When costume designer Colleen Atwood won the Oscar for her work on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it marked her fourth Oscar win. Yet, she was just as surprised as the first time. "It was kind of a shock," she confesses. "Creating the world and those characters was a scary challenge, let me tell you. So, as shocked as I was to actually be honored by the Academy for it, it was really exciting."
Atwood received her first nomination for Best Costume Design with 1994's Little Women and has since been nominated 11 more times, taking home Oscars for Chicago (2002), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Alice in Wonderland (2010), and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016). Most recently, she designed the costumes for Rob Marshall's live-action The Little Mermaid and David Yates' opioid crisis crime drama, Pain Hustlers.
"I've always picked my jobs — or they've picked me — with the knowledge that my main collaborator on a movie is the director. As a result, the journey each director I've worked with has taken has become my journey, too," Atwood reflects. "And because I don't just hone in and work with one guy, that's made my life really rich. I've always learned something from one job that I can apply to another job. No matter how many times you work with one particular director, you never want to fall back on what you're comfortable with or what they're comfortable with, either. You always want to try to create something new and fresh within whatever universe you're working in."
Considering the incredibly varied but consistently impeccable work that Atwood has executed across her decades in the industry, it comes as no surprise that the films that most influenced her are just as diverse. Below, she shares five of those movies with A.frame.
This article was originally published on April 19, 2022.
Directed by: Luchino Visconti | Costume Design by: Piero Tosi
The first movie that really influenced me was Il Gattopardo — or, The Leopard — which I saw before I even dreamed of being a costume designer. I saw that movie and I was just so in love with how the people looked. I thought it was so beautiful in the way that it told the story of the position these people were in in society through the clothes. And the homage to a time and a place in Italy was pretty spectacular for a small-town girl like me from Washington State. It really was like, 'Whoa! You can do this.'
What I really love about the costumes — besides them being really amazing — is that they look like clothes. They look like real clothes that people wore and not like costumes. That movie has always resonated with me, and it still holds up in my mind. Every once in a while, I return to it and look at it again. I can never get enough of it.
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa | Costume Design by: Emi Wada
I had just started working as a costume assistant when Ran came out. There's an opening sequence where they're sitting in circles with these banners. And then, each character is revealed behind them. It's spectacular. But what I loved about it is the evil princess in that. Her costume was spectacular but it also made a specific sound every time she moved, which was kind of like the idea that if you could hear a snake walking, you could hear that sound. It always stuck with me as a way to empower a costume in a way that was really fascinating.
Directed by: Federico Fellini | Costume Design by: Danilo Donati
What I learned from that movie and why I loved it is there is a character named Gradisca in it, and she is this woman that all the teenage boys in town have a massive crush on. She was one of those Gina Lollobrigida-type Italian women. And there's an amazing scene where everything's white and covered with snow, and she walks through town in a red suit. That really influenced how I dressed Penélope Cruz when I did Nine, even though we didn't have snow or any of the things around it. It's an image that you carry in your mind that's so strong. It's just characters that are insanely drawn, like Fellini's characters, and they stay with you and influence your work.
Directed by: George Stevens | Costume Design by: Marjorie Best and Moss Mabry
It's a movie that I love and I don't know quite why from a costume point of view. I think it's the way that costume can be real and not real. It's fairly simply costumed, but in a way that's so strong and amazing. Both Giant and North by Northwest, in that way, are movies that are spectacular. Because the image of what one person wore in them just burns in your head, and you have it forever. I hate to use the word iconic, but Cary Grant's suit in North by Northwest, it's like, it is the show!
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann | Costume Design by: Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie
Moulin Rouge! is a celebration of music, dance, and costume in a way that can't be denied. The first time I saw that movie, I sat through it twice. I loved it so much. It's so much fun. It's so beautiful. And it's such a different take on stuff that I hadn't seen for a long time. I think it's a great movie for costume in that sense.