Breakfast at Tiffany's Costume Designer Colleen Atwood on Giving Holly Golightly a 1940s Makeover

With Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke in the lead role made famous by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's, we couldn't help but wonder how Holly Golightly's iconic wardrobe (Givenchy and satin gloves, anyone?) would translate to the stage--and the play's World War II-era Manhattan setting. We caught up with the production's costume designer Colleen Atwood--a Hollywood heavyweight who's been nominated for 10 Oscars and won three (for her work in Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Alice in Wonderland)--about her first foray into theater and redesigning an icon.
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With Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke in the lead role made famous by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's, we couldn't help but wonder how Holly Golightly's iconic wardrobe (Givenchy and satin gloves, anyone?) would translate to the stage--and the play's World War II-era Manhattan setting. We caught up with the production's costume designer Colleen Atwood--a Hollywood heavyweight who's been nominated for 10 Oscars and won three (for her work in Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Alice in Wonderland)--about her first foray into theater and redesigning an icon.
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We've been positively dying to see Breakfast at Tiffany's since we first heard last fall that a fresh interpretation of the Truman Capote classic was heading to Broadway--the official opening of which is tonight. With Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke in the lead role made famous by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film version, we couldn't help but wonder how Holly Golightly's iconic wardrobe (Givenchy and satin gloves, anyone?) would translate to the stage--and the play's World War II-era Manhattan setting.

We caught up with the production's costume designer Colleen Atwood--a Hollywood heavyweight who's been nominated for 10 Oscars and won three (for her work in Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Alice in Wonderland)--about her first foray into theater and redesigning an icon.

Fashionista: First of all, congratulations on the play opening today! Colleen Atwood: Thank you! It’s looking good, they've done a lot of work. It’s really impressive, what the actors have done on it.

Up until now, you've been mostly involved with making costumes for cinema. How did you first get involved with this production? I met the director (Sean Mathias) in London at an event and we were talking, and he asked if I'd ever done theatre and I said 'no, not really,' that my life had started in film--which is what I really focused on, but that I would do it if someone asked me. And then a few months later, he called me and asked me to be part of it.

What's the major difference between designing for the stage versus film? Did you find it more challenging? It's a different process for me. I’m used to a faster [environment], you know, a lot of time with films, I'll have my own workroom that I’m in for building the the costumes--whereas in theater, it’s all done in outside workrooms, so it's monitored but you’re not so much in it. Which I missed, frankly; I like being in the room with the clothes as they're being put together. But I was lucky with who actually made the clothes here in New York--and they really did a great job.

This Breakfast at Tiffany's is set in the 1940s rather than the '60s. How did you translate such iconic costumes into a different time period? Well it’s not based on the movie, it’s based on the book--which is, I think, less self-consciously about style. It’s more about a time and sort of textural kind of commitment. There’s a lot of clothes in the play--a lot. [Emilia Clarke] changes clothes more than 20 times. So it’s not like there’s one iconic costume the way the black dress is remembered from the film.

Wow that's a lot. Some of them are repeated, but still, there’s quite a few. So instead of it being just kind of a dress that she goes to the jewelry store in it, it’s party scenes and you know, it’s evocative of a lifestyle in New York. So I didn’t re-do the movie in a play, it made no sense. [The play is really about] the relationship between the two people and it’s really sweet, I think. I think people are going to like it.

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Would you say that the costumes take more of a backseat to the story, as opposed to the iconic looks of the movie? I would hope so, yes. It’s more about serving the story than being the story.

Where did you take your references from when designing for the time period? Was there a lot of historical research involved? Well I knew the period, but I did research photos of what was going on in New York in that time period--which was interesting because I hadn’t ever really focused on anything that from New York in 1942, '43, '44--in that era. So it was interesting to see what it was like: That it was crowded, you know, New Yorkers were still New Yorkers, even though there was a war going on. It was filled with G.I.s and all that, but it was still fun to see the whole New York feel.

Who made the decision to forgo the Givenchy dress and tiara? Was it entirely on you as costume designer? Well, I think it was a directoral choice. We weren’t doing Audrey Hepburn--we have Emilia Clarke, who is an actress, who is playing a part and a different kind of character. So there was really no point in putting a tiara and a cigarette holder in her mouth. It made no sense for her or the story we were telling.

Click through for a taste of Atwood's many costumes for Breakfast at Tiffany's on Broadway.