As a fashion design graduate, one of my heroines is three-time Academy Award winner, Colleen Atwood. She is the costume design maven behind some of my favorite film looks like Chicago, Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland (among many others!).
Her most impressive work yet is the epic Snow White and the Huntsman film out today. In the film, the dramatic costumes have gravity defying silhouettes. The intricate details are constructed with everything from papier mache, beetle wings, feathers to bird skulls. A pop-up gallery in Hollywood displayed some of the costumes for a close-up look at their details.
In addition to the clothing designed by Ms. Atwood, the Home Shopping Network presented an entire collection with a range of designers inspired by the movie. Examples include jewelry from Ranjana Khan, dark candles from D.L. and co, nail polish from Deborah Lippmann and even “Good vs. Evil” caramel apples from Silvestri Sweets.
I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Ms. Atwood before the movie premiere:
Mariana Leung: OK. You’ve done some of the most iconic pieces in films, between Memoirs of a Geisha, Silence of the Lambs, and many of the Tim Burton movies. What finally got you inspired to actually do a clothing line?
Colleen Atwood: Well the people from HSN came to the set and they were doing a collaboration with- so what is a kind of media kind of style thing, and they asked me if I wanted to do something, and I was- I’d never really been approached so directly by somebody to do it, so I was like “Sure, why not, give it a try” And you know, it’s been fun.
ML: What were some of the challenges in adapting your looks for the film, for a mass market kind of clothing?
CA: Well it’s really not looks from the film, it’s more like, you know, kind of a nod to the period of the film, and little touches from the period, but not really like taking movie clothes and making them into street wear.
ML: What were some of the considerations you had to think about in adapting some of the looks?
CA: Well, you know, when you start doing stuff that’ s like, you know, for people to wear everyday on the street, it has to be more, you know, useful for today’s life. So it cannot be made out of- weigh thirty pounds and be all hand-sewn, and you know, have all that detail work. So I just took the essence of the details of the lines from the period which were very simple actually, medieval clothing, and used little detail touches like open sleeves and medieval armor buckles and things like that to sort of give it a little nod but keep it really kind of modern and basic in that way.
ML: As far as your own personal style, do you have fashion designers that you’re inspired by, or personally enjoy wearing?
CA: Well, I love clothes. So, so many of the fashion designers- I mean, I’ve always admired and would love to wear some of them more than I can afford to, but, you know, I love Azzedine Alaia and Alexander McQueen whom I think was a genius. I think, you know, over the years I’ve admired , you know, Yohji Yamamoto, you know, I’ve elements, pieces of all those people that I’ve kept for years and years and years, and, you know, that I still really treasure. So, you know, I think there are all different kinds of designers for different things.
ML: Those are very tailored and constructed designers you mentioned, also like with Yamamoto and McQueen, they’re kind of like darker edge and you work on someone like kind of darker looks, especially for the evil queen hair with like the bird skulls and the beetles and feathers. Are you inspired by darker kind of edgier inspirations, or is it really for the film?
CA: It was really for the film. My personal clothing- I mean I lived in new York for a long time, so I’m a big fan of black, of course, I have to go “OK, you can’t buy one more black jacket right now,” so now I’ve switched to navy blue. But now I’m like “OK, I gotta stop with the navy blue.” So, you know, I go through phases and stuff that I do think I like I guess what you’re saying, I do like the idea of clothing as sculpture in a kind of way that works from an architectural point of view which probably has something to do, you know, with the people I gravitate to. Or other people do different things sometimes, and, you know, I’m like- I really like it. But I do appreciate a beautiful cut jacket, that’s just like, you know, really fine and goes together really well.
ML: Do you ever work on pieces for yourself? Or do you just not have the time?
CA: You know, I’m always thinking “Oh yeah, I’m gonna make that.” But I barely have time to alter my own clothes, much less make them.
ML: Your design process, do you start from sketches first, or do you like really like working with the fabrics or materials?
CA: I start with a combination. I mean sometimes I will see a piece of fabric and I go “Oh, I can make that dress I’ve always thought of.” or I see like an image of it. But- and then sometimes I come up with a design and go “Oh, I need fabric.” So I think it goes back and forth. I think that, as a designer, you’re kind of always looking, you know, for an idea. So it comes from all different kinds of places.
ML: OK, one last question. Do you have some favorite pieces in your own closet that you absolutely love, whether it’s sentiment or just pure design?
CA: I do have things that I’ve kept for a long time. I have a couple dresses that were my grandmothers that were very beautiful 50’s dresses. You know, a few things of my own, a couple of jackets that I’ve kept forever, and – but I’m a very big believer in not accumulating too much stuff, because at work I’m so surrounded by it that a lot of times I get, you know, I keep it fresh. I move it around so I’m not a big collector of anything per say, like some people are.
ML: Thank you so much. It has been an honor to speak to you about your work!
Photos by Mariana Leung and Stephanie Keenan of WWD