Get all the scoop on the costume design process -- straight for the creative source!

By Sarah Kinonen
Updated February 23, 2016 06:56 PM

Like all Oscar-nominated individuals, costume designer Sandy Powell is grateful the recognition. But just don’t ask the 12-time nominee and three-time winner what she thinks about so-called “Oscar buzz.”

Credit: David M. Benett/WireImage

David M. Benett/WireImage

“I hate it when the buzz starts before the nomination,” Powell tells People. “I always tell people to stop talking about it because it’s not fair and it might not happen. I try not to pay any attention to it.”

Powell, who is a double Oscar nominee this year for her costume design on Carol and Cinderella, prefers instead to talk about her inspiration for the work in question and specifically, the women who wore it.

“I got two amazing actors to work with [on Carol], so really you couldn’t ask for better with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara,” Powell says about the stars of the 1950s set love story. “They have their own personal style and are confident around clothes and that really helps a costume designer, it really helps when you’re trying to decide what we’re going to do with the characters. Both of these women are really great at putting something on and knowing how to wear it and making the clothes come to life, that was really exciting.”

Credit: Wilson Webb/The Weinstein Company; Sandy Powell

Wilson Webb/The Weinstein Company; Sandy Powell

The British designer particularly enjoyed being able to create vintage designer clothing for Blanchett’s wealthy character, Carol.

“That was the dream part about it, was that Carol’s character is a woman of means who could actually afford nice clothes,” she says. “She is actually described as looking exquisite, somebody who could be wearing high fashion looking gorgeous, that is a designer’s dream really, all the excuses.”

Credit: Wilson Webb/The Weinstein Company; Sandy Powell

Wilson Webb/The Weinstein Company; Sandy Powell

Powell says she was inspired by the high fashion featured in 1950s issues of Vogue and Harper Bazaar for Carol’s clothing, and looked to general period photography for Mara’s character, Therese.

“It was everything from those magazines and fashion photographers from the period for the feel of it, not necessarily copying the exact clothes but just for feel and palate,” Powell explains. “For Therese, that was more looking at photography from the period, of real people in real situations, because her character recently left college and works part time at a department store, she has limited resources. Her clothes were sort of what she could afford and not so many of them.”

Credit: Wilson Webb/The Weinstein Company; Sandy Powell

Wilson Webb/The Weinstein Company; Sandy Powell

While Powell had to work within those time and character-specific limitations on Carol, there were practically no restrictions to what she created for her other Oscar-nominated work, the Kenneth Branagh-directed, live-action fairytale, Cinderella.

“It was fun to not have to adhere to a rulebook of what is correct for the period,” she says. “You could really let your imagination run wild, which was great. I started by watching the animated film, because I don’t remember seeing it but I must have done because you kind of know all the images. I watched it once and thought okay that’s interesting.”

Sandy Powell 'Cinderella' sketches

Disney Enterprises; Jonathan Olley/Walt Disney Stu

Powell says she didn’t think about it again until after she finished work on Cinderella — in which Blanchett also stars — and realized that certain aspects from the Disney classic seeped into her subconscious in addition to the references she used directly.

“I did know I wanted the prince in white for the ball scene and he’s wearing a white jacket in the animation,” she recalls. “Cinderella’s dress did end up blue although I hadn’t started out assuming it was going to be blue, I thought I would try some other color. I came back to blue because blue just seemed the best color and I don’t think it could have been any other color. With the stepsisters and their stepmother, the sisters in the animation wear identical clothes but in different colors, so I took that. You have to remember that it has to appeal to very young people as well as adults, so for kids it’s just easier. ‘That’s the sister in pink and that’s the sister in yellow and they wear the same thing.’ They are like a double act anyway,” she adds. “So I kind of took that lead.”

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Credit: Disney Enterprises; Jonathan Olley/Walt Disney Studios

Disney Enterprises; Jonathan Olley/Walt Disney Stu

So what part of the costume design process is the most satisfying for the designer?

“The fitting process is the most interesting part,” says Powell. “The designing doesn’t happen with a piece of paper and a pencil. It happens in the fitting room trying things on, making changes, accessorizing, or when you find a key piece and you have that moment in a fitting when you’ve found the right combination of things, the, ‘Oh, there she is’ [moment]. That’s probably that’s the most exciting bit for both the designer and the actor.”

Sandy Powell Cate Blanchett 'Carol' Sketches

Sandy Powell; Wilson Webb/The Weinstein Company

Looking back at her storied career and how she ended up in costume design, Powell can pinpoint the film that started it all.

“It was Death in Venice, which I saw when I was 14,” Powell recalls of seeing the 1971 Italian-French drama. “It was all big hats and gorgeousness. [Star] Dirk Bogarde in the white linen suit on the beach — that was the one.”

Powell contends that she was always interested in clothes and fashion, but didn’t realize she could make it a career until much later.

“As a very small kid I used to make my own fashion books, magazines, and make dolls clothes and stuff like that,” she recalls. “Clothes have always been around me. I went to art school and I kind of knew I didn’t want to do fashion. I was more interested in the theatre, so that’s what I started out in, the theater, and then moved into film. I was more interested in doing characters and telling stories I think than actually just making pretty clothes.”

What did you think of the costumes in Carol? What about the designs in Cinderella? Do you think Powell should win? Share below!

–Kara Warner