I have to give you a little context on why i am writing about this particular movie, “Orlando”(1992). I was in college a few years ago, and one day our teacher, a german costume designer for theater, told us that she was going to show us a marvelous example of costume design for film, so of course i was excited!
She brought a TV into the room and gave us a little intro of the movie. You see, there is one amazing thing abut this story, not only the main character Orlando (Tilda Swinton) is immortal, which in this case means that you get to see fashion trough several centuries, but she also impersonates both male and female roles.
It is an amazing movie with an amazing actress. I like to believe that this film needed Tilda Swinton to play Orlando, because she is one of the few actresses that have an adrogyn look!!
So this movie is about the young nobleman Orlando is commanded by Queen Elizabeth I to stay forever young. And being her humble servant, he obliges. Orlando moves through several centuries of British history, experiencing a variety of lives and relationships along the way, and even changing sex.
To make a film like this become a visual succes, you need someone who understands the importance of fashion trough time. They made the perfect choice with Sandy Powell. She was responsible for dressing the gorgeous Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise on “Interview with the Vampire”(1994), a film which also tells a tale that happens trough several decades. But let us focus on Orlando for today.
When i saw this movie, i could have sworn that a lot of costume construction was required but, according to costume designer Sandy Powell, the costumes were only made for the principals, and costumes were hired for the extras with additional pieces crudely attached to fit with the world. That makes complete sense, as you know, costume designers also work on a budget, so she had to think of a way of making the main characters look perfect and cut expenses with the costumes of the extras.
It´s key for a costume designer to learn to manage succesfully the budget that has been given to her/him, it goes without saying that Sandy Powell did an amazing job.
There is this particular scene on the movie, that takes place in a very cold place, and the characters were ice skating on a party, the colors and details on the characters are simply brilliant. I do believe it was the most beautiful scene of the whole movie, i hope that you get to see this movie, if only for this scene!
In an interview, Sandy Powell said that: “Costume is more intersting than fashion”, i agree, in costume design there are no limits to what you can do, while in fashion you have to consider the seasons, colors, trends, events of day to day and a complex market study.
“Orlando” (1992) landed her, her first Oscar nomination.
In the subject of designing for a particular period in history, she said that you need to “think of yourself as a fashion designer” for that era or that character. And when looking at period costume “look at all the rules before you can break them”. I believe it is not about achieving impeccable historical accuracy, it is about understanding what that particular period was like, and create a whole new look that carries your personal singature as a designer.
Every designer uses different sources of inspiration, Sandy Powell said that she uses books, whether from her massive store of books, including the photography book “Gypsies”by Josef Koudelka that has been used as inspiration for nearly all of her films. She also draws inspiration from libraries, paintings in art galleries, fashion, and of course internet research. She states that one can find inspiration in anything.
Every designer has a design proces, hers consists on finding reference images, appropriate silhouettes, particularly for period films. Then she will look at fabrics rather than drawing designs. Powell uses fabric as inspiration for costumes and tries out shapes on the stand. Then she will make rough sketches that are only intended for her and the maker, not for presentation to the director. Powell will create costume illustrations after the costumes have been shot on.
She also believes that the costumes sould get lighting tests, because in all her years in the bussines, she learned that certain fabrics ans silohuettes dont match certain lights. She believes that the director of photography and the costume designer should work more closely.
So here is another wonderful movie, i really do hope you see it, you wont regret it, i promise!!