Feathers ruffled over Black Swan

Extravagant tutus created for the ballet film have caught the eye of Oscar judges, but an off-screen costume drama puts the designers in the shade

By Susie Mesure
Sunday 23 January 2011 01:00

The exquisitely crafted tutus in the much praised Black Swan rival actress Natalie Portman's honed physique as a reason to watch the hit film. But unlike Portman, the fashion house Rodarte, which was responsible for the feathered creations, will not be lapping up the acclaim this awards season.

The sisters behind the ballet costumes will miss out on the glory of an all but guaranteed Academy Award nomination for best costume design on Tuesday, because they are not the film's official costumiers. Instead, Amy Westcott will accept the plaudits if the movie wins an Oscar on 27 February: her name is on the credits, even though the black, sequinned tutu that features in the film's promotional shots is not designed by her.

Black Swan has already picked up best costume nominations from Bafta, the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, and the Costume Designers' Guild, as well as scores of others for categories ranging from best movie and best director to best screenplay and best actress: Portman walked off with that accolade at last week's Golden Globes.

Westcott said that Rodarte's Black Swan designs echoed its "vulture-inspired" collection for autumn/winter 2010. Rodarte – otherwise known as Kate and Laura Mulleavy – created 40 costumes for the thriller, dressing the entire corps de ballet as well as Portman and her co-star, Mila Kunis.

It was the Mulleavy sisters' connections with Portman that landed them the Black Swan job: the actress is one of their biggest fans and regularly wears their creations on the red carpet. The pair are highly revered in the fashion industry, with Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Louboutin among their supporters. Other movie star clients include Keira Knightley, Cate Blanchett and Kirsten Dunst. Michelle Obama is another fan.

It is nothing new for fashion houses to miss out on award glory. Merle Ginsberg, of The Hollywood Reporter, said there was a "long history of fashion designers creating costumes for stars above and beyond what a film's costume designer does – and not getting the credit".

Helen O'Hara, deputy online editor at the film title Empire, called the omission part of a "fine old tradition". She added: "There's a bit of clannishness that goes on. The professional stage and screen designers don't particularly warm to fashion designers coming in and expecting a nomination."

In 1954, Edith Head accepted the best costume Oscar for Audrey Hepburn's outfits in Sabrina; controversially because it was Hubert de Givenchy who dressed the style icon. Other designers have been similarly overlooked when it comes to nominations, including Jean-Paul Gaultier for The Fifth Element; Ralph Lauren for Annie Hall; and Giorgio Armani for American Gigolo. Similarly, Manolo Blahnik created the shoes for Marie Antoinette, which took the 2006 Oscar for costume design, yet is barely credited.

Ms O'Hara added: "The fashion industry doesn't lack for opportunities to congratulate itself, but if they've done a lot of work I'd like to see them acknowledged."

Other films tipped for Oscar costume glory include The King's Speech, Burlesque, Inception and Alice in Wonderland, but Black Swan is the industry favourite.

The costume controversy is far from the only storm to have surrounded Black Swan. Dancers including Deborah Bull and Tamara Rojo have criticised the film's depiction of the ballet world as a place where bulimia, self-harm, lesbianism, and psychological and sexual abuse are rife. Bull, who danced with the Royal Ballet, claimed the movie had set the public's perception of ballet back by 50 years and was riddled with clichés.

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