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At the 25th Costume Designers Guild Awards (CDGAs) on Feb. 27 at L.A.’s Fairmont Century Plaza, special honorees will include costume designers Deborah L. Scott (Avatar: The Way of Water) and Rachael M. Stanley (Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Ally McBeal); Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Oscar nominee Angela Bassett, who will receive the Spotlight Award; and Bette Midler, who will be recognized with the Distinguished Collaborator Award.
Midler jokes with THR that the Costume Designers Guild award recognizes her “willingness to stand in front of a mirror for hours on end! What could be more delightful?” All kidding aside, Midler continues, “A great costume is like a second skin; you feel as if you belong in it. It’s very freeing because it provides so much information to the audience, and you don’t have to work so hard.”
Midler got an early taste of the work that goes into costume design when she made her Broadway debut in 1967 as Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof. “I started my performing life in rags, literally,” she recalls. “When I played on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof in the ’60s, I had the chance to examine costumes made by a master, the great Pat Zipprodt. Every piece of clothing was aged, and the skirts were weighted so that they hung properly on the body and moved beautifully during the dances. I had never seen such care and attention to detail, and it made a huge impression on me. I realized costume could carry character a long way, and certainly that it could affect audiences without them quite knowing why.”
Over her storied career, she’s worked with many of the greats in the field of costume design including Robert DeMora, Theoni V. Aldredge, Rosanna Norton, Albert Wolsky and Bob Mackie.
It was DeMora who she worked with closely on costumes for the stage shows during her “Divine Miss M” days. “Bob DeMora was my partner in crime from the ’70s on, and we used to laugh ourselves silly with some of the outfits we conjured up; the mermaid tails, of course, but for the Palace dates in 1972, he made me a set of waitress costumes for the Harlettes that unzipped to reveal the American Flag, and when they stepped out of them, they were wearing dainty little slips. Hilarious. I’m a sucker for a costume that can do more than one thing,” says Midler.
Most recently, she paired up with designer Sal Perez, a 2023 CDGA nominee for Hocus Pocus 2, on updating the sumptuous dress that her character Winifred Sanderson wore in the original 1993 film. “It’s so exciting for him, and he is a just doll,” says Midler of Perez. “We had so much fun, and although audiences have been familiar with that Mary Vogt costume for 30 years, it needed that extra Sal Perez touch of love to update it. He added sparkling stones, a ton of hand painting, plenty of layers of chiffon in very intense colors, and wool for warmth, because we were in Rhode Island in the winter. I adore that costume, although it takes 45 minutes to get into!”
Asked to name some of her favorite costumes of her storied career, she says, “I’ve loved them all, really. That said, I loved Hocus Pocus, everything I wore in Santo Loquasto’s Hello Dolly [on Broadway], Ann Roth’s caftan for Sue Mengers in I’ll Eat You Last, and Constance Hoffman’s costumes for The Showgirl Must Go On [Vegas residency] and Kiss My Brass [concert tour], especially my ‘Tattoo’ dress. Brilliant and beautiful.”
Back in 2011, Midler auctioned a number of her costumes in a sale at Julien’s. Even so, she says she still has many in her personal collection: “Too many to count!” This May, the star will auction a few of the items in another Julien’s auction, and she has donated costumes as well. “I gave a couple of things to the Academy Museum, all from The Rose, the first picture I made. Theoni Aldredge was the designer.”
When it boils down to, says Midler — having collaborated with so many talented costumers over the years — is “respect. I love all handicrafts. My mom was brilliant. She made all our clothes for years. So when I meet a costume designer, I know that they come with huge stores of knowledge of fabric, construction, history, psychology, decoration … and I respect that knowledge. They always know more than you.”
As for what she will wear to accept the CDGA Distinguished Collaborator Award on Monday night, Midler was undecided 12 days before, but teased, “I’m still trying to come up with something worthy of the occasion! Maybe I’ll wear something from the archive!”
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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