14 Cult Movies Where Costume Designers Were True Geniuses

year ago

As a rule, costume designers who participate in movie creation have several big tasks — to make plausible and spectacular looks, to make sure the outfits are not only stunning but also convenient for performing complicated tricks, and to not go beyond the budget. True professionals get inspired by these challenges and do their best to create priceless masterpieces.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

  • Costume designer: William Travilla

William Travilla created a big collection of dashing dresses for the character of Marilyn Monroe in the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The collection includes both a tight coral dress embellished with glittery beads, a gold pleated lamé outfit with a deep V-neckline, and a floor-length red shimmery dress with glittery bracelets sewn to the sleeves.

Still, it’s the pink dress made of rare peau d’ange satin that is considered to be cult. The designer had a task to make a not-too-revealing dress that would show off Marilyn’s sensuality. In order for the dress to keep its shape, William glued the satin onto the green felt used for the upholstery of billiard tables. Black silk was glued on the reverse side. The design itself resembled a rigid cardboard frame. The designer sewed an asymmetrical bow to the back of the dress, stuffed with ostrich feathers and horsehair for volume.

Mary Evans / AF Archive / East News

Gone With the Wind (1939)

  • Costume designer: Walter Plunkett

The events of the flick span 15 years, which means a lot of work was done on the costumes. Plunkett was studying historical materials, he was aging fabrics, and he even went on a thorn-gathering expedition. Thorns were used instead of needles in the time of Scarlett O’Hara.

2 types of green velvet had to be bought for the legendary curtain dress. Both of them were kept under the sun for a long time to make the material fade. Plunkett had to work hard on the cut and lower his sewing skills to make the audience believe that the outfit could be made in one evening.

By the way, the fact that Scarlett made the dress from curtains is historically correct. It was almost impossible to buy fabric that’s why women had to find ways to renew their wardrobe.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

  • Costume designer: Hilary Rosenfeld

The main plot of the film is Baby’s growth. The transformation of the character from a shy girl into a confident young woman is shown through dancing and clothes. The latter become more open but not too much. The costume designer had to do a very good job of creating clothes from the rebellious ’60s fashion.

Johnny plays a very important role in the girl’s life. In the legendary scene of their final dance, the characters are perfectly visible. Johnny wears a leather jacket and a black shirt — he’s definitely got that bad boy vibe. And Baby wears a tender pink dress that many girls wanted after watching this film.

Pretty Woman (1990)

  • Costume designer: Marilyn Vance

To understand the character better, you need to look at 4 of her outfits: a bodycon, a midriff-baring dress with knee-high boots, a black cocktail dress, a polka-dot dress, and an elegant white outfit. They show the evolution of a personality who realizes that “Less is more” is a principle she should follow with her clothing.

When creating the first look, Vance was inspired by a swimsuit with a metal ring that was popular in the ’70s. This outfit made Julia Roberts’ body look more attractive. Marilyn found the knee-high boots in a London boutique, and the famous beret belonged to the designer herself.

The Addams Family (1991)

  • Costume designer: Ruth Myers

Ruth decided that the Addams family should look like aristocrats. So, the mother of the family changed clothes 3 times a day: in the morning, she wore a simple dress, during the day — something more exotic, and by the end of the day — the most extravagant one she had. In the evening, she had lace and black jewels on. The most impressive outfit was a coat with a hood based on Edwardian-era clothing.

Also, Ruth wanted Morticia to move like an otherworldly entity. She used corsets to help elongate the body of this character.

Basic Instinct (1992)

TriStar / Courtesy Everett Collection / East News, © Basic Instinct / Canal+
  • Costume designer: Ellen Mirojnick, Nino Cerruti

Catherine Tramell, portrayed by Sharon Stone, is a true femme fatale. However, she looks more like a classic Hitchcock blond rather than a vampy woman. The costume designers wanted her clothes to have neutral colors and didn’t give her revealing dresses. At the beginning of the movie, she’s wearing a cute beige cardigan.

Later on, we see the iconic dress from the interrogation scene. The light color doesn’t make it too revealing, but viewers already understand that Catherine Tramell is not that simple. She’s a manipulator that knows how to use clothing to her advantage.

The Matrix (1999)

  • Costume designer: Kym Barrett

The costumes in this film not only made it look better, but also conveyed a message. Think about the real-world clothes of the characters — they wear shabby outfits, while in the Matrix, they could wear any trendy clothes they wanted.

Trinity had to look like an oil slick — that’s what the directors wanted. She challenges gravity, appears out of nowhere, and disappears fast. Kym Barrett found a great solution — PVC clothes that looked perfect and were pretty cheap.

The clothes are tight, but they are not revealing. They highlight the important role of Trinity — she’s not a typical movie girlfriend, she’s a fighter on an important mission.

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

  • Costume designer: Lindy Hemming

The costume designers that worked on James Bond movies read the script first, and then did research on fashion tendencies and discussed the clothes with the director. So, the clothes not only looked trendy but also helped show the nature of the characters.

Elektra King’s iconic red dress symbolizes her anger and her silk cape shows her high social status. The red color creates the illusion that she is just a beautiful woman, but not a dangerous enemy.

By the way, this dress with a sewn-in corset and elaborate embroidery was made entirely by hand. The outfit even took part in the “Designing 007, 50 years of Bond” style exhibition.

In the Mood for Love (2000)

  • Costume designer: William Chang

The director wanted to focus on the feelings of the characters and not show how the world around them changes. This is why all the change we see on the screen is about the clothing of the main characters — Su and Chow.

The clothes of the characters show how they want to look in other people’s eyes. But slowly, Su’s dresses start to communicate her mood, and Chow adapts to the style of his love. There’s a chemistry between Su and her clothes. Roberto Cavalli and other famous designers were inspired by these characters’ costumes.

Coco Before Chanel (2009)

  • Costume designer: Catherine Leterrier

To recreate the style of the legendary Coco, Leterrier looked at photo archives, went to museums, and looked for the necessary fabrics at flea markets. This is how viewers found out what the young Coco was like: talented, bright, pompous, and very poor. She would alter old men’s clothes and make dresses from anything she could get her hands on. She began her career by sewing hats.

Her non-conformist nature is also shown through her clothes. While other characters look feminine, Coco wears men’s-style oversize clothes. When others are wearing something bright, Coco chooses dark colors. Thanks to the perfect costumes and great acting by Audrey Tatou, the main character achieves the impossible — she dresses like a clown but looks stunning.

The Tourist (2010)

  • Costume designer: Colleen Atwood

Colleen Atwood combined vintage and modern fashion to create a world of timeless chic. This is why there are no “loud” clothes in the film, only neutral colors and elegant simplicity.

This is exactly what the main character wears. The fact that she hides many secrets is hinted at not only by her clothes but also by their details, like her gloves and red lipstick, or the peach-colored ribbon on her waist. These little things show viewers that Elise is a mysterious woman, not just a stunning woman with perfect taste.

Tale of Tales (2015)

  • Costume designer: Massimo Parrini

This designer did a lot of work creating a lot of clothes for all of the characters — from peasants to monarchs. And the task was pretty hard — the designers needed to make clothes that would look historical and fantasy-like at the same time.

Salma Hayek’s clothes deserve special attention. In the beginning, she wears dark clothes that reflect her dark thoughts. But once she has the son that she’s always wanted, she wears a black and red dress. The idea is that the dress should show the happiness inside the queen. By the way, original 18th-century embroidery, lace, and buttons were used to make this dress.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

  • Costume designer: Catherine Martin

There were 80 costume designers working on creating of 300 outfits for the characters of Moulin Rouge! Catherine Martin created dozens of colorful, plausible, and at the same time deliberately theatrical outfits. The costumes of Nicole Kidman’s character have references to the images of Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich.

Satine’s piece of jewelry, the intricate diamond ligature created by the Australian jeweler Stefano Canturi deserves special attention. The piece contained 1,308 gems. It is still considered to be one of the most expensive jewelry pieces in Hollywood history.

Spencer (2021)

CAP / SFS / Capital Pictures / East News, © Spencer / Shoebox Films, © Spencer / Shoebox Films
  • Costume designer: Jacqueline Durran

The outfits that Kristen Stewart’s character wears act as a kind of allegory of her inner state. On the one hand, Lady Di is part of the royal family and must adhere to the royal protocol, on the other hand, her marriage is bursting at the seams, and the princess herself is in a deep crisis.

The costume designer Jacqueline Durran carefully studied archive photos of Diana taken in the period between 1988 to 1992 years. She made it her mission to emulate Lady Spencer’s style, not just copy it. The cult fashion house, Chanel, helped realize the designer’s ideas. The princess’ outfit appears as a bright flash of color against the ever-green-gray-brown backdrop of the royal family. This artistic move perfectly emphasizes how alien the orders of Buckingham Palace are to Diana.

Oftentimes, the work of costume designers goes unnoticed by viewers. However, without them, any movie would fall apart. Do you pay attention to the clothes movie characters wear? Which of the outfits in our compilation impressed you most of all?


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