The Oscar-bound lesbian romance Carol is a film anchored in luxe, controlled textures: blond mink fur, a plaid beret, narrow silhouettes. In this exclusive interview with Carol’s costume designer, Sandy Powell, the three-time Oscar winner reveals her sketches and vision for the film’s alluring 1952 look. Powell is no stranger to her current awards-season buzz: She has won two BAFTA Awards (plus nine BAFTA nominations and another ten Oscar nods), and has often worked with Martin Scorsese. And because director Todd Haynes’s Carol is leading in Golden Globe nominations for film and already dominated the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, we expect Powell to be taking home more golden statues this season.
Watch the Weinstein Company’s video to learn why Powell eschewed Dior’s full-skirted “New Look” of the era, how she designed with director Todd Haynes’s vision in mind, and where she stumbled upon that colorful beret. The Cut asked Powell to elaborate more on her designs for Carol below, including her scouting haunts and working with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
Her influences: “Most of my inspiration came from photography from the period, either fashion or journalistic. I scoured old copies of Vogue from the exact months the film was set and was particularly influenced by the work of Clifford Coffin, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Beaton, and Blumenfeld, as much for their ambience as the actual clothing. Carol would have been able to afford high fashion so it was these silhouettes that inspired me.”
Where she scouted for the movie’s clothes: “The clothes came from either rental houses in New York (Early Halloween and Helen Uffner) and L.A. (Western Costume and Palace Costume), or were purchased directly from dealers at vintage stores. About 80 percent of Carol’s costumes were built from scratch to my designs, as was the suit Therese wears in the final scene along with a few separates.”
On dressing Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara: “I had very little time with both women before shooting, so we had to achieve as much as possible in the first fittings, which meant trying out as many different shapes and styles as possible to find the appropriate looks for the characters. I was fortunate to be working with two very conscientious actors who understood the importance of finding the character through the clothes, even if that meant they weren’t the most flattering looks.”
Her favorite designs: “I suppose the two iconic looks for the women are the outerwear they are in for the majority of the film. Carol’s fur coat [made from recycled blond mink fur] had to attract Therese’s attention in the first place, and I wanted it to immediately portray an effortless chic with elegant luxury. The beret and mismatched scarf on Therese accentuates her youth and perhaps lack of self-awareness and style at the beginning, which she later discards for a more sophisticated look inspired by Carol.”