November 15, 2017

Anna Wyckoff

Two decades of collaboration between Costume Designer Sandy Powell and director Todd Haynes has resulted in a shorthand which blends style and vision. “I know what interests him and what’s important to him,” Powell notes. “Also, I know that whatever Todd gets to do is going to be something visually exciting.”

Wonderstruck is no exception. Based on the novel by Brian Selznick, who also penned the screenplay, the film follows two children Rose (Millicent Simmonds) and Ben (Oakes Fegley) in different time periods, who want to change their lives. Since the magical movie moves quickly between the twenties and the seventies, Powell worked hard to make each era’s look distinct.

Because the principles have a single outfit throughout the movie, Powell tried to make each costume a singular testament to their character. Also, since there were extensive crowd scenes, the leads had to be immediately identifiable. Much time was spent sourcing key vintage pieces. “I like to be part of that process myself,” says Powell, “so I’ve seen and touched every single costume. That really helps me get my head around the period, what exactly makes 1927, and what exactly makes 1977.”

There were unique challenges because the half of the film set in the twenties was shot in black and white. Powell found that designing costumes for those scenes meant more than just seeing how colors are transposed into shades of grey. “You learn which colors work together, but also that it isn’t entirely about color. It has to do with contrasting tone and texture as well, and I put together looks based on that,” she says. Powell also confided that although it was not necessary that the colors of the costumes look appealing in person, she couldn’t bear for them not to. The result is a visual puzzle that she solved by contrasting both tint and texture.

Powell explains, “I like to take risks and Todd doesn’t do run-of-the-mill.” The end result is a sophisticated film with enough simplicity to appeal to children.

Amazon and Roadside Attractions’ Wonderstruck is in theatres now.

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