17 Costume Designers Reveal Their Favorite TV And Film Fashions

It’s the ultimate sartorial Sophie’s choice! Beware: Spoilers ahead if you’re not caught up on these films and shows!

ABC / Michael Ansell, FX / Michele K. Short, Sony Pictures Classics, Claudette Barius / HBO, AMC, Michael Yarish, Warner Bros. Pictures

Every year, The Costume Designers Guild of America celebrates the accomplishments of their members at The CDG Awards, a gathering of costume designers, assistant costume designers, costume illustrators, and the actors who don their wares.

There are seven awards that are handed out annually — Excellence in Contemporary Film, Excellence in Period Film, Excellence in Fantasy Film, Outstanding Contemporary Television Series, Outstanding Period/Fantasy Television Series, Outstanding Made for Television Movie or Mini Series, and Excellence in Commercial Costume Design — and the 2014 nominees collectively represent the year’s biggest pop culture hits, from American Horror Story to American Hustle and Game of Thrones to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

BuzzFeed asked 17 of the CDGA nominees to reflect on their celebrated projects and select their single favorite look from their work. The results represent a dazzling array of singular looks that can often encapsulate a film or television series.

Breaking Bad — Outstanding Contemporary TV Series

AMC

Who: Jennifer Bryan
What: Skyler White’s drowning dress
When: Breaking Bad Season 5, Episode 4: “Fifty-One”
Where: Three Dots cotton top and Dillards skirt

Why: Bryan told BuzzFeed she chose this look because of the technical challenges it presented. “Vince [Gilligan] wanted it to look like Skyler was floating underneath the water, but that’s difficult to do because when fabric gets wet, gravity and the weight of water tends to pull it downward,” she said. “Vince also wanted the skirt to float away from her body, so I put additional panels in the skirt so it would spread open and rigged the skirt with little, tiny, plastic tubes that would keep it afloat. I also wired the edges of the skirt so it would open up like a lily when she’s submerged.”

Equally time-consuming was the hunt for Skyler’s white top, because, as Bryan said, “it couldn’t look like Skylar entered a wet T-shirt contest.” After countless underwater tests with a model, Bryan settled on two pieces. “This is my favorite look because of the challenges it presented, and how happy I was with the end result.”

Scandal — Outstanding Contemporary Television Series

ABC

Who: Lyn Paolo
What: Olivia’s caped coat
When: Scandal Season 3, Episode 1: “It’s Handled”
Where: Burberry

Why: “Shonda Rhimes and her team wrote a scene that had so much subtext and an undercurrent of emotion that I wanted Olivia Pope to look like she was going into battle,” Paolo told BuzzFeed. “The Burberry trench echoed our original Tory Birch trench but this one felt much more military with the closed off neck and the ‘Gladiator’ caplet.”

And once Kerry Washington was placed on the set, Paolo knew she’d done her job perfectly. “The combination of the stark white color of the coat and her twin pocket Prada purse against the gray walls of the underground bunker felt so right for how closed off emotionally Olivia was in this moment where Fitz and Mellie discuss how to deal with the fact the Olivia has been named as Fitz’s mistress.”

Game of Thrones — Outstanding Period/Fantasy Television Series

HBO

Who: Michele Clapton
What: The Unsullied Army
When: Game of Thrones Season 3, Episode 4: “And Now His Watch is Ended”
Where: Custom-made

Why: Clapton studied magnified photos of beetles and Japanese armor to conceptualize the perfectly homogenous look of The Unsullied. “David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], the writers, who I work closely with wanted an anonymous army of boys/men,” she told BuzzFeed. “They should have no room for personality; it’s all been taken from them.”

The difficulty came in attempting to design one look for thousands of actors, each with different proportions. “I had to create a shape that had to work on so many body shapes yet unify them into a strong menacing army,” Clapton said. “Hiding their faces seemed to make them more threatening.” And that wasn’t the only thing hidden by the elaborate costuming. “Because of the long days on set and the fullness of the trousers a lot of the extras hid all sorts of items in them: blankets, phones, drinks; the [production assistants] were constantly confiscating stuff because it showed!”

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire — Excellence in Fantasy Film

Lionsgate

 

Who: Trish Summerville
What: Johanna Mason’s District 7 Tribute
When: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’s chariot scene
Where: Custom-made

Why: Because Johanna has to make an immediate impact and isn’t given pages of dialogue to do so, Summerville had to ensure the character’s clothes spoke volumes. “She had to project a strong sexuality and she had to have this attitude because she’s a previous victor,” Summerville said. “She knows the game and she spends a lot of time in The Capitol, so she’s schooled and aware and knows the drill. She knows she’ll be paraded about, she knows people need to fear her, and be intimidated from the get-go.”

A task made infinitely more difficult since, in this scene, Johanna had to represent lumber, District 7’s chief industry. “Whenever you hear, ‘Dress someone like a tree,’ you think of a school play,” Summerville said, laughing. “I wanted her to be more like a streamlined, threatening warrior. That’s why I did her in a bodysuit and not a dress because she doesn’t have a feminine soft quality.”

To create the killer couture (which is only seen from the waist up in the final film), Summerville incorporated pieces of actual bark into a tightly constructed leather corset, which was accented with three-dimensional green paint. That was paired with Eddie Borgo bracelets that resembled thorns, and Alexander McQueen boots that had vine detailing down the heel. “All of those pieces worked so well together,” she recalled. “Johanna’s dramatic and, in her mind, thinks she’s the tribute who stands out the most in that moment.”

SNL — Outstanding Contemporary Television Series

NBC

Who: Tom Broecker and Eric Justian
What: Justin Timberlake’s wrapping paper outfit
When: Saturday Night Live Season 39, Episode 10: “Wrappinville”
Where: Custom-made

Why: Working on Saturday Night Live not only teaches you how to work fast, but how to work smartly, according to Broecker and Justian. “This job really spans the gamut from Barneys to The Salvation Army,” said Justian, who chose Timberlake’s “Wrappinville” costume because it was “so much fun.”

He added, “I actually find equal amounts of joy shopping at The Salvation Army for vintage as I do going high-end at Barneys. We do costumes for all the host photo shoots, digital shorts, and live sketches. There’s no other show, as a designer, that allows you to stretch as much as SNL does.”

Behind The Candelabra — Outstanding Made for TV Movie or Mini Series

HBO

 

Who: Ellen Mirojnick
What: Scott Thorson’s Speedos
When: Behind the Candelabra’s pool scenes
Where: Custom-made

Why: The script read, “Scott gets out of the pool in a diamond-encrusted Speedo,” but creating the garment was infinitely more difficult than it initially sounded.

“He has to come in and out of the water, so it had to be just the perfect amount of rhinestones, without the Speedo being too heavy,” Mirojnick told BuzzFeed. “The black rhinestone ensemble was an important moment for character to own his place in Liberace’s life.”

American Hustle — Excellence in Period Film

Columbia Pictures

Who: Michael Wilkinson
What: Sydney Prosser’s introduction
When: American Hustle’s opening scene
Where: Halston archives blouse, custom-made ultra-suede skirt, Gucci horse-bit hoop earrings, vintage chain bracelet, and vintage belt

Why: Wilkinson told BuzzFeed he chose this particular look because “I knew I had to create an impact for the audience’s introduction to this extraordinary character — I aimed to create a costume that indelibly establishes her as a sophisticated and fashion-forward woman of the late 1970s.” In doing so, Wilkinson not only accomplished his goals, but single-handedly revived the plunging V-neck, a trend that Amy Adams’ Prosser rocks throughout the Oscar-nominated film.

“I wanted to reflect the sense that Sydney was constantly treading the fine line between supreme confidence and fragile vulnerability,” Wilkinson said. “With her low cut, body-hugging costumes, she is going out on a limb, with very little between her and the world — yes, she is elegant, but she is also in an emotionally raw, dangerous, and exciting space.” As for the technical aspects of featuring so many plunging necklines, Wilkinson said, “It was all hands on deck and all eyes on the monitor to make sure everything stayed in place. Amy [Adams] said there were three secrets to wearing these clothes: good posture, avoiding sudden gusts of wind, and having a good editor to keep an eye out for wardrobe malfunctions.”

AHS: Coven — Outstanding Made for TV Movie or Mini Series

FX

 

Who: Lou Eyrich
What: The walk to burn Myrtle Snow at the stake
When: American Horror Story: Coven, Episode 5: “Burn, Witch, Burn”
Where: Fiona: Gucci hat and gloves, Donna Karan cape and dress; Zoe: BCBG hat, American Apparel sheer dress, Alaia belt, consignment shop jacket; Queenie: Dress from Macy’s, repurposed shawls; Nan: BCBG hat, thrift store cape, and Forever 21 dress; Myrtle: Custom-made dress

Why: “This was the moment where I stood in awe of how lucky we are to get to do what we do,” Eyrich told BuzzFeed. “We worked really hard at making sure each character had their specific look because Ryan [Murphy] wanted a very glamorous effect walking through that quarry — and it was only on-screen for 10 seconds.”

Another challenge facing Eyrich was the oppressive heat of New Orleans. “We tried all kinds of tricks: fans, cooling tents, a room to get the cast out of the sun,” she said. But in some instances the weather was so intense, costumes simply had to be pared down. “In the beginning, Ryan wanted Madison’s signature piece to be fur, which worked in theory, but it was simply too hot to make Emma [Roberts] do that.”

Her — Excellence in Contemporary Film

Annapurna Pictures

Who: Casey Storm
What: Theodore’s work clothes
When: Used throughout Her
Where: Band of Outsiders shirt, jacket from Storm’s closet, custom-made pants, Kenneth Cole shoes, and Warby Parker glasses

Why: Her succeeds by presenting a believable — and relatable — vision of the future, so Storm and director Spike Jonze had to make important, early choices about the look of their world. “We made a decision that instead of adding things to make it look futuristic, we were going to take things away,” Storm told BuzzFeed. “I always find that in adding things — patches, emblems, futuristic fabrics — you create a bit of a distraction. Instead, if you take things away, you create a new world, but not in a distracting way because you’re not quite sure what’s different.”

To accomplish this, Storm did away with collars, denim, ties, and, yes, belts. The latter of which led to the creation of the year’s most buzzed-about cinematic style: high-waisted pants. “I don’t think we were aware it would become the talking point of the wardrobe, and a huge talking point of the film,” Storm said of the much-discussed style. “I knew we were doing something different, but it didn’t feel that wild. Those pants feel like a natural progression of where fashion might go.”

The initial idea for the pants was based on turn of the century wool riding pants Storm discovered at a costume house and perfected through brainstorming sessions he had with Humerto Leon, who runs Opening Ceremony, and Geoff McFetridge, a graphic designer. “I don’t come from a fashion background, and Humberto does, so I started asking questions about what frontiers are left in fashion,” he said. “We started thinking about the ’80s, with Z Cavaricci’s — the pants were high-waisted, but in a much different way. We took elements of that idea, but then we went back and looked these references from the 1930s, and Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy. That’s how my grandpa used to wear his pants, and I was wondering why can’t we do that. At some point, Spike described it like the kind of pants that look like they’re giving you a hug. That made us all smile; there’s a warmth and a soul to it, so we just embraced that idea.”

Mad Men — Outstanding Period/Fantasy Television Series

AMC

Who: Janie Bryant
What: Megan Draper’s ANDY Awards gown
When: Mad Men Season 6, Episode 5: “The Flood”
Where: Vintage tunic, custom-made through alterations

Why: This costume was special to Bryant because it cemented Megan’s character as the most fashion-forward on the show. “This dress in particular, with its shimmery, gauzy, and transparent fabrics exhibits the fashion forward, high-society dress that an actress, model, or trendsetter of the late 1960s would wear,” she told BuzzFeed. “In this particular scene it was important for Megan to stand out like a jewel to illustrate her transformation from secretary to Don Draper’s wife and soap opera star.”

Taking inspiration from the “New York Collections” editorial in the Sept. 1968 issue of Vogue (an Arabian nights fantasy photo spread), Bryant assembled the gown piece by piece, sewing pink chiffon onto a vintage tunic and accenting it with cuffs made from matching gold brocade taken from inside the tunic. “I imagined Megan flipping through those Vogue pages and being inspired herself to wear one of these gowns for an important evening.”

Dallas Buyers Club — Excellence in Period Film

Focus Features

Who: Kurt & Bart
What: Rayon’s introduction
When: Dallas Buyer Club as Rayon meets Ron
Where: Thrift store dress and fur, size 12 vinyl shoes purchased at a yard sale, and colored stockings bought at a Houston pharmacy

Why: With so much inherent significance in creating Rayon, one mantra was maintained throughout production. “For Kurt and I, what was more important than anything else was that she feel authentic and wasn’t a drag queen but dressing and living as a woman,” Bart wrote in an email. To that end, everything she wears was purchased from realistic sources, like thrift shops, friends closets, and pharmacies.

For both Kurt and Bart, Rayon truly came alive once Jared Leto stepped into the clothes. “We had been accumulating pieces before they had an actor and just kept praying they would cast someone small enough to fit the clothes we were finding,” they said. “One of our favorite things in the whole film is after Rayon exits Ron’s car in a huff, she struts away and her strap on her heel came loose and she doesn’t miss a beat and reaches back to fix it while hopping on one foot. It’s a little thing, but is so Rayon. It was amazing to work with such a committed actor — not to mention that he fit the clothes fabulously.”

House of Cards — Outstanding Contemporary TV Series

Netflix

Who: Tom Broecker
What: Claire Underwood’s navy dress
When: House of Cards Season 1, Episode 1: “Chapter One”
Where: The Row dress

Why: Broecker chalks House of Cards’ success up to the fact that every single element — the cast, the creators, the cinematography, the couture — worked in perfect harmony to bring this world to life, and, for him, this moment perfectly encapsulates that.

“The way in which this scene is shot is just exquisite,” he told BuzzFeed. “Because of the angles, her perfect hair, her splendid performance, and the incredible words, the result was just flawless. It’s a very simple dress, but I always thought Claire looked like a panther stalking her prey, ready to slap it down in this moment. There’s something so direct about the way she looks, it registered as infinitely more significant.”

The Great Gatsby — Excellence in Period Film

Warner Bros.

Who: Catherine Martin
What: Jay & Daisy’s reunion attire
When: The Great Gatsby’s floral explosion
Where: Custom-made

Why: Martin faced two distinct hurdle in crafting the clothes for this iconic scene. First, the color of Daisy’s dress. “[F. Scott] Fitzgerald was very interested in clothes and how they describe character, and the word ‘lavender’ kind of traumatized me,” she laughed. “It’s a difficult color. There are many shades and it has overtones of matronliness. It’s not a color that springs to your mind when you want to make a beautiful dress for someone.”

The second hurdle she faced involved how the scene came to fruition. “Daisy doesn’t know she’s seeing Gatsby,” Martin said of the secret rendezvous Jay forces Nick to arrange. “So, on the one hand, it has to be a completely appropriate afternoon tea dress because she’s going to see her cousin — and she’s not seducing Nick! But at the same time, it’s gotta be a dress where you can imagine two people falling in love all over again.”

Downton Abbey — Outstanding Period/Fantasy TV Series

Masterpiece

 

Who: Caroline McCall
What: Lady Edith’s Criteron gown
When: Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 1
Where: Custom-made

Why: “It was a chance for Edith to shine and the audience to see her differently than we’d seen her before,” McCall told BuzzFeed of selecting this gown. “Downton is still in mourning [so] when Edith goes to London she breaks free from all the sadness and gives us an insight to the changing exciting times and how modern life away from the Abbey has become.”

The dress also represented a turning point for the character. “Our director wanted her to take Gregson’s breath away,” McCall added. “Also, for Edith, it’s a newfound confidence; she no longer cares what people think, she has witnessed too much heartache, life is too short. That was the feeling of so many of her generation who’d lived through the First World War but also the personal pain of her family. She’s broken away from all the sadness at home and [our director] wanted her to look like she was embracing the new.”

Blue Jasmine — Excellence in Contemporary Film

Sony Pictures Classic

Who: Suzy Benzinger
What: Jasmine’s mix-and-match moment
When: Blue Jasmine introduces Dwight
Where: Oscar de la Renta sweater, Alberta Ferretti dress, Chanel belt, and Roger Vivier shoes

Why: Benzinger, who has worked with Woody Allen on four films (Deconstructing Harry, Celebrity, Whatever Works, and Blue Jasmine), was overwhelmed by the generosity of the designers who happily helped create Jasmine’s luxe looks, culminating in the smorgasbord of labels featured in this scene.

“If I told Oscar we were going to pair his sweater with an Alberto Ferretti dress, he might not have been so happy about it,” she laughed. “But not a single one of the designers said to me, ‘This dress has to be worn with this bag’ or ‘You have to use these shoes.’ There was not one constraint put on me, they all gave with such generosity, and it was a spectacular experience for me.”

Equally stellar was the experience of collaborating with Cate Blanchett on Jasmine’s look. “You never heard ‘I’ from the minute she walked into my loft,” Benzinger recalled. “We get a lot of actresses who come through for Woody’s movies, and the first thing I hear is ‘I don’t look sexy in that’ or ‘I don’t look thin in that.’ With Cate, there was none of that vanity. She was right there with the sweat stains, her exposed roots, and her makeup not so great because Cate knew if we didn’t make Jasmine look right, she could act for days, but the audience would not buy it. As soon as you see her sweating and being imperfect, you were able to believe the performance, and that’s the great thing about Cate.”

House of Versace — Outstanding Made for TV Movie or Mini Series

Lifetime

Who: Claire Nadon
What: Donatella Versace’s bondage dress
When: House of Versace’s club scene
Where: Custom-made, including gold-plated buckles

Why: “This is an iconic image of the talent of Gianni as a designer and of Donatella as a Muse,” Nadon told BuzzFeed of recreating a Versace signature. A task made infinitely tougher since the House of Versace did not cooperate with the biopic.

“I wish we had access to better documents and more original fabrics,” she added. “It was a long process, but we followed actual pictures and tried to stay as close to reality as possible.”

Boardwalk Empire — Outstanding Period/Fantasy TV Series

HBO

Who: Lisa Padovani
What: Daughter Maitland’s Onyx Club performance ensemble
When: Boardwalk Empire Season 4, Episode 6: “The North Star”
Where: Custom-made with Costume Detail West fabrics, and hundreds of Swarovski crystals

Why: “It was important that Daughter dazzled for this moment because this is the point when Chalky White realizes he’s fallen in love with her,” Padovani told BuzzFeed. “Margot Bingham, who plays Daughter, had complete trust in us and loved how she looked and felt in the costume, which truly enhanced her performance.”

“We used every scrap of fabric and attached crystals until the moment she had to be on camera. Given the time parameters, it was a Herculean but extremely successful effort on the part of our costume team. I always say, it’s not finished until we roll — and then sometimes we will still tweak!”

The 16th Annual Costume Designer Guild Awards will be handed out on Feb. 22.

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