Costumes of 'Dark Shadows'

How Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood revived both the 1790s and 1970s to grand gothic effect in Tim Burton's hotly anticipated remake.
Peter Mountain/Warner Bros.

Fans of Tim Burton's films have been eagerly awaiting the May 11 release of Dark Shadows, the director's take on the cult-classic TV series. Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins, an 18th century aristocratic playboy-turned-vampire who is unearthed only to find himself in a strange psychedelic world of disco, television, Nehru jackets and miniskirts.

Incorporating all of the goth creepiness one expects from Burton, the film showcases the talent of costume designer Colleen Atwood in creating eccentric fashions from the buttoned-up 1790s and the campy 1970s.

Atwood knows her way around Burton's Gorey-esque cinematic graveyard, having worked on five of his films including Edward Scissorhands and Alice in Wonderland (for which she won a third Oscar in 2011; her previous wins were for Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha).

 Shadows, she says, includes one of her all-time favorite costumes: Depp's creepy day wear. Because his vampire does not sparkle in the sun like the Twilight variety, it fell to Atwood to devise a suitable costume to protect him from killer rays.

"We didn't want to do a boring black coat," she explains. "So I found a beautiful bottle-green fabric in London, a heavy outerwear wool, and made a coat." Atwood also unearthed period glasses at a London flea market that were perfect, except they were too small. "It was quite an ordeal to get them copied since it was not a standard frame," she says. "And we picked a bright cobalt-blue lens color and even made pointed leather gloves for his long-nailed fingers."

Atwood knew Depp was "born to be Barnabas" from the first fittings. "We had a very early session when he tried on his pointy-finger prosthetics and got a feeling for the hair and '70s suit," she recalls. "It was just me, Johnny, his makeup artist and Tim. We were running around gleefully, taking photos of him. He looked like a rock star."

For the '70s-inspired costumes, Atwood supplemented her memories of that trendy time with period magazine images. For instance, Eva Green's vengeful witch, Angelique, wears costumes reminiscent of a Virginia Slims cigarette ad. "My inspirations were also Ossie Clark, Biba and early YSL pantsuits -- very sleek women's tailoring."

As for Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays the grand dame of the Collins family, she's stuck in an 18th century time warp. "She is very ladylike and still dresses for dinner, telegraphing the family's affluent past," says Atwood. Her costumes are a mix of newly made and vintage, including a black chiffon high-necked dress the costume designer discovered at a Los Angeles thrift store.

Says Atwood: "I could not have come up with anything better. Of course, it fit her perfectly, as everything does."