Jacqueline Durran, Mark Bridges Talk Costume Designers' Art at Sketch to Screen Panel

Eric Charbonneau
From left: Deborah Landis, Jacqueline Durran, April Napier, Jennifer Johnson, Luis Sequeira, Nadine Haders and Mark Bridges

The UCLA panel was presented by Swarovski.

“Costume design is as specific as you and you and you,” Deborah Nadoolman Landis said as she pointed at audience members. “Everyone is wearing an amalgam of themselves.”

On the eve of the 2018 Academy Awards, this year's leading costume designers gathered in the James Bridges Theater at UCLA for the eighth annual Sketch to Screen Costume Design and Celebration panel to discuss the importance of their craft and to share their industry experience.

Moderated by Landis, panelists included Oscar nominees Mark Bridges, Luis Sequeira and Jacqueline Durran. Joining them were Nadine Haders, Jennifer Johnson and April Napier, all of whom worked on films that received Academy Award mentions this year.

The conversation centered on the themes of teamwork and respect, as many of the designers stressed that it is vital to be able to think on your feet and to develop strong relationships with producers and costumers.

Durran, nominated twice for her designs in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour and Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, believes that it comes down to collaboration.

“The job is awful if you don’t feel you’re collaborating as a team across the board," she said. "I enjoy working on films because I’m part of a team, and if that’s not working, I think that would feel terrible.”

It was also the characters' signature outfits and the intense conditions that the designers worked in that reinforced their positions as leaders in the industry.

Sequeira recalled the difficulty of using wool to create outfits for scenes in The Shape of Water — which features moments filmed during a windstorm and torrential downpour.

“We had to wear goggles because the sand was blowing sideways in our faces,” Sequeira said. “We could see these clothes start to shrink. I could see the lining starting to open, and I’m a nut for detail. So every night, we created a wind room and we had someone working, pulling that stuff back out.”

Unlike the weeks of preparation other designers were given, Haders fit almost all of the actors the day before filming for Get Out began.

“We shot the film in 23 days!” she said. “My crew was three local girls. That was a challenge because I had to be the teacher and the hand-holder and do my job. What it taught me was the lesson of getting back to basics and being very grounded.”

Using creativity and extensive research to achieve historical accuracy was what helped other panelists create their detailed designs.

“I went to look for the fabric, which we couldn’t find, and so then we had the fabric woven,” Durran said while describing the process of making Gary Oldman’s pink pajamas and bathrobe for Darkest Hour. “We had it done in two different shades because it wasn’t quite sure prior to weaving how it would turn out.”

Johnson spent weeks searching on eBay and elsewhere on the internet to ultimately find a family portrait and home video on Vimeo that gave her the insight to create the signature raccoon fur coat Allison Janney wore as Tonya Harding’s mother in I, Tonya.

“Her mother was very abusive and we know that for a fact," said Johnson. "But she tried. And she came from that generation of women that wanted to put their best coat on with their best dress. And so that fur coat, as she sort of mentally unraveled, represented a sort of old-fashioned, old-school way of presenting herself to the world.”

The panelists agreed that despite the difficulties of working with tight budgets and less than ideal conditions, the most important part is to stay true to the overall vision of the film.

“Just keeping an open dialogue is so important with producers and standing firmly in your belief and in your conviction with what you need — I find nine times out of 10, I win. My job is to do service to the film,” said Haders.