04 May

PSA: It’s Time to Stop Redesigning Superhero Costumes for Every Movie Already

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Shouldn’t superheroes be busier saving the day than remaking their costumes with each new appearance?

The reveal of Batman’s new costume from next year’s Justice Leaguehighlights one of the stranger things about contemporary superhero movies. Namely, the inexplicable need to change superhero costumes between installments.

On a cynical marketing level, the tweaking to costumes for each new installment in a series makes terrifying sense, allowing for brand-new merchandise — action figures, T-shirts, and anything in between — to be sold featuring characters that have already appeared in numerous movies and on countless merchandise to date. But that real-world business reason aside, the in-story rationale for redesigning heroes between movies feels somewhat … thin.

Take Marvel’s Captain America, for example. In 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, we are shown that the colorful costume exists as a propaganda tool, which explains why the hero — who appears to be anything but the kind of man to give a second thought about what he’s wearing — sports a different costume in each of his subsequent appearances, from the colorful Avengerslook through the more sober Captain America: The Winter Soldierlook, the back-to-being-colorful-but-with-sensible-boots Avengers: Age of Ultron costume and finally the cargo-pant-and-shoulder-strap ensemble of Captain America: Civil War. It’s … all about branding … maybe?

Chris Hemsworth as Thor in ‘Thor’ (2011), ‘Avengers’ (2012), ‘Thor: Dark World’ (2013) and ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ (2015)


Similarly, Thor’s costume changes between his first solo movie, Avengers, Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron, as do the outfits of Black Widow, Hawkeye and the Falcon between their various appearances. Do anyof these characters seem like they’d be concerned with their appearance to the degree that they’d tweak costumes in their downtime? Really? Tony Stark and the Iron Man armor, sure; that kind of evolution and redesign makes sense, because it’s totally within his nature to be unable to stop himself for making changes. But Thor?

Of course, it’s not just Marvel that foists redesigns on its characters that make little sense: Superman was actually wearing a different costume in Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, although the changes were perhaps unnoticeable to the casual viewer. Perhaps he got bored and made some alterations at super-speed between failing to file stories as Clark Kent and being worshipped as a false god. And Batman apparently loves to have a new look for every occasion — he has three different costumes in BvS alone, so the new look for Justice League shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise.

(It does, however, conjure up images of Bruce Wayne spending hours alone in the Batcave, convinced that maybe this time, he can crack that Bat-motif once and for all. But I digress.)

Perhaps I’m simply spoiled by reading comics in which superhero costumes stayed static for decades at a time; Superman’s costume only received cosmetic changes — mostly to the length of his cape and how people drew the “S” — for more than three quarters of a century, while Captain America’s was essentially static for roughly the same amount of time. Or maybe it really is the incongruity of imagining a distracted Ant-Man thinking, “What if I had different gloves?” when he changed size each time.

Either way, it seems as if there should be a little less turnover when it comes to superhero couture … until the movie universes introduce their own version of professional super-costumier Paul Gambi, at least.


04 May

From Sketch to Still, a Visual History of *Alice in Wonderland’*s Costumes

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Atwood also designed costumes for the animated creatures, such as the frog footman seen here. Sketch by Colleen Atwood, courtesy Walt Disney Studios.

In the opening of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the heroine argues with her mother about—what else?—clothes. Scolded for not wearing a corset, Alice says, “Who’s to say what is proper? What if it was agreed that proper was wearing a codfish on your head? Would you wear it?… To me, a corset is like a codfish.”

Costume designer Colleen Atwood, who’s won two Oscars (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha) and received her ninth Oscar nomination for Alice, says this line “set up Alice’s character as slightly more modern, more of a human being.” Her costumes follow suit. Alice begins the film in 19th century blue party dress, which cleverly references the animated puff-sleeve creation she’s been stuck in since 1951. (“It’s an iconic thing, not a bad thing,” says Atwood.) But when Alice goes down the rabbit hole and lands in a transformative new world, her clothes do too.

“We made a decision that as Alice shrunk and grew, her dress would not,” says Atwood. This leaves Alice puzzling over what to wear throughout the film. First, she improvises a halter and quadruple-wrapped ribbon belt to hoist up her underskirt. Then, when she shrinks again, the Mad Hatter fashions a teeny dress for her to change into inside a teapot. Next, when she suddenly grows out of this garment and ends up gigantic and naked at the royal court, the Red Queen orders, “Clothe this enormous girl!” At this point, Alice is given an assymmetrical black, white, red gown. In each iteration, Alice’s dress gains a detail—black trim, contrasting colors, a stripe—that recalls a certain auteur’s visual language. Alice gets Burtonized.

Atwood has designed costumes for nearly every film Tim Burton has made in the last twenty years. Their working relationship is so close that they’ll sometimes come to the table with remarkably similar ideas. Take for instance Burton’s concept art for the Red Queen (or, the Queen of Hearts), a character that posed a certain challenge because, as Atwood puts it, “Cards have been done to death.” Without seeing Burton’s sketch, Atwood almost matched it. “The same thing happened with the Hatter!” she says. The key difference between the two Red Queens might be that Atwood’s sketch looks a bit more like her inspiration, Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth I in The Virgin Queen, and Burton’s sketch looks a bit more like his, Helena Bonham Carter. Bonham Carter noticed that too.

The actress writes in The Art of Tim Burton, “I never know if I’m going to be in a Tim Burton film or not . Usually he says, ‘Well, it had to be you because, look, I’ve just drawn you.’ In the case of the Red Queen, he said this and produced a picture of a very angry, red-headed queen. With my eyebrows.”

04 May


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Hollywood movies have a rich history of wild and outrageous costumes. My list of the “Ten Wildest” must be prefaced. I did not include show girl, chorine, or musical number costumes. If I had, Adrian would likely have taken all ten slots in his costumes from The Great Ziegfeld, and Ziegfeld Girl.  I also did not include fantasy, fairy tales, superhero, and science fiction movies, which precluded the great costumes from movies such as The Hobbit series, Snow White and the Huntsman,  the Star Wars series, and the fabulous Edward Scissorhands costume.

I did include the  costumes from historical characters on film, and from masked balls, which often depict historical characters, although with a bit of fantasy. Quite a bit as we’ll see later.  The costumes skew to the 1930s. As has been written about elsewhere, so much energy was channeled into the movies as a release from the Depression and other societal pressures. This was especially true for film costume design. Well represented below are the great designers of that field: Adrian; Travis Banton; Walter Plunkett; Edith Head, and Irene Sharaff.
Your own list may be very different than mine. There are many costumes out there to discover. But to start out 2015, here’s my ten wildest costumes of the last century on film. They are arranged in chronological order.

1) Alla Nazimova in SALOME. Costume design by Natasha Rambova, 1923

The Biblical story of Salome, the daughter of Herod II and the original femme fatal, is told in this film, based on the Oscar Wilde story. The sets and costumes were designed by Natasha Rambova, the wife and manager of Rudolph Valentino. Even Erte was an admirer of Rambova’s style. She was born in Salt Lake City, and was not Russian. She did dance in the ballet and was very talented. She hired Adrian in New York to design costumes for Valentino, and was responsible for bringing him out to Hollywood with them. This costume was inspired by the book illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley.

2) Evelyn Brent in SLIGHTLY SCARLET  Costume design by Travis Banton, 1930

Evelyn Brent plays the unwilling accomplice of a jewel thief in Paris and the French Riviera in this caper. She looks like a jewel herself in this Travis Banton “hostess gown.”  The fabric was a sapphire blue chiffon, encrusted with crystal bugle beads. She wears no brassiere, definitely pre-code.

3) Kay Johnson in MADAM SATAN Costume design by  Adrian, 1930

This is a C.B. DeMille directed movie, which has to be seen if only for its Zeppelin Ball and “Ballet Mecanique” sequence. Kay Johnson plays a staid housewife that is losing the attention of her husband and so takes on the persona of “Madame Satan” at a party on a dirigible. The costume designed by Adrian had red sequins on the interior of the cape, flame-cut fabric that went up the bodice, flame shaped gauntlet gloves, and the horned mask. The velvet was not black but a dark purple that registered better on the black and white film.  See below.



4) Greta Garbo in Mata Hari. Costume design by Adrian, 1931

Certainly one of the most amazing costumes in movie history is this outfit made for Garbo in Mata Hari, its pants were made of gold mesh, the bodice of spruce green colored glass beads, and crystals, with a metallic scull-cap, jeweled-belt, and a bugle-beaded, long-trained skirt. Yet the costume was backless, a typical asymmetrical flourish of Adrian’s, but one showing Garbo’s vulnerability as Mata Hari the spy. Fifteen women worked three weeks to make the costume.

5) Marlene Dietrich in SHANGHAI EXPRESS. Costume design by Travis Banton, 1932

Marlene Dietrich plays “Shaghai Lilly” in Von Sternberg’s film, playing a regular rider on the Shanghai Express, living by any means possible in China for a woman of her beauty and wits. Travis Banton dresses her to perfection for the role, the picture of allure that only the silver screen and the glamour photography of the era can capture. The black coq feathures, skull cap, and veil, concentrates attention on her face, yet surrounds it in mystery. Still the confidence and the power of glamour radiates from within. The long  string of pearls add sparkle over the black dress. The gloves and bag are Hermes.

6) Katharine Hepburn in CHRISTOPHER STRONG Designed by Walter Plunkett, 1933.

Katharine Hepburn played an aviator in this story of complicated love affairs within the Brittish upper classes. This was her first starring role. Here she wears this stunning Walter Plunkett designed costume to a party, The costume’s theme is “the silver moth” taken from “The White Moth,” an early working title for the film. The costume was made from small silver-metallic squares like an airplane would be, and she had a skull cap/helmet with the antennae of a moth. Indeed, she flies too close to the sun.

 7) Claudette Colbert in CLEOPATRA, Designed by Travis Banton, 1934.

Cleopatra was one of the Cecil B. DeMille spectacles, and despite its age, holds up well in its visual and storytelling qualities. The sets are amazing, though very much influenced by the styles of the 1930s, but the same holds true with the later Cleopatra and the influence of the 1960s. Travis Banton’s costumes are magnets for the eye, with essentially simple form-fitting, 1930s silhouettes adorned with Egyptian-chic  accesories. Banton had a series of arguments with Claudette Colbert over the designs for her costumes.  She found them too revealing, with disapproving comments written all over his beautiful costume sketches. He left a second set of costume sketches for her approval, with instructions that she had better either like these or slit her wrists. The next day Banton waited and waited, only to have them returned streaked with dried blood. Furious, Banton left the studio and went on a binge, not returning until several days later when studio head Adolph Zukor called him personally and mediated the situation.


8) Vivien Leigh in GONE WITH THE WIND, Designed by Walter Plunkett, 1939.

This is one of the most iconic costumes in movie history. Although the curtain dress was part of the original novel, Plunkett designed it with  much panache, adding its one sided capelet and huge tassled belt. Plunkett picked a green velvet to match Vivien Leigh’s eyes, although he had parts of it faded to look like authentic curtains. Vivien’s hat of velvet and black coq feathers was made by Mr. John. Scarlett wears the costume in crucial scenes as she goes asking for money from Rhett and then runs into Frank Kennedy.

9) Grace Kelly in TO CATCH A THIEF, Designed by Edith Head, 1955

The exquisite Grace Kelly does not play hard to get opposite Cary Grant in this movie where we are kept wondering, is he or is he not a jewel thief, operating on the French Riviera (jewel thieves and the Riviera have a long history in film). This movie has some of Edith Head’s best costumes, and the one above is a knockout. It is worn at a costume party and the plot’s climax, and Grace is wears the mock Marie Antoinette 18th century gown of gold lame, complete with golden birds and a golden wig.

10) Elizabeth Taylor in CLEOPATRA, Designed by Irene Sharaff, 1963.

The last “wild costume” comes from another Cleopatra, and probably the most lavish costume film in history. In fact the production and marketing costs of $44 million (in 1963 dollars) for the movie nearly bankrupted 20th Century-Fox, and halted production on several of the studio’s movies. The number of costume changes for Elizabeth Taylor still holds a record at 65 costumes. The gold costume above and below was made of seed pearls, gold bugle beads, and sequins, including  a cape made of 24-carat gold -covered leather strips, made to look like the wings of a Phoenix.


04 May

The 10 most stunning historical K-drama costumes

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Historical K-dramas often have it all. Beautiful sets and costumes, amazing actors, story lines with intrigue, suspense, and romance — there is something for everyone! From the most opulent and intricate costumes to the more subtle but still equally beautiful, it’s amazing to see how the costumes and fashion help form and define the characters and give you insight into their place within society. Once you start looking into the world of historical fashion, you will be amazed at how much you learn about history overall. In this article, we explore 10 of the most stunning costumes from 10 of our favorite historical K-dramas:

1) Dong Yi

This historical epic is of a young commoner who rises to become the king’s concubine, giving him the heir to the throne. The photos taken from this historical K-drama series are so beautiful that they look as if they could have been a layout for a high end fashion magazine. The transformation of Dong Yi from a commoner to a royal consort was fun to watch, both for the extravagant and luscious fashion and for the impeccable acting.

2) Queen Seon Duk


Queen Seon Duk is the riveting story of the struggles of an extraordinary woman and how she came to be a famed and beloved queen. Aside from the beautiful scenery, the athletic and impressive martial arts display, and the superb acting, the costumes are so rich in detail and intricate that they will make you want to go out and buy a high definition TV just so you won’t miss a single detail!

3) Gye Baek

This series is a story about the life of General Gyebaek of Baekje in the mid 7th century. Suspenseful and thrilling are two words that perfectly describe this historical drama. You get power struggles between royals and nobles that have you sitting on the edge of your seat during each episode. All the actors played their parts exceptionally well, breathing life into the characters. Add to that the dazzling costumes and elaborate hairstyles, and you end up with a series that has you always wanting more.

4) Jumong

Jumong is the tale of a hero who is born into a troubled and fragmented country rising to become a prince who will unite the land. It was the highest rated Korean drama the year it came out and continues to be a fan favorite today. More often than not, historical dramas have me drooling over the costumes and hairstyles of the leading female characters. Jumong, on the other hand, showed us some exceptionally beautiful mens’ costumes in the incredibly elaborate battle wear.

5) The Princess’s Man

The Princess’s Man is an epic Romeo and Juliet style historical romance featuring amazing cinematography and more beautiful scenery than you can fathom. Absolutely everything about this show is gorgeous and romantic. The colors of the costumes always pop, highlighting Moon Chae Won’s beauty in a way that seems otherworldly. This is a historical drama that you’ll want to watch over and over again.

6) The Moon That Embraces The Sun

Set in the Joseon dynasty, two brothers find themselves falling in love with a female shaman who does not remember her noble past. This is a historical drama that you will love even if you’re really not into Korean historical dramas. It has such fabulous acting and such a great storyline that every one who watches it falls in love with it. The costumes are rich and intriguing, showcasing the wealth and power of royalty. You can’t help but imagine how heavy these costumes must have felt, not only literally but also figuratively in the burden of a kingdom’s fate being on your shoulders.

7) Hwajung

Hwajung is about a princess who, after being exiled from court, takes it upon herself to get revenge and restore order in the kingdom. The show has a cast that’s a costume drama dream team. I imagine the costume designers were ecstatic to be able to work with these amazing and talented actors whose beauty would shine through costumes rather than being upstaged by them.

8.) The Scholar Who Walks The Night

The Scholar Who Walks The Night is a drama about a girl whose family falls from grace and into poverty. Being both resilient and resourceful, she disguises herself as a man who sells books and unexpectedly falls for a vampire. I love the moodiness of the set and costumes as well as the cinematography in this series. Even the brightest of colors seem to be muted, taking on a darker and more sinister tone that fits with the theme of this show. The costumes are somehow historically accurate and beautiful and yet modern at the same time.

9). The Iron Empress

If you’re looking for an epic drama that will sweep you off your feet, look no farther than The Iron Empress,about a warrior queen who is willing to give up love and family for the good of her empire. The costumes and sets in the K-drama are so opulent and dramatic they’re a treat to watch.

10). Shine or Go Crazy

This is another romantic historical drama that will have you laughing and crying along with it. Shine or Go Crazy is about a prince and princess with equally cursed fates who fall in love while escaping from their families. All the costumes in this drama were incredibly rich and vibrant. I found myself wishing that I could pull off all these looks in real life. Sometimes the over-the-top historical costumes (especially for royalty), although fun to look at, are definitely in the realm of “nice to look at but don’t want to wear.” All the clothes in this historical drama should be used as inspiration for a high end fashion line — they really are that gorgeous.