Cate Blanchett, mixing vodka, sorrow, and a custom jacket designed by Karl Lagerfeld. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Should the Oscars Costume Design category be renamed Corsets and Wigs? Every Oscar season contains its share of snubs, but costume design is particularly trussed up in convention, with period pieces almost always nabbing the nominations.
This year is no different. American Hustle, The Grandmaster, The Invisible Woman, 12 Years a Slave, and The Great Gatsby all feature amazing work, but they're safe, predictable choices.
There's nothing safe or predictable about the costume design in Blue Jasmine. It's not just that the clothes are beautiful—although it is a joy to see Cate Blanchett strut around in custom Roger Vivier shoes, carrying a 35 cm Hermès Birkin, and wearing a custom wool bouclé jacket designed especially for the film by Karl Lagerfeld. But what really elevates the costume design is that Suzy Benzinger, Woody Allen's longtime costume designer, is able to depict Jasmine's downfall simply through her wardrobe.
During her Upper East Side glory days, Jasmine is always decked out in designer clothes—Oscar de la Renta, Fendi, Louis Vuitton. During one party scene, she wears almost a million dollars worth of diamonds.
But after her husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested for tax evasion and she's forced to move in with her sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, Jasmine's look changes.
As Forbes reports:
"To give the impression that Jasmine was desperate and improvising, Benzinger mixed and matched, combining pieces in ways that the designers might not have contemplated. After she’s gone broke, she tries to look wealthy as she prospects for the next guy at a San Francisco party. Her gold digging outfit consists, appropriately enough, of a gold and silk metallic lamé dress and a gray shrug sweater covered in sequins and pearls, both by Oscar de la Renta, but not intended to be worn together."
Jasmine's clothes represent her dignity, the sense of self she's struggling to hang on to. She's forced to give up her Fendi and Vuitton bags, but she clutches her Birkin like a security blanket. She still wears her bouclé jacket, but now with jeans instead of the matching skirt—Benziger imagines that, in her frazzled state, she forgot to pack it. In the climactic final scenes, her Alberta Ferretti crêpe de chine dress is stained with sweat rings.
It's a devastating image, perfectly wrought. And no matter how historically accurate the panniers in The Invisible Woman, or how low the V-necks in American Hustle, Blue Jasmine should have been recognized for its costume design. In its ability to express character through clothes, it's sartorial storytelling at its very best.
Over to you: Which film do you think should win for Costume Design?