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Three Fittings: Fantastic Beasts' Odd Costume Win

New Series! Three Fittings celebrates costume design in the movies. The number is necessary self-restraint for we love the art of costuming too much.

By Nathaniel R

Dear reader, I didn't think I'd ever need to see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016). I thought, solid reasoning given the golden trajectory of most franchises, that Oscar would want to move on after a year of regular craft nominations for the series. I thought, surely they'd never hand one of them an actual Oscar if they hadn't done so by now. But in the interest of completism, after Colleen Atwood's generous fourth statue for costuming this particular movie and its bluray release, I caught up. 

I was both impressed and utterly perplexed by what I found.

While Atwood does unusually understated work (for her), there are far fewer costumes than you might expect (approximately one per man, two per woman). Sussing out why they voted for this confident minimalism within a fantasy over more traditional costume perfection in Jackie, the primary color bliss of then-frontrunner La La Land, the erotic glamour of Allied, and the flouncy Most-ness of Florence, proves nearly impossible.

Nevertheless, here are three key looks to discuss:

Look One

Fantastic Beasts doesn't give the ever gorgeous Carmen Ejogo much to do as the American President of the Magical Congress of the USA, but at least it has the good sense to hang its showiest costume on her. In keeping with the movie's color wheel restraint, she's all subdued dark blues with faded gold art deco details. The American Eagle fused with Phoenix is a great bit within the production design and echoed across Seraphina's chest; the height of the headress combined with the phoengle's? eaglix's? long tail design makes Ejogo even more regal as if she's a giantess though the actress is just 5'6"

This costume's sole bid to "LOOK AT ME!" grandeaur is that headdress. It appears to be made of gold-crusted pinecones and inedible silver-dipped blueberries but even that is subdued if you compare it to many similarly ornate head topping accessories in cinema. 

It's also worth noting that this is, if not a mandatory head-of-state uniform, Seraphina's go-to look. It serves as her official iconography on the banners in the Magical Congress (pictured above). So we see this costume in giant-sized two-dimensions before the life-sized version.

Look Two

Though Eddie Redmayne is often considered one of the most stylish male movie stars, Newt Scalamander dresses rather more humbly. In fact, he wears the same blue overcoat, two piece earth tone suit, old dress shirt, and rumpled bow tie for the entire movie! That's perfect for this character who lives mostly outside of the wizarding world and the human world and has the social skills and attention to appearance to match that introverted choice. 

If he's a little unglamorous (those oversized shoes are nearly clownish when he's walking!) he's still special looking. That's both because he's Eddie Redmayne and because the one costume for all situations marks him as a kind of doofus superhero if you stop to think about it. Atwood builds the super-suit's appeal with a combination of pleasing colors, and textures. The blue overcoat looks oddly comforting as befits a nice-guy hero / animal lover. Atwood also benefits from Redmayne's fit but super slender frame; not everyone can wear that many layers and still look thin! 

Atwood's attention to detail shines through in the wear and tear, too. The costume doesn't look brand new in the first scene (a typical problem in a wide range of movies) and the garment takes a beating. Look at how bedraggled and dusty it is by the end of the movie above.

Newt's one sartorially self-aware moment is an amusing bit outside the prohibition era magical speak-easy where the ladies conjure glamorous gowns before knocking. Newt doesn't cast himself a new or better suit but does realize he should fix that forgotten bowtie.

His only costume change is the simple addition of a scarf for his journey back to England.

Look Three 

For our third look, Atwood's smartest choice though why that is is not readily apparent. I'm talking about the fraternal twin outfits of Graves (Colin Farrell) and Credence (Ezra Miller). I didn't notice until I saw them together that Atwood has drawn wonderful but not mirrored comparisons between characters who are spiritually connected. Perhaps even psycho-sexually connected but the movie is ambiguous on this front, leaving it right there for you to interpret but not pushing its luck with the suggestion. 

Both men are costumed in black and white, but Graves' suit is made from obviously fine fabric with exquisite textural details (in closeups you can see expensive ribbing on the white portions of both the collar and sleeves) and even a minor hint of color trim. Credence, a poor orphan who longs for Graves's affection and to become a wizard himself, also has white details for his black suit but in his case it's just a thin trim around the edges of the lapels, like the costume is still being sketched. Like the man-boy who wears it, it's unfinished. 

It also doesn't fit him as well and the fabric is grungier.

Grave is Credence's idol and the white trim on the older man's somehow sinister flared black sleeves feel like a small mercy to his fan, especially when the two men touch and the paralells in design are most visible. "We're not the same," Graves seems to be saying with his glamorous clothing, "but feel free to aspire." 


In the end the only conclusion I can draw as to why it won the statue was that Academy voters largely identified with the film's sole "No-Maj' (Dan Fogler as Kowalski) who goes wide-eyed at the magic but is never more awed than when a simple dressing spell is performed right in front of him. 

I remain bothered and bewildered by this win but the Academy was obviously bewitched. 


Previously in this series...
La La Land (2016), Allied (2016), The Pirate (1948)

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Reader Comments (17)

I'm glad you mentioned the strange homoerotic tension between Farrell and Miller in this film -- that caught me off-guard. I found it really fascinating, and also impressive in the way that it's hinted at but never overtly explored.

The costumes are great, but I'm also a bit mystified about how this ended up with the trophy.

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNicolas Mancuso

Seeing Atwood get a fourth statue over four more deserving efforts whose costumers have never won vexed me to no end on Oscar night, and still does.

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterN8

I do feel like Stuart Craig should have won at some point for the franchise, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to explain this win specifically. Completely bizarre.

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

I actually adored the costumes in this film, but I would have preferred the win to go to La La Land.

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

If nothing else, the win got you to see the film, which I recently saw a second time and found it just as charming as I did the first time. It's pretty jarring that they're gearing up for four sequels, but seen as a standalone adventure in the world that would eventually see the famous "Boy Who Lived", it's an enjoyable romp around New York City in the 1920s with a lovely new set of characters.

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

La La Land looks less like lushly coloured creativity and more like the costume designer was watching too many Old Navy ads, but the other three probably should have been able to win over this one.

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

You've just opened an old wound!

(I'm also planning to watch it)

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

The only other time the Harry Potter franchise got an Oscar nomination for Costume Design was in 2001, when Judianna Makovsky did the first film. Lindy Hemming did the second, and Jany Temime did the next six.

Maybe there was a perception that the franchise was overdue, or that it was making a showier effort with Colleen Atwood, or that (for the first time) the fashion and look was more intentional than incidental. I mean, Allison Sudol's character Queenie kind of sticks out as a girly-girl because the franchise has never been about adult women who weren't professors, villains, or tomboys.

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

Alison Sudol, not Allison. Sorry.

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity


April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Volvagia -- alas I cannot even bear that dismissive attitude towards La La Land. i've heard some variation on that insult so many times over the web but it's a lazy attack without really considering what the costumes are doing from scene to scene. As i discussed in this column, I think it's very smart costume design. It's so hard to do contemporary that well and come up with iconic looks. That yellow dress and ryan's simplicity and spats sure were memorable.

Brevity -- that's a good point that i hadn't thought of as intentional rather than incidental.

April 14, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I haven't seen Fantastic Beasts or Allied. I would have gone with Jackie from what I've seen and from my own lineup.

Best Costume Design
1. Jackie
2. The Love Witch
3. A Bigger Splash
4. The Handmaiden
5. Everybody wants Some!!

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I too watched this film solely because of its Costume win. It was so fucking boring.

April 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

I honestly think the win came from the costume transformation spells. They were clever. It was also original period costuming rather than recreation period costuming, which could have given it the edge over Jackie. It's an odd win, for sure.

April 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Those three looks you highlighted are pretty great, especially the men's coats. The forty minutes of Allied I've seen would probably get my vote here but it's not a bad win. I think Colleen winning her *fourth* is just taking away from Farrell and Redmayne's delectable wares.

April 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick T

I'm still stumped how this won the costume Oscar? I love Colleen Atwood's work but she just totally phoned this one in and the costumes look like drab rental from Bermans and Nathans.

April 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Hintergardt

JACKIE was robbed, not of best actress but of THIS!!!

If not Jackie, then Allied shld've taken this!

Hell, I wld even rather FFJ or LLL win than this!! arggghhh!!

April 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

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