Francine Jamison-Tanchuck first picked up a needle and thread when she was seven years old. After getting her degree in fashion merchandising and design, she landed an apprenticeship working in different costume shops at the major studios, which is where she saw the impact of costume design firsthand.
She has a vivid memory of handling one dress in particular, a period gown worn by Vanessa Redgrave in 1967's Camelot. "The costume was made out of pumpkin seeds!" she gushes of the John Truscott design, for which he had won an Oscar for Best Costume Design at the 40th Oscars. "It was absolutely amazing."
Jamison-Tanchuck counts legendary costume designers Edith Head, Ann Roth and Aggie Guerard Rodgers as mentors, the latter of whom she assisted on Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985). (Rodgers received an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design for her work on that film.) "I would assist her in fittings," Jamison-Tanchuck says. "But my main job was to go into costume houses and pull vintage outfits."
With Edward Zwick's Glory (1989), Jamison-Tanchuck made her feature debut as a costume designer. In the decades since, she has forged a remarkable career, working on films like White Men Can't Jump (1992) and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993) and more recently, Just Mercy (2019) and One Night in Miami... (2020).
Her latest project returns her to The Color Purple, serving as the costume designer on director Blitz Bazawule's musical adaptation of Alice Walker's seminal novel. "It's come back again full circle," she says. "It's just... wow. What a journey for me. I've just had an amazing, amazing career."
Below, Jamison-Tanchuck shares with A.frame the five films that have had the biggest influence on her.
Directed by: Otto Preminger | Costume Design by: Mary Ann Nyberg
Carmen Jones is one of the films that had an impact on me when I was pretty young. I remember watching it when it was on TV and seeing these beautiful women of color that were not in a maid's uniform. It's with Dorothy Dandridge, and Pearl Bailey was in it, and Diahann Carroll, and of course, the handsome Harry Belafonte. There was just something about that film. To see the colorful and sexy outfits they were wearing even in that era, I thought, 'These women are gorgeous!'
Directed by: Joshua Logan | Costume Design by: Norma Koch
Another one I remember from when I was young was Sayonara, with the wonderful Miiko Taka and Marlon Brando. I think Miiko Taka had a quiet strength, and Carmen Jones, she had a more vivacious strength. But both of these women were entertainers in a way, and they were able to make their own life without having to totally depend on someone else to do it for them. But the costumes in those two movies, they were just so mesmerizing for me that I can still remember [them] after all these many years.
Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci | Costume Design by: James Acheson
Jim Acheson is just an incredible costume designer, and The Last Emperor is really inspirational for me. I was able to meet him when I ended up going into London to research costumes for Glory. He was taking some of the costumes to a museum in China. It was the headdress that he had built and designed, it was going to a museum in Hong Kong. That was in the late '80s, but I remember how incredible that movie was.
Directed by: Robert Wise | Costume Design by: Dorothy Jeakins
The Sound of Music had an impact on me as far as the costumes, believe it or not, and that was a musical. The way they were freely able to move around in them, and how the costume designer had the individual personalities of all the children, I thought that was pretty interesting.
Directed by: George Roy Hill | Costume Design by: Edith Head
Another one for me was The Sting, because I was able to work with the famous Edith Head. I called her Miss Head; I wouldn't dare call her Edith, especially in those days. She had such a presence and such knowledge, and she was able to really express what her idea of this costume should be. This is a little woman of stature, but I was looking at how the director and producers just were amazed by her. They took note. They wouldn't dare challenge her. It was kind of amazing to see her able to do that.
We were shooting outside on Universal's backlot and it was cold, rainy, and a lot of the vintage shoes were falling apart. My job was to go around and at least try to salvage some of them or give the actors new shoes. I remember I had these two big satchels on me, and I was in my rain poncho, and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, are we ever going to get rid of this rain?'
But to see Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and I think the designs are just — you can't say enough about them.