outfit, capturing perfectly the character itself.

My other favorite element are Emma's boots. The perfect blend between use/functionality, weirdness and beauty make for a stunning design.

Have a look at Colleen Atwood talking about the movie's designs:

III- INDIE HORROR: The Witch designs by Linda Muir

This year surprise in regards to the horror genre came in the form of The Witch, a directorial debut that shocked audiences with its gripping story. Upon release, this indie flick garnered so many good reviews that it was actually hard to believe.

It's a riveting movie. Captivating. And one of the elements that helps it to make so, is the impeccable historic recreation; from the sets to the costumes, this movie immerses you so deep into 17th century New England that it's hard not to drown in it.

The dull and muted colors and their austere clothing perfectly capture the reality of the Puritan community in the New World whilst reinforcing the nerve-wracking buildup of the movie.

The historical work on the costumes is extremely detailed and careful in every possible way; from the use of caps to the austerity of materials and the lack of dyes. This movie's costumes are historically impeccable, which is, unfortunately, not that common.

It's precisely that realism that allows the viewer to fully submerge themselves into the paranoia of the Puritan community in a time in with witchcraft was felt as a real, tangible threat.

IV- ODE TO HOLLYWOOD: Hail, Caesar! designs by Mary Zophres

2016 saw the release of the latest comedy by the Coen Brothers and it did not disappoint. Hail, Caesar! is a satire that focuses on the Golden Age of Hollywood, and as such, gets to have a lot of fun out of recreating the over-the-top look of the Hollywood stars of the time.

The Costume Designs for this movie are a ton of fun. And that's, more than probably, the best way to describe them. From Johansson's Esther William's-like mermaid costume to the lavish costumes of Fiennes' George Cukor-like film. All of them are exuberant, colorful and fun.

The designs seem to take a very tongue-and-cheek approach, particularly, to recreating the ridiculously short skirts and absurdly cheap costumes worn in the classic Peplums of the late 1950's. Which brings us way too much joy in its ridiculousness.

The movie itself is a walk through a Hollywood studio in the 50's, and it delights itself in walking the viewer through the different genres produced: the peplum, the musical, the aquatic films, the melodrama... and the Costume Design takes much the same route.

If you love classic Hollywood films and the glamour of the 50's, be sure to check out Hail, Caesar!. Fun movie, fun costumes... what else could we ask for?

V- GROOVY 70'S: The Nice Guys designs by Kym Barrett

This is, without a doubt, one of the year's most overlooked movies. It's a buddy cop movie with a sharp sense of humor and a rather unusual use of comedic violence and it also happens to take place in the 70's, which allows for a lot of creativity in the Costume Department.

The biggest achievement of the designs is to successfully capture the spirit of every character whilst still recreating the now iconic 70's fashion.

Also, Barrett thrives on the use of color both to comedic effect and as a character trait. From Gosling's blue leather jacket to Emily's bright yellow dress (which makes her look like a canary, fitting considering her activism "to protect the birds"), Barrett uses color in the most expressive way possible.

And to make it even more awesome, she manages to perfectly recreate the late 70's and it's weird sense of fashion; from the extensive use of Hawaiian shirts and flowery patterns to the bell bottom pants.

This movie is a gem from beginning to end, and one can't deny that Barrett created an iconic look for Gosling and Crowe design-wise.

VI- A GEORGIAN COMEDY: Love and Friendship designs by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh

This year also saw the adaptation of Jane Austen's Lady Susan under the title Love and Friendship; a witty comedy of manners centered around a rather horrible character and her misdeeds. And, as in any Austen adaptation, Costume Design plays a big part here.

The first noticeable element of the Costume Design is that they choose to set the movie according to the date of publication of the novel (1794) instead of the usual Jane Austen Regency. And that allows for more extravagant costumes that fit way better into the main character's personality.

The Designs make an especially enticing use of color to underline character arcs; Lady Susan's costumes being the more obvious in that regard. From the blacks, greys and mauves she wears in the country in order to pass for an affected widow to the bright reds, purples and pinks that she wears in the city. And so, the color scheme of her costumes marks her as a social butterfly through and through.

Still, there are a few details in the costumes that look a bit off and not quite fitted to period: the length of the majority of the sleeves in women's costumes or, most notable, the hairstyles, that seem to be a very odd mixture between 1780's hair and early Regency in women whilst men's hairstyles are blatantly styled as those of the 1810's.

Because of these, it pains me to highlight the fact that despite being a good design, it's far from perfect, and in any other year (as this one seems to have been quite devoid of period movies) it would not have made the list. So why is it here? Well, for the sake of having more than one actual period piece in the list. Cold but true.

VII- A SPACE OPERA: Rogue One, A Star Wars Story designs by David Crossman and Glyn Dillon

Star Wars is not going anywhere, and especially after Disney acquired its rights. That much seems clear now. And so, this year saw the release of the first of many to come "star wars stories": stories set in the Star Wars Universe but with new characters. Precisely because of that premise, Rogue One's biggest challenge was to introduce a whole new set of character and still make the whole thing feel familiar to avoid turning hardcore fans off.

How did they manage to overcome that? Mainly through the use of a Costume Design that would visually link Rogue One to A New Hope.

Actually, the design's biggest strength is their visual consistency with the original trilogy. From the hyper-theatrical nazi-like uniforms of the empire to the dirty rags of the resistance, it all feels as a logical extension of the original trilogy.

It's that familiarity in texture, cut and overall look that allows the audience to slip into the world effortlessly and allows them to put all their focus in meeting these new characters and understanding where they stand in the big scheme of things instead of constantly trying to come to grips with the world.

I particularly like just how natural the costumes of the rebellion feel; how well they weave utilitarianism with aesthetics. My other big favorite is director Krennic's white uniform with the built-in cape. It's so theatrical and yet strangely intimidating that it's just delightful to look at.

In the end, no one is going to defend this movie as having a nuanced story, but Rogue One can definitely boast of an impeccable visual treatment.


VIII- A STORY OF GRIEF: Jackie designs by Madeline Fontaine

The latest movie of Chilean director Pablo Larraín focuses on Jackie Kennedy following the assassination of JFK and stands, as of now, as one of the most probable nominations for Costume Design in the upcoming Academy Awards. Unfortunately, for us, it didn't feel that special as far as designs go.

Don't get us wrong; the designs are good, they do what they need to do within the context of the movie, but they are not particularly memorable. It consists, mainly, of recreating the Jackie look, which, whilst very elegant, is not very interesting.

IX- CITY OF STARS: La La Land designs by Mary Zophres

Damien Chazelle's new movie is probably one of the most praised movies in this award season. And it should be. It's a beautiful callback to the classic Hollywood musicals. It's beautifully directed, acted, shot,... it's a hard movie not to praise, in all honesty.

Then why did we put it in the honorable mentions, you'll ask. Well, I'll start of by saying that it was a damn hard decision to make. The thing is, this year, Costume Designer Mary Zophres had two really good costume designs on her hands: La La Land and Hail, Caesar!. And it came down to choosing which one we thought was better. In the end, Hail, Caesar! got the upper hand because it's actually period, and it's harder to do and it also deals with a lot more characters, so it's a bigger work load to get right.

Still, as I said; a really tough decision to take. La La Land's costume takes a really interesting route in mixing retro with present day fashion, particularly in Emma Stone's dresses (which I want for myself like, right now), and also does favor a really bright color palette that helps heighten this whimsical feel which the director infuses the movie. Really worth checking out.


Late this December, Scorsese's latest film; Silence, was released in theaters. Unfortunately, none of us here at The Costume Vault, has managed to see it as of yet and because so few images and stills have been released, we couldn't really judge it. And that sort of puts us in a difficult position, because the designs were done by legendary Production Designer/ Costume Designer Dante Ferretti, which is a really good indication that they are going to be good at the very least. So, once we get to see it, we'll let you know if there is any change in the list.


So, this is our list of favorite costume designs of 2016. Which is yours?


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  1. What is your opinion on Florence Foster Jenkins´s costumes? I have not seen it but I have seen them predicted for the Academy Award, do you think it is just because it is a period piece?

    1. To be honest, I haven't had the chance to see it, as it hasn't been screened anywhere near where I live. Which is a bummer. But as far as I've seen (through the trailer and stills and such) it's pretty historically accurate, but still doesn't seem to be doing anything amazing with the costumes.
      And yes, it's a big front-runner for the Academy Awards, but being a Meryl Streep movie directed by Stephen Frears (two awards veterans) and being a period piece is a pretty good guarantee for getting nominated.
      The thing about the Oscars is that the movies that get nominated are those that put the most money into their award-focused publicity, so it's not always fair.
      And when it comes to Costume Design in the Academy Awards, it's even more unfair because most of the voters are people who don't necessarily know much about the issue and tend to nominate whatever historical/fantasy movie that gets promoted the most.
      Still, I can't pass a fair judgment on Florence Foster Jenkins as of yet. But, if I was forced to judge basing myself on the trailers I would say that, yes, it's gonna get nominated just because it's a period piece.
      I really hope I'm wrong though. I'll tell you more when I get to see it!

    2. Don't the costume branch of the Academy nominate the films? And then everyone votes for the winner? But oviously campaining would have a great impact with what gets nominated.

    3. To my knowledge, no, they don't. Maybe I'm wrong. Correction, I really hope I'm wrong, But as far as I know, they don't have a special costume branch. Any member of the Academy is involved in the nomination process

    4. As I've been told recently, I WAS WRONG. The nominees for Best Costume Design are chosen exclusively by the Costume Design Branch of the Academy. It's later, during the vote to decide the winners, that every Academy member gets to vote.

  2. La Academia de Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas de Hollywwod tiene una rama de diseñadores de vestuarios que son los que eligen las cinco nominadas, posterior todos los miembros de la Academía (que son más de 6.700) votan para elegir a los ganadores en todas las categorías, a excepción de las categorías de Película Extranjera y Documental, dónde se tiene que certificar ver visto las cintas nominadas para poder elegir a las ganadoras.

    1. Gracias por la aclaración, lo tenía entendido mal desde hace tiempo :) así tiene más sentido


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