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Colleen Atwood Discusses “Into The Woods” Oscar Nominated Costumes

Colleen Atwood incorporated 1930s lame into Cinderella’s shimmering gown. Pictured: Anna Kendrick. (photo credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Written by: Marjorie Galas

The characters who venture “Into the Woods” remind themselves that “the woods are just trees, the trees are just wood.” Their garments, however, are far from just “clothing” thanks to acclaimed costume designer Colleen Atwood. Atwood’s eleventh Oscar nomination – and eleventh Costume Designers Guild Award nomination – for “Into the Woods” is a testament to her mastery of colors, textures and sculptural design that’s applied to every character’s costume.

“Into the Woods” reunited Atwood with director Rob Marshall. Their past collaborations of theatrical adaptations resulted in Atwood achieving two Oscar wins (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha) and an additional nomination (Nine). Atwood feels their successful collaborations are a result of a similar creative vision.

“I feel like Rob is a true collaborator in the sense that there is trust and honesty in the process,” said Atwood. “His theatrical background really makes great use of the pre-production process.”

Early in the process Marshall and Atwood had general discussions about fairy tale traditions but chose not to focus on any specific aesthetic points. They also refrained from referencing previous incarnation of “Into the Woods.” As Atwood began conceptualizing the costumes, one primary concern was ensuring the colors played well against the lush sets. After conferring with production designer Dennis Gassner (also an Oscar nominee for “Into the Woods”) Atwood discussed palette choices with cinematographer Dion Beebe prior to shooting, ensuring the colors would remain true in capture and DIT.

Cinderella’s gown particularly benefitted from the discussions with Beebe. Atwood worked to make a direct connection between the gown and the green and golden leaves on her mother’s memorial tree. She used a combination of 30’s lame and silk chiffon: fabric that was elusive, creates highlights in movement, and photographs well in low light.

For the wolf’s elaborately textured coat, Atwood first drew designs inspired by photographs of fur. Using these as inspiration, she hand-embroidered the designs onto a lightweight wool fabric. The ccollar and tail were made of thread stitched together in the same method as wig creation. The design of the costume came directly from the actor’s interpretation of the character.

“With Johnny Depp’s take on the music, he wanted a sort of Tex Avery vibe, which took us right to the zoot suit! We added ears to the fedora and a little fur to the hat band, and claws were sewn on to white leather gloves and the toes of his boots to complete the look,” said Atwood.

Atwood referenced the color of the sky glimpsed through the treetops when crafting Little Red Riding Hood’s dress. She found a bundle of red suede fabric that’s texture was akin to one of her personal favorites – rose petals. Her first design of a fairly traditional cape worked perfectly for the character. To create the Baker’s Wife costume, Atwood took tiny pieces of fabric and pieced them together much like a quilt.

The witch’s costume, worn by Meryl Streep, provided the greatest challenge, for its ability to lift and float in the air was crucial to the character and her physical presence in each scene. After viewing the rehearsal period, Atwood recognized the physical requirements of the costume. With this movement in mind, Atwood selected silk crinkle chiffon with thin leather cord applications and a sheer nylon for the cape to realize the design.

“The witch was a challenge as the movement was key to character. We also had to accommodate the hilly forest floor, so we had different lengths of capes and costumes,” said Atwood. “Meryl is a great collaborator. It is amazing to undergo the design process with someone who considers her costume as a real part of her persona. Once the wind direction was sorted, the costume worked without visual effects thanks to Meryl’s mastering the use and movement of the costume.”

With the aid of her talented team including dyers and textile artist, much of the fabric seen in “Into the Woods” was created. A mixture of hand and machine embroidery was applied to costumes including the Baker’s Wife and Jack’s mother, and fabric application on Jack and the Baker’s trousers. Atwood also drew then hand embroidered the pattern on the costume worn by Cinderella’s step mother. Each costume had one or two fittings and was camera tested prior to production.

Up next: Atwood was the costume designer on the upcoming Michael Mann drama “Blackhat”, and she’s returning to Wonderland in director James Bobin’s “Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass.”