If you’ve watched a movie, you’ve probably seen a costume by Colleen Atwood. Unless, that is, you’ve never seen Alice in Wonderland, Edward Scissorhands (pretty much any movie by Tim Burton) or the film she’s been nominated for both a Costume Designers Guild Award and an Oscar this year—Snow White and the Huntsman. But, really, you’ve seen her costumes. Remember those super-gothy, high-collared ensembles in Sweeney Todd (aka Scary Johnny Depp) or the covetable mini dresses Amanda Seyfried wore running alongside Timberlake in In Time? Yep, Atwood. She’s been nominated for ten Academy Awards throughout her career and already has three gold statuettes hanging out on a shelf or mantel space somewhere. It’s virtually impossible not to experience finger cramping while scrolling through her impressive resume, but, suffice it to say, from gloves made of scissors to an entire dress festooned with beetles, she’s pretty much the top of the tops in the world of costume design. Annnnd she’s an incredibly busy woman. So much so, we only got about five minutes with her in anticipation of all of the awards being given out this week. But, to our delight, she willingly opened up about Snow White, what it’s like working with Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, and Charlize Theron, as well as what goes into becoming a costume designer yourself. Get the scoop below!
MTV Style: Hi, Colleen. Thanks so much for giving us the time to discuss your work and congratulations on all of your nominations! How does it feel to be nominated yet again?
It is especially nice to be considered, as it is my peer group and a great night out.
We don’t doubt it. How did Snow White come to be?
I was asked by the director (Rupert Sanders), who I know, and the producer who I’ve worked with on Alice in Wonderland.
How do you typically start the whole design process for a film?
I try to start with a blank page and the script and see what the director wants. [There’s] research and concept art, along with prototypes. The whole process was great because it was about a world, not just a costume. It was the opportunity to create a whole world. The idea of all the layers and different characters appealed to me… and the great cast.
How did you bring that world to life through the character of Snow White? Especially considering it’s a new version of the character.
I wanted a Snow White that people could connect with. The costume had to do a lot of work in rough terrain so I wanted it to feel real, as did Kristen. I wanted the clothes to be strong and not silly.
Not to play costume favorites, but Charlize Theron’s character, the villainous Ravenna, had the most insane costumes in the film. What influenced them?
Her costumes have references of death, which influenced materials from light to dark. Charlize was totally down with going for it, so we had a blast.
Her costumes were so beautifully detailed. I’m thinking specifically of the beetle dress and the cape made of black feathers. Were any of them daunting to build?
The feather cape in the oil scared me, but in the end it was pretty amazing. Each one was very detailed—it was endless—but I think the challenge of making costumes that look beautiful and can do action is the biggest hurdle I had.
It always feels like so much emphasis is placed on the female characters’ costumes when the men’s are often just as intricate and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the layers of leather worn by The Huntsman, which were tactile and masculine, aka total heartthrob territory. Did you consciously try to make his costume appealing in that way or was in more in line with the period and circumstance of his character?
Well, Chris is all of the above with a sensibility that can be overlooked. We were going with function and simplicity, as well as things that could be accessible in the time period.
You have a long history of costuming period fairy tales, like Alice in Wonderland and Sleepy Hollow. Are you done with this genre or are you up for doing more?
Bring it on.
And, lastly, what advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming costume designers?
Work hard, anticipate what is next in the room you are in, and be willing to dig in and do whatever is needed.