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THE TEMPEST

Clothing As Metaphor
Echoing production designer Friedberg's sentiments, three-time Oscar®-winning costume designer Sandy Powell found the prospect of working with the visionary Taymor irresistible. "It's really interesting working with a director who's also a designer, because she understands the process, and Julie, in particular, is incredibly visual and good at expressing that,” says Powell. "Knowing Julie's background is theater, it meant I was allowed to push the boundaries a little. That's what she was expecting of me: to go a little further than you would do if you were designing costumes for a period film.”

Powell, of course, is no stranger to a wide range of period costuming, having won her Oscars® for the Renaissance garb for "Shakespeare in Love,” the Victorian-era "The Young Victoria” and mid-20th century "The Aviator.”

The Hawaiian backdrop for "The Tempest” was an added attraction. When Taymor gave Powell photographs of the terrain on which the film would be shot, she was inspired by the environment for her clothing design for the island's inhabitants—Prospera, Miranda, Caliban and Ariel.

"For the characters on the island, Sandy and I discussed the blend of time. Prospera and Miranda had been on the island for 12 years,” says Taymor, "so their clothing would be worn now, but also slightly stylized.”

As Powell interpreted the metaphor, Prospera's influences were from the Milan court from which she was banished. Once she was on the island, she constructed clothing from the materials available, which evolved and developed as they continued to live there, according to Powell. "As for Ariel and Caliban, well, they are mythical, except that they're real as well,” she observes.

In outfitting Prospera, Powell says, "I wanted her clothes to be easy and comfortable and almost androgynous, neither masculine nor feminine.”

Powell imbued Prospera's outfits with Japanese fashion touches and, of course, elements of the landscape—particularly the lava flow. "Helen played Prospera as a simmering volcano,” observes Taymor. "She is the energy, the magic and the rage—everything that's boiling up is all being contained, and at a certain point, of course, it explodes. Her magic robe, which is much more a piece of sculpture than it is a costume, was made to look like it was made of shards of rock, volcanic rock. Very sharp blue/black, shiny rock. She is literally in the shape of a volcano.”

"The jumping-off point for both the sets and, particularly, the costumes is to find the essence of each character in a metaphor or ideograph.” —Julie Taymor

Miranda too tended toward the androgynous "like a wild child running around the island,” Powell says. "She went around barefoot in this loose shift, because she'd lived most of her life there.” Adds Taymor: "Miranda is in off-white, natural, torn fabrics that could have come over in the boat with her in this big trunk. It was very simple. I think any girl in the summertime would want to wear that shift. It was very raw, very natural. She was timeless.”

The art department provided Powell with wings for Ariel, who again was clothed in asexual garb—and sometimes less. "One of his costumes is hardly there, a teeny little jock strap, which gives the effect of nudity,” laughs Powell. "The point is that Ariel is not wearing clothes. He wears something that is part of his body and then becomes part of the landscape.”

By contrast, when Powell dressed the women in their clothes from the Milan court, "they had to be restrictive and repressive, corsets and all that. Both Helen and Felicity eventually got used to wearing corsets. It was hell for a while, but they got used to it.”

While praising the costumes, Jones says they occasionally brought her a lot of pain because "wearing a corset is always physically testing!” she laughs. "The costumes have elements of the Elizabethan era, but there's a wonderful modernity to them at the same time, which I really like. As with the production design, they retain elements of reality, but there's something strange and otherworldly about them as well.”

The shipwrecked characters all hailed from Milan, and Taymor's influence for their costuming came from the Spanish paintings of Goya and Velasquez, says Powell, but with a twist. "The references Julie gave me for the Milan court were of the Spanish royal court, which were dark and somber and a bit intimidating. They're mostly all black with only some linear decoration in gold and silver.”

There was also a contemporary element to Powell's designs, she says. "I wanted it to have a modern feel, and I don't know why, but zippers came to my mind, which I thought would provide strong decoration while making it like a modern version of a period costume.” "The court gives us a feeling of a mixture of contemporary or futuristic and 16th century,” notes Taymor. "It feels like conquistador clothing—it's black, it's tight, and Sandy used silver zippers in the details. The men also wore jodhpurs, which is more 1940s. And they had high riding boots. So it's this blend of period—it's not puffy Elizabethan, it's much cooler.”

The actors in court costumes, she says, immediately adapted to their garb. "Somehow, when they put them on, they became the part,” she notes. "They wore them beautifully. The nature of the costumes made them stand up straight and behave in a certain way.”

But, while the costumes were stylistically cool, in the heat of the tropical sun, they were anything but literally cool. "Sandy Powell is a tremendous artist,” notes Cumming. "She does these costumes that are as beautiful as they are hellish to wear in the baking heat of Hawai'i. I'm not the best person in the sun. I felt like I'd become a character of a Jane Austen novel. I held an umbrella, and I got the vapors. We were on this volcanic wasteland and there was no shade, and it was pretty intense to be wearing black tweed and black leather. I got dizzy a few times. But it wasn't too bad. We were staying at the Four Seasons.”

The Shakespearean clowns, played by Molina and Brand, are by sharp contrast "a riot of color,” says Taymor. "Trinculo has got sort of a tailcoat, stripes and patterns, green and orange with his slimy black hair. And we gave him some really hideous teeth. He was too cute without them. He had these pointy black rocker shoes with tight, striped pants that are kind of his style. Alfred Molina wore pants that were too small for him and his belly was too big for him. He also wore a slimy T-shirt. They were comic but also low-life edgy, and they had all the color.”

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