It tells the story of a Public Works Department official grappling with a terminally ill diagnosis when Sandy Powell begins researching the costume for “Alive”. This is the moment when you slowly begin to shake off the need and hardship. But it also portends the explosion of cultural expression that will trigger her tumultuous sixties fashion revolution. These weren’t the most colorful times, dress-wise.
So Powell looked at newsreels, street photography, magazines, as well as specific films made during the period, such as Lady Killers, Fallen Idol, and Passport to Pimlico. And she avoided certain publications.
“I hadn’t seen a copy of Vogue,” says Powell. “I wanted to see real people and how they lived in those times.
Powell reasoned that Williams, a civil servant whose health crisis was at the center of his “life,” would prefer to dress sensibly, with an emphasis on endurance rather than dignity.
“This was after the war, so few people would have rushed to buy new clothes,” says Powell. “Only very wealthy people would have done so, and Williams, of course, isn’t particularly wealthy. He’s comfortable enough to have his own house in the suburbs. But he’s a little less extravagant.” If so, I’m a big believer in why you should get a new suit.”
So Powell scoured costume rental shops in search of the perfect outfit for Bill Nighy, the actor tasked with bringing the understated, buttoned-up Williams to life onscreen. She found the perfect fit for her vintage 1940s pinstripe dark suit and paired it with her bowler hat.
“I felt like this character was dressed a little bit outdated,” says Powell. “A man his age would wear clothes up to 20.”
For this suit, the texture (heavy wool), color, and style were all perfect, but Nye left one note after trying it on.
“Like back then, he had characteristic broad shoulders,” says Powell. “But Bill felt that the nature of this character, his whole being, was depressing and depressing. He felt that too broad shoulders made him look powerful.”
Powell agreed, taking the suit apart and rebuilding it to fit Nye’s slender frame more closely. In “Living,” Williams is spurred in part to embrace life more fully by his friendship with Margaret, a young secretary in the Public Works Department, played enthusiastically by Amy Lou Wood. Powell knew Wood’s outfit would be a welcome contrast to Williams’ more down-to-earth look: In one of her pivotal scenes, Margaret wore a yellow dress adorned with flower branches. is wearing
“Margaret is the sunshine of that world,” says Powell. “She has her freshness and lightness to her. I wanted to use her color just to convey her youth and vitality.”
During her stellar career, Powell won three Oscars and traveled from the early days of Hollywood (“The Aviator”) to the glam-rock era (“Velvet Goldmine”) to 18th-century Scotland (“Rob Roy”). We moved seamlessly back and forth between different times. ). She says she’s most at home trying to unearth the past with her fabrics, rather than dressing actors in the latest fashions.
“I think modern costumes are harder than they were in the era,” says Powell. It’s about exploring that era and learning a lot about what you don’t know, and that’s what I love.”
Ultimately, her goal is the same, whether set in present-day or 1950s London.
“Costume design is all about revealing a character through the choice of clothes and how they are worn,” says Powell. “That’s the job.”