The Art of Costume: FIDM Celebrates 30th Annual Oscar-Nominated Designer Show
Divine dresses influenced by the punk rock of Emma Stone in Cruel to the futuristic steel suits of Timothée Chalamet in Dunes to Cate Blanchett’s femme fatale looks in alley of nightmares to the vibrant skirts and shirts of Steven Speilberg West Side Story and sumptuous period rooms Cyrano – it was an exceptional year for costumes in cinema, and it brought eye-catching facets, both obvious and subtle, to enhance the stories and characters on screen. These Oscar-nominated films and more are on display at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising’s (FIDM) Art of Costume Design in Film exhibit, now in its 30th year at the Downtown Los Angeles institution, which is not just a fashion school. but a real incubator of creative ideas and innovation in the fields of clothing, costume, wardrobe and design.
Although Los Angeles has yet to maintain a Fashion Week on par with New York or Paris, the presence of FIDM here, along with the entertainment industry and countless designers based here, makes our city undeniably influential. Plus, our red carpet events — especially the Oscars — deliver the biggest leads of them all. In terms of costume design, many FIDM students have worked in industry and the school’s popular exhibition, which is open to the public and free of charge, serves as both inspiration and celebration of achievement in this area, it doesn’t matter who actually wins the golden statue this week. Although only five films were nominated in the costume design category, more than 20 films are featured in the exhibition (the only one of its kind in the world), which just opened last week with a party attended by many creators.
“We want to show variety because a lot of people still think costume is period, but we also want to show contemporary is costume,” says Nick Verreos, co-chair of Fashion Design at the school alongside her husband Dave Paul, during a recent visit. “This year, there is the period and also science fiction. But there is more. And we want to teach the audience that just because it’s jeans and a sweatshirt doesn’t mean it’s a suit, because that’s part of creating this character on screen.
Verreos, whom many might recognize as a former contestant from one of the first seasons of Project track and as a mentor to subsequent seasons, says the common thread running through this year’s popular movies and their creative visions is about “the old” and “the new.”
“For example, in West Side Story, the designer was inspired by current fashion at the time, off-the-shoulder dresses were on the rise, so he mixed them in the 1950s,” he explains. In the Macbeth tragedy, which is based in medieval times, the fabric for the clothes came from Valentino. It is therefore current couture fabric mixed with period costume.
The fashion world in general is more present on screen this year, as it is part of the narrative. Cruel and Gucci House (the latter nominees for hair and makeup) are both about designers. But Verreos notes that in general, “fashion” and “costume” have traditionally been two very different things.
“A lot of times it’s very separate,” he says. “A lot of costume designers say with aplomb that, ‘I don’t look vogue.” Basically, as a costume designer, you help shape the character with clothes, so it’s not necessarily about fashion per se. But a movie like Cruel is an exception.
Even the group’s obvious period film, Cyrano featuring outfits by Italian designer Massimo Cantini Parrini, took a bold and somewhat avant-garde approach to fashion, deliberately avoiding complete historical accuracy on the looks of Peter Dinklage and the rest of the cast. “He always likes to give a modern vision of the time, because who watches the film? A modern audience,” Verreos explains, as we examine the two parts of the film, which is set in 1600s France and was filmed in Italy. “It looks authentic, but there are subtle little things that make it nicer and easier on the eye for our modern eye.”
Other significant looks from the show that went unawarded but were nominated in other Oscar categories include Licorice Pizza (one of our favorites for its vintage 70s style that was so perfect, we had a long chat with PT Anderson for THE weeklyfrom the cover of December 2021), King Richard, The eyes of Tammy Faye, Spencer, No time to die and Coming 2 America. The latter has a stunning display in the center of the museum, as its designer Ruth E. Carter has a long-standing relationship with the school as her work has been nominated and featured on multiple occasions. She won for her work on Marvel’s Black Panther in 2018, making her the first African-American designer to win an Oscar in that category.
Taken as a whole, FIDM’s Art of Costume exhibition not only functions as an adjunct to the Oscars each year, but also as a tribute to the behind-the-scenes creatives who contribute to the cinematic experience in nuanced ways we often take for granted. Nothing you see on screen is ever accidental, especially when it comes to what people wear, and costume has just as much value and impact on how a movie makes us think and feel. .
FIDM has one of the only university film and television costume departments in the country and graduates such as Mandy Line (Pretty Little Liars, shameless) and Trish Summerville (The hunger Games) highlight his successful approach to preparing students for the business, which involves more than just making clothes for retail sale. It’s about telling stories.
“The costume plays an essential role in the film”, says Verreos. “If you think of a film as an opera or a symphony, costumes are one of the first instruments. Every actor I spoke to said, “I never quite figured out who I was supposed to play until this costume was put on.” Often it is almost necessary for the costumes to look like another character in the movie and be noticeable for that. It’s important to recognize, and this exhibit is our gift to the public so they can.
The art of costume design in film until Saturday June 4, 2022; Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. FIDM Museum, 919 S. Grand Ave.; free. fidmmuseum.org