We Spoke To Oscar-Winning Costume Designing, Sandy Powell About What Goes Into Dressing A Star

Ever wondered what goes into costume design? We speak to Sandy Powell about her iconic creations, Leo and how she masterminded the designs behind CAROL

Sandy Powell
Sandy Powell
(Image credit: Rex)

Ever wondered what goes into costume design? We speak to Sandy Powell about her iconic creations, Leo and how she masterminded the designs behind CAROL

If you’ve not heard the name Sandy Powell, you’ve certainly seen her work. The 12-time Best Achievement in Costume Design Oscar nominee and four time winner has been behind some of the most beautiful and recognizable costumes in the film business and has dressed everyone from Cate Blanchett in CAROL to Leo in The Wolf Of Wall Street.

In celebration of the DVD release of CAROL, we spoke to the brains behind the wardrobe about what work goes into some of her most iconic creations…

CAROL (2015)

'This image shows the first time that Carol and Therese meet. It was important to me that Carol stood out from the crowd without looking too out of place in this scene. She’s described in the book as wearing a sumptuous fur coat and I knew from the start, it had to be a pale colour to be noticeable. Fur was common place in the 40s and 50s and usually dark brown, so a lighter tone would imply wealth and luxury whilst also being a flattering colour on Cate’s skin and blonde hair. I couldn’t actually find an original vintage coat in both the short swing shape and colour that I wanted, so we ended up having one made from pieces of old fur from old coats! I chose a coral hat and scarf as the highlights of colour, again to compliment Cate’s blonde hair and mink but also as this was a particularly fashionable colour back then.

Rooney’s character, Therese, is wearing a dark grey pinafore dress with a sweater underneath. Therese works in a department store and while there isn’t a uniform, she has to dress appropriately in dark colours. Unlike Carol, Therese doesn’t have the resources to buy high fashion and consequently her look throughout the film is younger and slightly more bohemian for the time'

Cinderella (2015)

'Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine’s costumes were inspired by Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford on film sets in the 19th century but made in the 1940s. I wanted her to have the old style glamour and intimidating presence of these actresses who often played villains! The ball gown seen here was made in 2 parts with a bodice and skirt made from Duchess satin bought in from Italy and was particularly inspired by Dior in the late 40s.

Interestingly, when I first saw an early cut of the film, the bodice was showed up as a completely different shade of green than the skirt, despite the fact that to the eye they looked the same! The only explanation was that the bodice and skirt were made from pieces of cloth from different dye batches which somehow only showed up on camera and consequently the colour discrepancy had to be corrected in post-production, which was thankfully successful!'

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

'Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets richer and richer throughout the 80s and 90s and like many nouveau riche people, his character chose to spend huge amounts of money on his wardrobe. All of his suits were bespoke made by tailors originally from Saville Row; this particular suit is from the section of the film which is set in the late 80s.

The challenge of designing a film depicting a bunch of men all in suits is, how to make them different from each other and show their characters. Really the only way men in suits have to express themselves in with their choice of tie!'

The Young Victoria (2009)

'This picture shows a scene where Victoria is not yet Queen. She’s probably around 16 years of age here. Before her coronation, I wanted to dress her to look pretty and girlish as if her controlling mother was trying to keep her young and manageable; this made for a good contrast once she became Queen and made all her own decisions, her dresses then became simpler and less adorned.'

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

'Both Scarlett Johannsson and Natalie Portman had so many costume changes in this film that I can’t actually remember which one this is! We made absolutely everything as it’s a complicated period to replicate and there was very little to rent from the Costume companies. I studied as many portraits from the period, particularly those by Holbein and anything I could find in the National Portrait Gallery. I then worked closely with my pattern cutters to work out how to make the gowns!' Gangs of New York (2002)

'Althought this film is set in a real place and time, Martin Scorsese wanted the world to have a look of it’s own, so I was able to use a bit of artistic license whilst designing the costumes.

The men’s clothing was pretty much accurate to the period but the women’s and particularly the gang girls were more stylized. Although they can’t be seen here, I had all the girls in trousers underneath their skirts, which were shorter than normal for the period. I wanted them to look as if they had freedom of movement even though they still wore corsets to provide the correct silhouette.' Shakespeare in Love (1998)

'This is a scene from Romeo & Juliet, where Gwyneth’s character, Viola controversially gets to play the part of Juliet which was traditionally reserved for the youngest male actor in the company. I made the costumes for the play like stylized versions of Renaissance clothes with the patterns obviously painted and printed.

It isn’t strictly historically correct to depict the actual period of the play since during the Elizabethan period, the costumes would have been cast offs or donations from wealthy patrons and therefore contemporary, but since Shakespeare in Love is a comedy only loosely based in reality, I thought it would be okay to take liberties and stretch the rules a bit!'

Velvet Goldmine (1998)

'This was the first film I worked on with Todd Haynes, who is one of my favourite directors and an absolute joy! Velvet Goldmine was incredibly low budget and consequently I ended up recycling a lot of old costumes, but I rather like the idea of the same thing being worn by 2 great actors in completely different films. Toni Colette is seen here wearing a negligee and robe I actually originally designed for Tilda Swinton in Wittgenstein which was directed by Derek Jarman.' Interview with the Vampire (1994)

'Interview with a Vampire travels through time so I got the opportunity to dress Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in many different looks but this costume is pretty much accurate for the 18th century period. Tom’s character Lestat was meant to be handsome and charismatic so I always dressed him expensively and up-to-date. This shirt is particularly voluminous to give an air of romanticisim.'

Orlando (1992)

'This is Tilda Swinton as Orlando during the Jacobean period (early 1600s) whilst still a man. The inspiration for the costume came from portraiture from the period and because of the heavily structured shape of the men’s clothing in this period, it was easy to disguise her female figure! These scenes were shot outside in the middle of winter in Russia, so she was probably wearing layer upon layer of thermals underneath it all!'

CAROL is released by STUDIOCANAL on DVD, Blu-Ray and DIGITAL HD on Monday, March 21st

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