Perhaps the most expected nod this year was Mank, which, with its retelling of the laborious process of Herman J. Mankiewicz’s journey to writing the script for Citizen Kane, was always going to feature heavily come awards season given its deep dive into classic Hollywood lore. It helped, though, that the drama came lavishly and thoughtfully costumed by designer Trish Summerville, whose decade-long working partnership with David Fincher has seen her become a trusted collaborator, especially notable given Fincher’s notoriously exacting approach to constructing the visual worlds of his movies. With stars Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, and Tuppence Middleton all appearing in a never ending series of glitzy draped gowns and delicate silk blouses—not to mention Seyfried’s showstopping majorette costume during a scene set at Hearst Castle—Summerville’s work also provided a welcome note of playfulness within the film’s overall more muted aesthetic.
Indeed, for sheer spectacle alone, it feels fitting that Mulan received one of its two nods for Best Costume Design. With the budget topping $200 million, no expense was spared when it came to the gorgeously realized designs of costumer Bina Daigeler. Whether it was the elaborate armor and battle wear sported by Liu Yifei in the titular role and her fellow fighters, or the medieval Tang Dynasty-inspired robes worn for the courtly set pieces, the dazzling costuming served as an undisputed highlight of a film that otherwise proved divisive with critics. This year’s biggest wild card, meanwhile, was the nomination for Massimo Cantini Parrini’s work on Matteo Garrone’s surrealist, Italian language retelling of Pinocchio, which was rewarded for its stunning visuals with a nod for Best Makeup and Hairstyling too. It’s a deserving, if unexpected, nod: Garrone’s films have often flirted with flamboyant fashion, and with Pinocchio’s deep dive into the darker corners of the fairy tale imagination, its celebration of pure fantasy clearly resonated with voters during a year where a dose of escapism was much-needed.
Still, as with years past, the nominations by and large speak to a specific kind of period film that the Academy finds palatable to reward. One snub in particular that feels glaring is Charlese Antoinette Jones’s impressive work on Judas and the Black Messiah, which blended her meticulous research into the sartorial codes of the Black Panthers with a character-led approach that mixed vintage looks with custom-made pieces, honoring the important historical accuracy of her actors’ wardrobes while still managing to feel exciting and fresh. It’s all the more remarkable upon learning that Judas was one of Jones’s first major studio film, marking her out as a serious talent on the rise. Also missing from the line-up this year were the breathtaking costumes designed by Paolo Nieddu for Lee Daniels’s The United States vs. Billie Holiday, with a series of stunning gowns produced in collaboration with Miuccia Prada, blending period-accurate 1940s and ’50s dress with a touch of more of-the-moment embellished Prada glitz. While it would have made for a worthy contender with its inventive approach to throwback costuming, it seems that the Academy just weren’t feeling the love this time around.
While the costume nods this year may mostly remain within Academy’s comfort zone, and there were still a few notable omissions, it appears the visible progress being made in recognizing a broader pool of talent in the top-line nominations is beginning to slowly catching up in the costumes race too. With the inclusion of a handful of less predictable nods, it isn’t just white-led period dramas dominating the category as in previous years, with attention paid to Black Jazz Age style, historic Chinese dress and a touch of auteur-led Italian high fantasy. There’s still work to be done when it comes to broadening the pool of what the Academy considers a worthy costume nominee, but this year marks an important step forward.