A Conversation With Colleen Atwood: Iconic Costume Designer

In light of the stress levels emanating through the nation these past few weeks, hopping through a “looking glass” and escaping for a few hours is starting to sound pretty enticing. Just two weeks ago, “Alice Through the Looking Glass ” launched on DVD and I’m bringing you all the details from the Disney launch party, including an exclusive interview with Oscar-winning costume designer, Colleen Atwood.

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The movie is a follow up after the success of the Disney remake of “Alice in Wonderland.” With a star-studded cast including Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter, the movie was a hit in theaters and most certainly will be for home-viewers as well. The treasured story has been remade into a darker magical tale bringing us to Victorian England and through costume design and styling, back to 1960’s Japan.

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Ms. Atwood is an esteemed Oscar-clad costume designer who’s won awards for her work in the films “Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Alice and Wonderland.” At the launch party for “Alice Through The Looking Glass” she dished to me about how she grew in her career, what it’s like to be on the guest list for Tim’s Halloween Party each year (as in, producer Tim Burton) and what’s next.

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Q: What was your inspiration behind Alice’s costume in “Alice Through The Looking Glass”?

I found the story to be such an exciting message for women. Alice has just returned from three years at sea and and is all grown up and feeling empowered. I had so much fun designing her costumes because I was able to purposefully dress her in pants. This was something definitely not accepted during the time in which the film is set, however it makes a statement about the strength of her character and her ability to break barriers and not care what others think.

Q: What happens to the costumes you design after the filming period has ended?

Disney actually owns the costumes, not me. They are usually shown through different museum exhibits all over the world. I think some of my most recent designs were just shown in Florida. Sometimes the actors and actresses will want to purchase them and keep them for their own collection. Johnny (Depp) does this with all of his costumes and he really takes care of them quite well. You can’t just stuff these things into a closet to collect dust, it takes a lot of time and a proper setting to maintain them. He’s really great about that and it’s a great visual tribute to his career.

Q: Did you always want to become a costume designer?

Not at all. I grew up in Seattle and what I was drawn to was painting. I wanted to be an artist and wanted to find a way to make it work. The idea of costume designing came much later for me, when I had moved to New York and decided I wanted to work in movies. My interest in art and movies came together and this is what I love to do.

Q: How did you get to where you are in your career?

When I graduated high school I was pregnant and just wanted to try and get by. Eventually when my daughter was more grown up, I moved to New York with $500 in my pocket and absolutely no plan as far as what I was going to do and where I was going to work. Eventually opportunities began to merge together but it was not without a fair share of frustrating situations and hard times. Eventually my worries went from what I was going to eat to what I would wear to Tim’s Halloween Party the next month.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting their career?

I really think the success I have had has been 50% luck. I have to be really honest. I’ve been really lucky and blessed in that way, but I also think if you have sincereness and heart, and if you work really hard at what you do, you have success.

Q: What’s the most difficult part about designing costumes for film?

You really have to think about how the camera will see the colors and the details. I have a lot of examples from my work with Miss Perigrine’s Home For Peculiar Children because that was more recent. I spent a long time trying to find the exact shade of black that would appear to be highlighted by a deep mysterious blue on camera. I did end up creating the exact shade and the costume turned out delightful, but it is a process. We had some fun shoots underwater as well, so when designing costumes for those scenes I would have to take into consideration how the costumes would move under water.

Q: So what’s next for you and your career?

I designed the costumes for Miss Perigrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which will be out in theaters very soon. I’ll be doing some promotions for that until things get busy again.

Stay Classy! xx

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The Hustle

Hustle as in the verb; “to move hurridly (and confidently) in a specific direction (forward)”; “to proceed to work rapidly or energetically,” “to apply oneself with speed, be aggressive.”

In light of this past week’s events, I’ve been inspired to create a new section on Class and the City that is dedicated to showing girls and women that if they stay focused, dedicated and motivated, they can get to where they want to be in life. With so much going on in the world that is against us as an entity *~ including the fact that some people still feel it is right to call us a “minority” which is just a polite term for “subordinate” ~* it is up to us to rise against the bias, find our confidence and put ourselves out there.

Together, by sharing stories and inspirational moments we can challenge younger generations of women to find and fulfill their full potential in their lives. We can move forward in society and pull other women with us. We can spark and be the change that we desperately wish to see in our world.

I want to kick off the start of this new exciting section of the site with a story of my own. One of the most simple yet effective pieces of advice I’ve ever received was at an event I attended a few years ago. Before sharing this story, I first want to give some backstory.

When I attend these events (usually put together by PR firms to create awareness in their products or clients) I am always the youngest invitee present. Over time, this has made me comfortable in social situations where everyone else at the table has a career, a partner, more life experience and a family. These people have already been through what I am currently going through in life, which made it difficult for me to feel like my seat at the table was just as important as theirs. The truth, however, was that I had been just as deserving as any of them to have received an invite and had worked just as hard as them to get to that point. What I also realized, was that I was in a unique position where I could learn from the strong and motivated women that I was surrounded by.

Two years ago I attended an event that featured a beautiful meal cooked by Top Chef Judge and Food & Wine Editor, Gail Simmons, a D.I.Y. tutorial by one of my favorite bloggers, Camille Styles, and an introduction to a delicious organic and totally natural blend of iced tea from Pure Leaf. The event was in the New York Botanical Gardens and the team who had invited me offered to send a car service to take me there, free of charge. As the gorgeous NYBG happens to be located directly across from Fordham’s campus, I declined the service and walked across the street, hopping on the NYBG tram and found myself sitting next to fellow journalists and one particular top editor for Brides.

Before long we were at the event in the gorgeous cabin where wedding receptions are usually held, and had completed the D.I.Y. pickled veggies and make-your-own holiday garland tutorial and were seated at long elegantly decorated tables to enjoy our special lunch. The conversation around the table flowed with topics including where everyone worked, with whom they had worked, if they were married and how many kids they had. Each invitee took their turn and by the time they reached me, I had started to doubt my credibility, I wasn’t even at the legal drinking age yet. “I’m a sophomore at Fordham University interning for New York Family. I hope to enter the magazine industry when I graduate.” The table was surprised and hesitated while trying to find a way to connect.

The editor from Brides was the first to reach out and say, “If you’re really serious about getting into the magazine industry, you have to be hungry. You have to want it so badly that you’re willing to do anything to get your foot in the door. People can be nasty ~ they are nasty ~ and you have to be able to rise above that and learn to brush it off to get to where you want to be.”

I took that in with a new wave of motivation. After that internship had ended, I held two internship positions at the same time, working for Good Housekeeping and a lifestyle division of W.W. Norton and Co. It wasn’t long before my hard work started to pay off through these internships and those that I have held after, as well as through this site! I still have a few months before I graduate college, but I am positive that my hard work and genuine *~ hunger ~* will pay off for me in the end!

And so with that quick story, welcome to The Hustle – where strong, intelligent, independent and confident women share their stories and what inspires them to be the best they can be in their lives and in their careers, how how they have become the #GirlBosses and role models they inevitably are for the rest of us.

Find your motivation in the lives and stories of those around you. Whether it is a quote from someone talking on the phone that you hear a few seats over on the Subway, a passerby in the doctor’s office waiting room or an actual experience that you have had and found value in, tap into that and think of ways that it could be helpful to others. And when you do, shoot me an e-mail so we can connect and discuss this together. x

Stay Classy!
xo Felicia