Darren Aronofsky’s thriller Black Swan has taken the awards season by storm. What began as a low budget film in which subway scenes were filmed illegally on the fly because the film didn’t have enough money to build a set or pay for filming rights, has gone on to captivate critics and audiences alike. The film’s star, Natalie Portman has been thrust center stage in the Best Actress Oscar race, lauded for her performance and the disturbed but beautiful prima ballerina Nina Sayers. The films costumes have also been thrust center stage. The exclusion of Costume Designer Amy Wescott from this year’s Oscar nominees is considered a major snub.
Aronofsky is famed for creating a realistic setting for his films, down the minute details. The films leads Natalie Porman and Mila Kunis each lost around 20 pounds to accurately portray willowy ballerinas. Wescott how she and Arofsky toed the line between being eccentric and traditional, “We didn’t want this completely eclectic: we wanted to incorporate traditional aspects but at the same time for it to be more stylish.” With the style of the ballet world to guide her, Wescott describes how she worked hard to create a realistic look to the film’s ballet setting, observing dancers at several prominent New York ballet companies. Wescott described the difficulties in adding the necessary variation in the characters clothing with such a limited choice of dancewear:
“When I went to see classes, I observed dancers would sneak up some crazy knitwear over the leotard, like a sweater, instead they would wear it like a skirt…they completely reinvent pieces that they put on top of their leotard. In our case we used layering to give more interest to the practice outfits but of course there were constraints in the colour palette and this process had to be very well timed so you are not putting the wrong layer, because we are dealing with so many….”
Wescott used dancewear designer Yumiko for Nina and archrival Lily’s leotards, skirts, cover-ups and legwarmers. Yumiko’s designs were altered slightly though, different fabrics were uses for cover ups and dyed in a variation of black, grey, white and pink. Wescott artfully conveyed Nina’s transformation from innocent ingénue to wicked prima through slow transition from pinks to black.
The film’s real breakout star though, proves to be the elaborate tutu’s Nina dons for the films climax. Credit for the tutu’s goes not to Wescott, but the fashion designing duo Rodarte. The high profile design label’s involvement in the film comes as a surprise, due to the films low budget. Well known for their cutting edge, goth-romantic dresses worn by Hollywood elite , the Mulleavy sisters Rodarte dresses usually sell for thousands of dollars apiece, securely out of budget for Aronofsky. The sisters involvement comes as a favor to lead actress Natalie Portman, who has donned their frocks regularly.
Wescott also describes how she and Aronofsky’s vision of carrying the ballet’s bird theme into the costume design led to the collaboration with Rodarte. “…their [Rodarte’s] last line, fall 2010 I think, was very “vulture-inspired”. They had all these black feathers and things like that… but for us they designed new things.”
The Mulleavy’s made sure to keep the traditional ballet tutu lines while still adding their flair to the pieces. Non-traditional fabrics were used to accent the traditional tulle, such as feathers, tufts of chiffon and broken angora wool. These fabrics were chosen to correlate to the bird theme, “…the broken white angora wool… gives the appearance of tree branches growing on [the skirt]”. Rodarte pieces were also added to dance corps costumes, which were designed by ballet designer Jack Brown, to give a fluid look to the ballet.
The collaboration between the Wescott and Rodarte may not have been recognized critically this award season but the three designers created a dazzling wardrobe for the film. Nina’s journey is clearly viewed from her clothing, from the touches of girly pink she wears as a virginal ballerina that is literally ripped off of her as she transforms into the dark seductive black swan to the final chilling view of the red blood spreading upon her white costume, the ultimate sacrifice for perfection.