Scene & Heard: Costume designers in the spotlight

Los Angeles Times

At the preview of "The Art of Motion Picture Costume Design," two-time Academy Award-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood said Johnny Depp wanted his Mad Hatter costume to capture the flavor of a mood ring. So she layered his topcoat with multiple colors of silk.

Standing beside his costume from "Alice in Wonderland," Atwood said the challenges of designing for Depp, Anne Hathaway, Mia Wasikowska and Helena Bonham Carter included the changing sizes of the characters. "Alice shrinks and grows, and Helena's big head made her neck look as thick as a thigh," Atwood said, adding that she solved that problem by creating a collar to narrow the appearance of Bonham Carter's neck.

An estimated 1,400 guests, mainly members of the Costume Designers Guild, turned up on Feb. 5 to view more than 100 costumes from 21 films at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising's museum ( in Los Angeles. Four of the five nominees for this year's Academy Award for costume design were represented: "Alice in Wonderland," "True Grit," "The Tempest" and "The King's Speech." (The fifth film is "I Am Love.")

"In the best pictures, the costumes are subtle," said Nick Verreos, an FIDM instructor and "Project Runway" personality. "The goal of costume design is to create real people, but when it's a fantastic movie like 'Alice,' the costumes have to be fantastic."

In choosing films for the exhibition, museum Director Barbara Bundy said, "We use our crystal ball and try to guess what will be nominated [for the Oscars]. Our curatorial staff sees everything, and we've been lucky."

Bundy said most of the costumes are loaned by the studios, but there are exceptions. "Johnny Depp keeps everything he wears in movies, so we had to borrow his costume from him," she said.

"True Grit" designer Mary Zophres said that aging the clothes was an important part of the process. "None of these characters would have had new clothes," she said. "Once they were made, we had to start beating them up."

And though the characters didn't change clothes often, she said she had to make several versions of Hailee Steinfeld's coat: wet, dry and dirty from falling into a cave. Zophres said she also needed the same costumes for Steinfeld's doubles, with hats and shoes in their own sizes.

"I did a lot of research before I got to the point where I felt I could design this movie," she said. The result: Her first Oscar nomination.

After perusing the exhibition, guests strolled into a clear tent, elegantly draped and lighted for the evening by chandeliers. There, they indulged in quesadillas, salads and mashed potato "martinis" topped with strips of beef, caramelized onions, cheese and other goodies. The free exhibition, which opens to the public Tuesday, will run until April 30.

Valley's new stage

How do you open a new arts center in the San Fernando Valley? Well, Monica Mancini, declaring herself "the original Valley girl," launched into a haunting rendition of her late father's classic "Moon River," accompanied by Dave Koz and Arturo Sandoval. They were all part of the crowd at the Inaugural Gala for the Valley Performing Arts Center on Jan. 29 at Cal State Northridge.

Although many of the 1,700 audience members called the San Fernando Valley their home, gala co-chairwoman Sally Magaram said, "We have people here from all over Los Angeles." Magaram was joined at the festivities by co-chairs Linda and Mike Curb, Jean and David Fleming, Carole Curb Nemoy and Norman Nemoy and Ginny Mancini.

Sel Kardan, president of the Colburn School, marveled at his short drive from Beverly Hills. "No traffic," he said.

Mancini said the song "Moon River" changed her life, and the lives of her family, when they lived three blocks from the college campus.

"The Valley's a happening place," Mancini continued, after filing into the party tent, along with the night's other performers and 700 guests paying a minimum $1,000 each for dinner and dancing. She said that although her father, composer Henry Mancini, was already known for his theme from TV's "Peter Gunn" and other compositions, after "Moon River" the family moved out of the Valley "because that's what you did then." She said she has since moved back.

Another Valley resident, "City Island" star Andy Garcia, said, "A lot of people need this stage. It provides a great new opportunity for artists to show their work." Earlier that evening, Garcia played bongos to Sandoval's trumpet.

"It's a wonderful thing to open a new theater," said Tyne Daly, adding that she came to help "put the mojo on the walls."

Between the burrata cheese course and the braised boneless short ribs, American Ballet Theatre principals Gillian Murphy and Jose Manuel Carreño helped partygoers pack the dance floor as the band blasted "Oh, What a Night."

After welcoming all "to a new era for the arts in this part of Los Angeles," CSUN President Jolene Koester joined celebrants, among them Davis Gaines, Benjamin Bratt, Jane Kaczmarek, Calista Flockhart, Keith David, Doris Roberts, Bart Simpson's voice Nancy Cartwright, the show's music director Richard Kaufman and producers Robert Egan and Nicholas Goldsborough.

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