Costume Designers: One Famous, One Not

Posted on November 19, 2014 at 8:00 am

Copyright 2009 Columbia Pictures
Copyright 2009 Columbia Pictures

Costume designers are not a about pretty clothes or fashion. The one time Coco Chanel tried to design costumes for a film, her impeccable designs came across as flat and uninspired. Costumes are about creating the character and telling the story, just like every other artist contributing to the overall impact of a film.

CBS Sunday Morning paid tribute to Ann Roth, one of the greatest costume designers of all time, still working both in Hollywood and on Broadway. You’ve seen her designs in “Julie & Julia,” “The English Patient,” “The Way Way Back,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “The Birdcage,” and “Working Girl.”

And Leonard Maltin wrote a beautiful tribute to an unsung heroine of costume design, Marilyn Sotto-Erdmann, quoting her nephew, Disney Imagineer Eddie Sotto:

As a kid, I’d stop and watch her work on Julie Andrews “flapper” getup for “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Diana Ross’ gown for “Lady Sings the Blues,” and many others. What an inspiration. Her talents were many; she transitioned to uniform design to bring her Hollywood touch to the opening look of the Beverly and Havana Hilton Hotels in the 1950’s. She went on to write and illustrate her own book on the subject, The Art of Costume Design. The daughter of a portrait and MGM scenic artist, she kept busy in the field of art till one day in 1986, while working on Euro Disneyland, I suggested that Marilyn consider bringing her cinematic sensibility to the costuming being designed for the Paris park, “Auntie Mare” was up for the challenge, showed her stuff, and was hired immediately.

Copyright 1967 Universal Pictures
Copyright 1967 Universal Pictures

Many of you knew her and her “bigger than life” passion for design and flamboyant personality. She brought the company and her peers a great passion for what could be, always “pushing the buttonhole” to make the costumes less “uniform”-like and more theatrical to drive the story. It was always about the show. Her work did not stop after Disneyland Paris. She went on to relocate with her husband John to Florida to design Walt Disney World parade costumes, resort and cruise ship attire, Super Bowl spectacles and more. A high point to her was researching ancient animatronic costuming for Spaceship Earth’s recent facelift. She told me that she felt she had come full circle, reminding her of doing the Egyptian garb for The Ten Commandments, decades earlier.

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