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HomeAwardsAward Contender-Colleen Atwood, Memoirs of a Geisha

Award Contender-Colleen Atwood, Memoirs of a Geisha

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When approaching the design for Memoirs of a Geisha, costume designer Colleen Atwood looked not only to pre-war Japanese geisha fashion but also to the country’s impressionist art for inspiration. “I went to Japan and saw the work of Yumeji Takehisa, which dates from the beginning of the Taisho Period and Keiko Period, and his art was exactly the feeling I wanted the kimonos to have, the whole silhouette of the film,” says Atwood. “It was a great feeling to see that, and to find an artist of the time that had the same sort of mood I was envisaging.”In keeping with the movie’s ethic, rather than adhering exactly to historical detail, Atwood chose to use artistic license in her designs. “We wanted to make it a theatrical film, and to establish that right away,” she says, noting that the kimonos were being worn by actors much taller than the average Japanese woman.“It’s a very subtle culture. It’s so low key, that for the film we exaggerated it a great deal,” she continues. In fact, she says, she “took total liberties. Most of the things that they wore in the film, real geishas wouldn’t wear. It’s much more extravagant, because we had to tell a story and deal with film and an impression of the time.”The contrast in character between the firecracker geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li) and the serene Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) provided Atwood with an opportunity to play with some of the designs. “Hatsumomo had a huge amount of flair, and that was a lot of fun. Her clothes weren’t quiet. Mameha presented a certain elegance and quietness that probably isn’t going to be noticed as much as the other characters. It’s always complicated to design for a character like that, who is elegant in a quieter way.”Designing kimonos for the first time presented the Oscar-winning designer with a steep learning curve. “You get a job and you have four months to get it together, about a world that people study for their whole lives,” she says. “We began by deconstructing the typical kimono and making it more sensual, in keeping with the film.” Antique fabrics and materials were sourced from various places around the world for her designs. “I used very few actual kimonos on principles, one of the main reason being because they were made for very small people. So I tried to duplicate them in our workshop. We found rolls of kimono fabric from Japan that we painted on, embroidered and embellished. The really elegant geisha and formal kimonos were all custom-made.” No mean feat since each kimono outfit consists of 12 separate pieces.Atwood set up a mammoth 8,000-square-foot workshop in Los Angeles for the duration of the film. “We needed a lot of space because of the textile department and making shoes and jewelry in-house as well as making the costumes and storing them,” she says.Since Memoirs, Atwood has completed costume design for Mission Impossible III and recently spent six months designing costumes for the Ringling Bros’ new circus production.2006: Nominated, Academy Award for best achievement in costume design Memoirs of a Geisha; Nominated, BAFTA Film Award for best costume design Memoirs of a Geisha; Nominated, CDG Award for excellence in costume design for film – period Memoirs of a Geisha; 2005: Nominated, Academy Award for best achievement in costume design Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events; Won, CDG Award for excellence in costume design for film – period/fantasy Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events; Nominated, Satellite Award for outstanding costume design Memoirs of a Geisha; 2003: Won, Academy Award for best costume design Chicago; Nominated, BAFTA Film Award for best costume design Chicago; Won, CDG Award for excellence in costume design for film – period/fantasy Chicago; 2002: Nominated, BAFTA Film Award for best costume design Planet of the Apes; Nominated, CDG Award for excellence in costume design for film – period/fantasy Planet of the Apes; Nominated, Golden Satellite Award for best costume design Planet of the Apes; Nominated, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Award for best costumes Planet of the Apes; 2000: Nominated, Academy Award for best costume design Sleepy Hollow; Won, BAFTA Film Award for best costume design Sleepy Hollow; Won, CDG Award for excellence in costume design for film – period/fantasy Sleepy Hollow; Won, Golden Satellite Award for best costume design Sleepy Hollow; Nominated, Saturn Award for best costumes Sleepy Hollow; 1999: Nominated, Academy Award for best costume design Beloved; Nominated, CDG Award for excellence in costume design for film Beloved; Nominated, Golden Satellite Award for best motion picture costume design Beloved; 1998: Nominated, Saturn Award for best costumes Gattaca; 1997: Nominated, Saturn Award for best costumes Mars Attacks!; 1995: Nominated, Academy Award for best costume design Little Women; Nominated, BAFTA Film Award for best costume design Little Women; 1992: Nominated, BAFTA Film Award for best costume design Edward Scissorhands; Nominated, Saturn Award for best costumes Edward Scissorhands; Nominated, Saturn Award for best costumes The Silence of the Lambs

Written by Sam Molineaux

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