"I will be very honest," confesses the legendary costumer Jenny Beavan. "I really don't ever think of being influenced by a film, either for my designs or in terms of my career!"
Which isn't to discount her love of cinema. You have to in order to build a career like the one Beavan has: The London-born costume designer began her career in the late '70s, working on Merchant Ivory films in India. In the decades since, Beavan has won the Oscar for Best Costume Design on three occasions: For 1985's A Room With a View (shared with collaborator John Bright), 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road, and 2021's Cruella, among 12 nominations in total.
"I have admired many a film, and they have stayed with me due to a powerful story and the message behind that story, but I have never thought I must emulate the look in any way," explains Beavan. "I design according to the story, the needs of the characters, and the actors involved. I don't want it to look like anyone else's work, or indeed, I don't want to put my 'mark' on it — I just want the clothes of whatever period and type to be totally appropriate to the character."
Her latest Oscar nomination comes for Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, a wistful fashion fantasy that tasked Beavan with recreating a Dior couture collection on a modest budget. ("Modest is a polite way of putting it!") That, in addition to working in an unfamiliar country, Hungary, under COVID-era safety protocols. "This nomination is particularly thrilling, as this film was made under challenging conditions and the nomination is really a celebration of my extraordinary crew!" she says, adding, "I think we are a resilient bunch, us costume designers. So, we just made it work!"
In the same way that Beavan's own work has always revolved around her love of storytelling, the films that have most impacted her throughout her life all have one thing in common: A great story. Below, she shares with A.frame, "a list of some of the films I have never forgotten."
Directed by: Jean Renoir | Costume Design by: René Decrais
La Grande Illusion is an amazing film made in 1937 about the futility of war, and is deeply appropriate today. You simply connect with the characters, which I think I do more in an old film made on film and no visual effects, because for me, it is a truer form of cinematic storytelling.
Directed by: John Lasseter | Character Designer: Bud Luckey
Extraordinarily imaginative, fun, and dark. It may be animation, or motion capture, whatever the technique is, but I really connected with the characters, and even had a Buzz Lightyear model for some time! What a character!
Directed by: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi | Costume Design by: Haruki Koketsu
Drive My Car is a fascinatingly immersive piece of cinema. I watched it twice, which is almost unheard of for me. I can't even remember which language it was made in, as I just believed and understood it.
Directed by: Luchino Visconti | Costume Design by: Piero Tosi
This one is a costume tour de force. I was blown away by the extraordinary Piero Tosi's work, and wanted to be as good but not copy him. Anyway, I was never asked to do the costumes for a remake — the only way that situation would have arisen. Still, The Leopard is a wonderful, unforgettable film!
Directed by: Andrzej Wajda | Costume Design by: Katarzyna Chodorowicz
Incredible photography and so vivid in black-and-white. You 'see' red blood on the sheets at the end. I think all these films must have impeccable costumes, as I don't remember ever being 'jarred' by anything.
There are tons more, and often from the early days, and often war or spy films — they have such good stories!