Costume designer Colleen Atwood on bringing Fantastic Beasts to life


Oscar-winner costume designer Colleen Atwood worked on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Read about her influences and process.

The people who work on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them have good pedigrees. Eddie Redmayne is an an Oscar-winning actor. David Yates is an accomplished film director, and Colleen Atwood is a nigh-legendary costume designer who received Oscars for her work on movies like ChicagoMemoirs of a Geisha, and Alice in WonderlandPottermore interviewed Atwood to get her take on working on the film, and it sounds like we’re in good hands.

"I look at and approve every fitting, no matter who anybody is, and I am very controlling in how I want everything to look. It’s important: it matters, and you never know what you’re going to see. I learned a long time ago that you can’t control what happens with pieces you care about unless you’re there, so I’m there.’"

You gotta love someone who pays attention to detail. Obviously, with her pile of awards, that strategy has worked for Atwood.

And judging by her work on films like Edward Scissorhands and Into the Woods, Atwood has a taste for the fantastical. “I love the fantasy stuff,” she said “That’s why I took on this movie. I like the challenge of it, and I like integrating fantasy into a period like this. You get to step out of it slightly and make something that’s a version of that time. Which is what movies have always done: in a way, they glamorise time.”

“Glamorising time” would be a good title for an eventual Colleen Atwood biography—just putting that out into the universe.

Colleen Atwood after winning an Oscar for her work on ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Beyond her interest in fantasy, Atwood is uniquely suited for this particular movie. For one thing, she already won an Oscar for designing the costumes for Chicago, another movie set in the 1920s. Plus she lived in New York City for 12 years. Sure, she was there in the ’80s and not the ’20s, but she still had her finger to the pulse of the city.

But mostly what makes her a great choice is her work ethic and talent. “I read the script and I see the worlds that I’m going to be filtering through as the story progresses,” she said of her process. “In this case, it was New York and all sorts of levels of society so we researched the Lower East Side and Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen and all the immigrant populations there, the elegance and the aristocrats of New York.”

"I was in a panic because I knew it was a massive project and there’s not that much stock actually left from this period, so the first thing I did was go to every costume house in the world and pull the stock that we’re working with, with the help of some assistants. I started in L.A., because they have a lot of that stock between all the different costume houses there and also I felt that America embraced the 1920s in a bigger way than Europe, in a fashion sense. I wanted it to have a real American feel to it."

She also says that she reread a bunch of F. Scott Fitzgerald books to prepare for the project. “[H]e’s very descriptive about the frenzy and the romance of the period. It has so much heart that it’s helped me, and this story has so much heart.”

But as detail-oriented as Atwood is, she doesn’t make the costumes herself. “I don’t sew,” she says. “I design.”

"I have tailors and people who work on that side of it. I work with a sketch artist. If I were to sketch every piece I’d never get the job done because there’s so much, so I do the concept work and give notes and then the sketch artist can work on it properly while I move on to something else."

Next: Katherine Waterston: Fantastic Beasts is tender, but not saccharine

Still, while Pottermore was interviewing Atwood on the set of Fantastic Beasts, she excused herself to adjust a hat worn by a passing extra. We’re definitely in good hands.