Costume designers finally get their own Academy branch

Posted by · 6:00 pm · January 28th, 2013

I confess it’s news to me that the costume designers of the Academy didn’t already have their own separate voting branch — instead, they’ve always been lumped into a single Designers’ Branch with the production designers, art directors and set decorators. Yet nominees in the Best Costume Design category are often so distinctive — several of them scoring in no other Oscar field, even Best Art Direction — that I’d assumed they were the result of a smaller branch of peers voting.

Costume design has always lagged behind other disciplines at the Oscars: for starters, awards for it were only introduced at the 21st Academy Awards in 1948. And now, 64 years after that, costume designers are getting their own separate voting branch within the Academy.

The new branch will be headed by Academy Governor Jeffrey Kurland, himself a former nominee in the category for Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway.” Naturally, Kurland’s one moment of Academy recognition came for an uncharacteristic period piece. To my eye, he’s one of the outstanding contemporary costume designers in the business, deserving of notice for such artfully dressed modern-day works as “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Inception” and “Erin Brockovich” (which won him a Guild award). Kurland will be joined by two further Governor from the branch, who have yet to be named.

Kurland stated: “History was made at the Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday night with the formation of a Costume Designers Branch. Costume designers have waited a long time for recognition with branch status. As a governor representing these designers, I’m thrilled and grateful for the Academy’s support.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the creation of an individual branch has any visible effect on the voting in the category in future years. Can we expect more outlier nominees in the vein of “Mirror Mirror,” “Across the Universe” and “Bright Star?” And will the Art Direction and Costume Design nominees wind up overlapping less than they tend to do.

Also getting a profile boost from the Academy is the Makeup Artists & Hairstylists Branch, founded in 2006, which will also now be represented by three Academy Governors. Current branch representative Leonardo Engelman (an Emmy-nominated makeup artist whose big-screen credits include “Batman Forever” and “Burlesque”) will be joined by two others in due course.

Academy president Hawk Koch responded as follows to the twin announcements: “Congratulations to our members from these essential craft areas. Movies are a visual medium and costume designers, makeup artists, and hairstylists help to create images that tell stories. This recognition is richly deserved.”

And in one case, I’d add, significantly overdue.

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