The Lists: Top 10 film wardrobes designed by Colleen Atwood

Posted by · 6:00 am · May 29th, 2012

“As a designer, you have to solve a lot of problems. Even though people are wearing clothes that are supposed to look beautiful, they’ll have to do all kinds of things.” So says leading Hollywood costume designer Colleen Atwood, and she knows whereof she speaks: among the many things her overachieving clothes have done over the years, they’ve won her three Academy Awards, three BAFTAs and an unmatched six Costume Designers’ Guild Awards. Whatever the problem facing a designer may be, she appears to have solved it. And we get to see her in action in two of this summer’s releases: Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” and Rupert Sanders’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” for which Kris interviewed her a couple of weeks ago

Even at their most lavishly decorative — the busily printed, crinoline-molded Red Queen ensembles in “Alice in Wonderland,” for example, or the copious ruffles and bows of “Little Women” — Atwood’s costumes are almost always active, moving, doing.

Rarely do they hang serenely still upon clotheshorse actors for the camera to admire, though that’s partly because she favors such restless filmmakers as collaborators: Jonathan Demme, Rob Marshall and, of course, Tim Burton have required Atwood’s costumes not merely to prettily drape their mise-en-scène, but to run with scenes, informing and enabling actors’ physicality.

Not for nothing did Atwood get her big break designing stage outfits for a Sting tour in the 1980s — an arena she returned to for My Chemical Romance a couple of years ago. Atwood understands costumes as performance wear, as she also demonstrated with her flashy-but-unfussy dancers’ garb in “Chicago,” which won the designer her first Oscar. And much of her best work is infused with a touch of rock-star excess and drama: check out the glam beetle-wing detailing on one of Charlize Theron’s “Snow White” outfits, as revealed in the gallery accompanying Kris’ interview.

With Atwood’s creativity so prominently on our screens this month, it seemed appropriate to make it the focus of this week’s Top 10 list, as we round up some of the greatest film wardrobes from a career spanning four decades. It turned out to be more difficult to narrow down than I had anticipated: I was surprised to find myself leaving out some of her most ornate (and awards-honored) work in favour of subtler ensembles that serve their films in equally exciting ways. Atwood’s contemporary costuming is particularly underappreciated: amid her sundry period and fantasy explosions, not everyone remembers that, between “Manhunter” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” she created the indelible first impression of Hannibal Lecter for film audiences.

Another unexpected outcome of the list: while Atwood is most famed for her many wild collaborations with Tim Burton, which naturally occupy more than one spot on the list below, her partnership with another filmmaker scored even more prominently. Meanwhile, the most regular of all Atwood’s partners in crime is Johnny Depp, whom the designer has dressed not only for Tim Burton, but in “Public Enemies,” “The Rum Diary” and “The Tourist” too — so the actor scores as many spots on the list as any director.

Check out the list in the gallery below and feel free to rate the selections as you go. Be sure to share your own thoughts, or even your own list, in the comments below.

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