'Mad Max' Costume Designer Jenny Beavan on Her Oscar Win: "I Don’t Mind in the Least If They Didn't Clap"
The self-professed “older lady from London” is proud of her best costume design accomplishment and doesn’t mind if people misinterpreted her 'Mad Max' homage in her Oscar outfit: "People don’t have to clap for you, they don’t have to like the work."
One of the bigger viral videos to come out of Feb. 28’s Oscar ceremony was a Vine viewed over 37 million times (see below) that captured the audience’s response — or lack thereof — when Mad Max: Fury Road costume designer Jenny Beavan walked down the aisle of the Dolby Theatre to accept her award from presenter Cate Blanchett. Beavan has been nominated a total of 10 times and now has two wins (her first was for A Room With a View), and walked up to the Oscar podium wearing a bedazzled motorcycle jacket, striped scarf, pants and boots. The Revenant director Alejandro G. Inarritu appeared nonplussed, his arms crossed; Spotlight director Tom McCarthy did a double-take; others just weren’t clapping. (In his defense, Inarritu, who meant no harm in his delayed applause, which wasn't captured in the Vine but did indeed happen, has gone on the record to say, "I’ve learned a lot this awards season … that I should never cross my arms when I am sitting down.")
It was a controversial bookend to Beavan’s win at the BAFTAs, during which host Stephen Fry jokingly called her a “bag lady.” (Beavan was in on the joke; she and Fry are good friends.) Beavan — who, in addition to her Oscar and BAFTA wins, also took home the Fantasy prize at the Costume Designers Guild Awards, where her reception was thunderous — unapologetically and exclusively explains her Oscar outfit to The Hollywood Reporter and her hopes that it has “a positive effect on how women feel about themselves."
I am a real jeans person. I have clothes to dress up in, but [the Oscars] was a really conscious thing of not just doing the plain black suit. I am British with a slightly rebellious character; I always have been. But, actually, in truth, you’ve seen me. I’m short, I’m fat. I really would look ridiculous in a gown. What I was actually wearing at the Oscars was sort of an homage to Mad Max — a kind of biker outfit. I thought, “If I can’t beat them, or if I can’t sort of join them, then why not try doing something a little bit fun?” And George [Miller] loved it. The [vegan] leather jacket had the Immorten Joe symbol on the back and I was just giving a little wink to Mad Max.
The Academy didn't say anything about a strict dress code. I think it may have said to wear black tie, but you know nothing about whether you must wear heels, not like in Cannes where apparently any woman who walks down the red carpet has to wear heels. I was furious about that! I mean, come on, it’s crazy. When I was nominated [for an Oscar] for The King's Speech I just wore a black Chinese jacket and matching trousers that was made for me by Jane Law, who also made Lily James’ Cinderella costume [designed by fellow nominee Sandy Powell]. Jane made me that suit and that was fine. But this year I was trying to do something more fun. All I heard were nice comments as I walked out and, obviously, some people quite liked it. My daughter and son-in-law said the response was absolutely amazing in the room and there was enormous warmth.
I just think I was quite slow. It is so easy to trip, even though I was wearing a sensible pair of boots. I just wanted to take it slowly. And, honestly, I didn’t clap the whole time [during the ceremony] — your hands get tired. We had done a huge amount of clapping by that time. They didn't have to! I don’t mind in the least if they didn't clap. I felt really good, I felt the warmth, I was so proud of doing the film for George and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought, really.
I do think the reaction I had received when I won at the Costume Designers Guild was different because it was a room of my peers in the guild. I think what they were pleased about was that Mad Max was so different from what is perceived as my normal body of work [on period films]. And it is. This is why I was so thrilled to get this recognition, because I had done a breakout at this point in my career and in a way it was something I had always wanted to do. What a brilliant project to do it on. What I was offered was this incredible chance to bring what was in George’s mind to life, which was just visually bonkers. I think that was recognized — that we had actually done something really special and original. And here I am, this older lady from London, doing something quite different. And I think my Oscar outfit succeeded to some extent because I think the majority in the audience seemed to like it. And if I ever happen to get nominated for an Oscar again, I’ll probably wear something a little more in line with the film. But it will always be trousers, because there is absolutely no way I would frighten the L.A. natives with my legs.
The reaction has been slightly frightening, but thank God I don’t do social media. My Oscar is out on the table and we are patting it as we pass by, but I am just having a little moment. By the time I get back to London, hopefully everything will be settled down and I’ll get back to normal.
I have to say, once the BAFTA furor died down, I can only thank Stephen Fry. He has sent me the most lovely emails and that’s all good. I made a conscious decision that I was going to do the same thing at the Oscars that I had at the BAFTAs [with my outfit]. I was absolutely doing it as an homage to the film — and I don't have any sense that anyone in the Academy didn't appreciate it. I really do think things will all calm down, but the only thing I would like is for my outfit to have a positive effect on what women feel about themselves. You don’t actually have to look like a supermodel to be successful. If that could be a takeaway, I think that would be a good thing. It is really good to have a positive feeling about yourself, because then you can do anything. People don’t have to clap for you; they don’t have to like the work.
The below Vine video captures Inarritu with arms folded as Beavan descends down the aisle.
The below GIPHY video captures Inarritu clapping as Beavan ascends the stairs to accept her Oscar.