I knew it. I just knew it. Last year, when I saw “The Duchess,” I said to my husband, “This is gonna’ win best costumes. Watch.” How could it not?
John Harkness, author of “The Academy Awards Handbook” explains (in seven registered trade marked pages) how to win your office Oscar pool. In the categories of Art Direction, Costume Design, and Makeup, Harkness says, “Period films and epics are always the best bet.”
Not only is “The Duchess” a period piece, it’s a period piece about a royal fashionista. Last weekend, “The Duchess” won the Oscar for Best Costume Design. It was up against — or, it was an honor just to be nominated for — “Australia,” “Revolutionary Road,” “Milk,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
With breasts spilling from her beaded corset, Sarah Jessica Parker presented the award (along with Daniel Craig) to designer Michael O’Connor. Parker and Craig cited five factors that go into determining which film should win Best Costumes: Color, cut, fabric, style, and authenticity.
Sunday night, I was reminded of one of the big reasons why I am fascinated by fashion. Clothes are buildings for individual bodies, three-dimensional mobile sculptures, and the world is one big installation.
My first semester of college, I signed up for a class called 3-D Art. My prof was a woman with silver hair, buzzed, except for a single curl pig-tailing from just behind one ear. For our first assignment, we were required to buy wire strippers. We had to build an object from wire, and I chose a clay turtle whistle.
I thought I had done my best, but my prof was less than pleased. I had evidently failed to capture the turtle’s line quality.
For our next project, she told us to bring in a fruit or vegetable. I brought in a radish. I spent hours, angry hours, constructing a paper mache radish. I was in college, for Pete’s sake. The last time I had made anything with paper mache had been in sixth grade.
After my class had constructed our produce, the prof split us in two groups and made us take our fruits and veggies outside. Group A went off in one direction, and Group B went off in the other.
Each group had to create an installation, an exhibit of our stupid fruits and vegetables. My group had no idea what we were doing. We lacked passion. We set our fruits and veggies under and in trees, and then told the prof we were going for an Alice in Wonderland kind of thing.
The other group walked through our installation, and then it was our turn to walk through theirs. To our surprise, they had created an anatomically correct man, utilizing a six-foot banana. (The banana had been built by a young man I’ll call Cy. Cy was in the process of getting divorced because his wife had left him for another woman. Can you imagine him constructing anything other than a six-foot banana?)
After the installation, we gave our crop unnatural textures and paint jobs. The class only served to make me feel completely inartistic.
The day before the Oscars, I watched a 1968 foreign film by Soviet director Sergei Paradjanov called “The Color of Pomegranates.” I can’t explain the plot, and the best I can describe the movie is to say that it’s what I imagine being on shrooms is like.
Sunday night, while watching women walk the red carpet, I hoped to see something memorable, but there were no Bjorks. There were fishtails, giant earrings, hair set in old Hollywood waves, tiny glittery clutch purses, and ivory tones, but no glorious Bjorks.
I couldn’t help but think about my shroomless shroom experience. A true artist doesn’t construct something that will fit in among all of the other fruits and vegetables, and a true fashionista doesn’t wear a safe gown.
Mariel Howsepian digs black coffee, fairy tales and a man in coveralls. She lives in Santa Monica and can be reached at Mariel_Rodriguez@antiochla.edu.