Costume designer Colleen Atwood talks about her gritty business and reimagining Alice in Wonderland.
People think this is a very glamorous job,” says Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood over the phone. “But it’s quite a gritty job, really. Sometimes you have to scrape dirt off people’s shoes, or if you’re doing, say, a movie with 300 people in armour, you’re out there making sure these sweating bodies have all their stuff on the right way.”
Atwood, whose work you’ll recognize from Chicago, Edward Scissorhands and a laundry list of other visually stunning blockbusters, also hates mood boards. “They make me crazy,” she says. “Our job is not just looking at pictures and pretty fabrics.”
Atwood, 67, is the design genius behind this spring’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, a return to the Wonderland she outfitted (and for which she won an Academy Award) for the Tim Burton-directed blockbuster back in 2010. “This is really another Alice,” she says about the sequel. “It’s her down the road—I mean, she wasn’t a sea captain in the last one.” And since the film is set a few years forward into the 1860s, it meant that Atwood got to tackle the bustle period of fashion when dressing “Alice,” played again by Mia Wasikowska. “I really like the dress she wears in the party scene. I designed the embroidery and the material. It ended up being one of those concepts that turns out better than you expected.”
This time around, Atwood was also tasked with creating a look for a new character, played by Sacha Baron Cohen. “It was tricky because he’s called ‘Time,’ but he isn’t a clock,” she explains. “I had to make him feel like he had elements of ‘clockness’ to him but not have him look like a cuckoo clock or something strange like that.” Baron Cohen loved it, says Atwood. “When the pieces came together, it made us laugh, and Sacha was like, ‘Wow! You took all the things I thought and put them together to make sense.’”