Now in its eighth year of trophy dispensing, the Costume Designers Guild (IATSE Local 892) has sought to carve out a refined stop on the awards season bandwagon; refined, that is, relative to the spectacles attempted by most of the season's award givers.
Entering the Beverly Hilton lobby is like stepping into a Hollywood gala on Thorazine. To one side is the red carpet with the risers full of photographers, but the carpet's smaller, the photographers seem less on the brink of desperate madness and scream at the celebrities slightly more quietly. It feels almost civilized.
Making her sixth appearance as hostess is a classy but not flashy pick, Anjelica Huston. While most modern galas work toward making the room seem as hanger-like as possible, over-lighted and with speakers blaring, the costumers seem to have striven to make the Grand Ballroom as intimate as possible, with soothing dark lighting and a big band playing onstage. The effect is to actually make the attendees feel a bit more like they are at a cozy dinner among friends than on the set of a made-for-TV spectacular.
Pre-show cocktails are held in a foyer to the ballroom — a cozy but increasingly packed lounge. Dominating one side of the room is a giant rope of steel wind chimes studded with Swarovski crystal balls.
I ask a woman admiring the installation what she thinks. "I wouldn't mind having it in my backyard," she says.
"But not in your living room?" I press. She smiles politely. The guest is Judith R. Gellman, a veteran costumer designer, attending the awards for the first time. Her long list of credits includes "Adventures in Babysitting," but much more impressive to me is the '70s summer camp classic "Meatballs." Gellman tells me she has just completed work on "Firehouse Dog," for which she had to design not one but four tuxedoes to fit the canine thespians that share the lead role.
Along with seemingly most of the crowd, she is rooting for "Memoirs of a Geisha"; the sumptuous kimonos may not have brought the film many other crowns this awards season, but they make it the heavy favorite here.
The costumesNot surprisingly, the costumers' own ensembles are much more daring than the self-consciously revealing gowns and black ties seen at most galas. Some of the outfits glimpsed: a red dress with a denim jacket, a brown velvet suit and a windbreaker-bolero over a gold gown. "Costumers are uniquely sensitized to the body and adorning the body," I'm told by Louise Coffey-Webb, a fashion professor at Woodbury University in Burbank, who's wearing a clinging, blue vintage gown. A friend of hers, a professor visiting from England, expresses surprise at the pretty nonrisque feeling in the room. "It's not so glamorous as I thought it would be. I expected there would be people in tiaras and lots of bling bling necklaces draped down cleavage."
At the tableSeated at my table, I am delighted to discover former TV bombshell Loni Anderson, here with designer Christopher Lawrence, a nominee in the commercial design category for his work on the Capitol One "Viking" ad campaign. Anderson says it is good to be at one of these events merely "to support." Lawrence recalls that the previous year, he was also nominated and had prepared a speech, only to lose. This year, he has tried to dodge the jinx by arriving speech-less, a decision he now admits is making him fairly nervous. As the table fills up, we find that one of the other nominees in the category has been seated next to him, a circumstance that is only momentarily awkward.
On with the galaThe ceremony opens with a speech from the guild's president, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, striking what becomes the refrain of the evening — a call to remember the importance of the costumer, even in nonperiod works. "There are not costume films and noncostume films," she says. "All films are costume films."
Huston makes short and blessedly shtick-less opening remarks before introducing the first of several tribute films, saluting the year's honorary nominees. This year, the guild is honoring the designers of the 1950s, including William Travilla, "the king of cleavage and pleats," who created most of Marilyn Monroe's famous film dresses. The tribute reels are set to songs like "Sympathy for the Devil."
As the night wears on, the acceptance speeches march past predictably. Danny Glicker, however, accepting his award for "Transamerica," recites an extremely rare formulation when he thanks his "gorgeous agent" — two words that likely have never been used together in the history of awards shows.
TrekkiesThe liveliest clips reels are shown before an honorary award is presented to Robert Blackman, designer for various "Star Trek" series. Blackman takes the stage and reads an earnest, gracious and extremely long, prepared speech.
Fifteen minutes later, when Blackman yields the mike, it is his misfortune to be followed by bomb-throwing comedian Kathy Griffin.
"For those of you who would like to hear the rest of Robert Blackman's speech," she opens. "it will be delivered tomorrow at the House of Blues Gospel Brunch."
Griffin goes on to decry the injustice of a show being neglected by the costumers. "Someone did the costume design for a brilliant show called 'Being Bobby Brown' and they deserve a damn award. Somebody had to pick out which sticky wig Whitney [Houston] would wear. Somebody worked very hard, and for what?" she demands.
No cowboysFor the first time in my award season adventures, I attend a show that is not dominated by "Brokeback Mountain" and "Crash." The crowd favorite "Geisha" takes the coveted period film award, with designer Colleen Atwood receiving a "Spotlight in Film" prize besides.
Nominated for an Oscar as well, she concedes later that after a quiet season, the jitters will now commence. She tells me on the way out, "I am sure after tonight I'll be seriously nervous."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times