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How To Create a Great Costume Design

Costume Design

In the introduction to her book, Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design, Deborah Nadoolman Landis sums up the job of the costume designer: “Ultimately, a costume must perfectly describe the individual for whom it was designed—not the superficial shell of a character but the outward expression of inner experience, the concrete manifestation of the character’s self-image.” Costume design extends beyond the realm of fashion and personal style. Unconcerned with setting trends, the costume designer aims to add depth and believability to the identities of the characters in the film. A compelling character transcends the screen and leaves a lasting impression upon the audience.

The clips above from the Academy’s Visual History Program collection offer insights and anecdotes from four industry veterans: costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers (Beetlejuice, The Rainmaker, The Color Purple), production designer Wynn Thomas (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man), writer-director Luis Valdez (La Bamba, Zoot Suit), and film editor Thelma Schoonmaker (Raging Bull, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street).

See more from cinema’s most accomplished designers at the Academy’s Hollywood Costume exhibition, closing March 2.

Learn more about the Academy oral history initiatives.