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The Most Difficult Scenes to Costume From the Year’s Biggest Films and TV Series

From Eddie Redmayne's transition-defining suit in "The Danish Girl" to Lady Gaga's gloves on "American Horror Story: Hotel."
This 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2' moment was not the most challenging scene to costume design for Kurt and Bart. Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate

This 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2' moment was not the most challenging scene to costume design for Kurt and Bart. Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate

Before we reach the culmination of awards season with the Oscars on Sunday, the Costume Designers Guild Awards on Tuesday night will honor the talented visionaries who helped create our favorite characters on the big and small screens this past year. From Matt Damon and his single statement outfit (fine, spacesuit) in "The Martian" to Cookie Lyon and her closet full of fine furs on "Empire," none of these roles would be the same without their wardrobes. 

As with acting in, directing or producing a movie, costume design involves challenges, too. So to celebrate the CDGAs, we asked a slew of nominees to reveal their most difficult scene to costume. Read through to discover the insightful, thrilling and sometimes funny sartorial secrets behind your favorite movies and TV shows. The big takeaway: The next time a script calls for a white party, costume designers might want to run the other way. (For the full list of nominees, click here.)

"Beasts of No Nation," Jenny Eagan for Excellence in Contemporary Film

"The ambush, where Abraham [Attah, who plays Agu] and Strika [played by Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye] beat the guy with the machete — and it's such a horrific scene to say — [was difficult] because of all the extenuating circumstances. Because they were hidden in the bush, they covered themselves in all those leaves and, for lack of a better term, it was a continuity nightmare because it’s so hot out there and with the body temperature and sweating and everything, the leaves would start to wilt. Within 15 or 20 minutes we'd have to redo the whole thing on every single one of those young guys and not to mention it rained very heavily."

"Cinderella," Sandy Powell for Excellence in Fantasy Film

"The ballroom scene was probably the most challenging due to the sheer scale. It is the centerpiece of the film and had to live up to expectation. As well as the Cinderella ballgown making its first public appearance, I had to come up with numerous other ballgowns all trying equally hard to capture the attention of the Prince. I was fortunate enough to have the resources to design and make most of the gowns seen."

"The Danish Girl," Paco Delgado for Excellence in Period Film

“I think it is the cream suit Lili/Einar (Eddie Redmayne) wears when s/he is transitioning from her male body to a more female appearance. The suit is made of silk with a very nice weight and although it has the appearance of a wool suit, it has great movement to it. Also, the color is soft, more proper for a woman than man. The full trousers swing when Lili/Einar is in motion and the jacket has a waist-line shaping, more like a ladies jacket.

 It is not a female garment totally — and not a male one either. It is its ambiguity that makes it powerful... In my opinion, the cream suit costume shows how clothes can affect people's relationships and perception — sadly, even to the extent of inciting violence."

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2," Kurt and Bart for Excellence in Fantasy Film

"Katniss and Gale are in disguise and get separated in a mass of capitol citizens fleeing the city, which is under siege. We established the first shots of this sequence on the stages in Atlanta and then we completed shooting the sequence on location in Paris. A testament to our outstanding crews both in the States and in Paris, the logistics of the design, manufacture and shooting of the first sequence and then shipping hundreds of costumes and then refitting them in all new configuration on hundreds of new bodies was an enormous feat of scheduling, organization and dedication. Deserving mention, the French hair and makeup team brought such a level of finesse and creativity. A strong crew that live and work in a city that is so integral to fashion elevated both the result and experience."

"Joy," Michael Wilkinson for Excellence in Contemporary Film

"Not only do we see Jennifer Lawrence’s timeless, classic American domestic world, but we also enter her dreams, memories and nightmares. This alternate reality is played out mostly in a highly stylized, operatic world of daytime TV soaps, seen in the film over the course of 40 years. These soap opera scenes were the most challenging scenes in the film. It was incredible to explore the nuanced, heightened costume language of this genre and to express an appreciation and respect for this powerful medium, without any irony or condescension."

"Mad Max," Jenny Beavan for Excellence in Fantasy Film

"The 'Armada' as we called it — the full pursuing convoy of vehicles scrambled when Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) realizes that Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has escaped — was the most challenging scene to costume. So this scene had the full Citadel war party tearing across Blanky Flats, a vast swathe of open sandy desert, at about 80 miles an hour with everyone very exposed in the vehicles. The sand whipping up from the vehicle in front meant those behind were taking the full force on their bare torsos, faces and eyes. I never really got over the bravery of those stuntmen. It almost seemed the more dangerous and uncomfortable, the more they loved it. We did have to incorporate a lot of harnesses and goggles into the costume as we realized the impact the terrain and true speed of the vehicles was having on our actors."

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"The Martian," Janty Yates for Excellence in Contemporary Film

"My most challenging scene in 'The Martian' was every scene featuring Matt Damon in his spacesuit. We had established 'The Martian' surface spacesuit very early on in the movie — and the storm with all the actors was challenging enough — but knowing that Matt had to constantly be wearing this spacesuit over such a long time lapse and travel throughout the surface of Mars with the breakdown and aging was the biggest challenge of all. Who knows what would actually happen there on the surface of Mars?! We had to make educated guesses and also create a look that would not really jar overall with the viewers' eye. 

When the shoot transferred to the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan for the Mars exteriors, the new challenge was the immense heat. It was keeping the credibility of the viewer in mind, plus keeping natural sweat at bay. Throughout the whole shoot I have to emphasize that I could not have been blessed with a more courteous, kind, helpful and most importantly patient lead actor than Matt Damon. To work with him was a privilege."


"American Horror Story: Hotel," Lou Eyrich for Outstanding Contemporary Television Series

"The most challenging scene to prep for was the first time we needed the Countess's crystal armor glove with the stiletto blade pop-out nail. We needed to find a glove maker that could work with me on figuring out how to design a glove that could function as a weapon, be stylish, produce for men and women, have multiple colors to match different ensembles and have the pop-out blade mechanism. Since the glove is really a piece of jewelry, I was lucky to find Michael Schmidt, who designed and fabricated (in collaboration with myself) 10 gloves for Lady Gaga [who plays The Countess], Matt Bomer and Finn Wittrock. The silver opera-length glove that The Countess wears consists of over 11,000 crystals, with sterling silver scrollwork and skulls, along with the stiletto blade at the forefinger. Lady Gaga had been busy on tour with Tony Bennett, so we didn’t get to fit her until three days before she worked. Michael and his team and Dorothy Gaspar had to work crazy overtime to finish the first glove, while we worked madly to finish all the costumes, including The Countess' 17 couture or custom-made costumes."

"Empire" Season 1, Rita McGhee for Outstanding Contemporary Television Series

"The White Party was challenging, even though everyone was in white. Jussie [Smollett, who plays Jamal] wanted to look like a prince and Lucious [played by Terence Howard] wanted to look like a king... They did their fittings at different times and the day we shot the scene is when they saw how they came in with the same ideas. Taraji [Henson, who plays Cookie] said she wanted to look different. She's been to white parties before and she was like, 'most women always wear white dresses.' So she was like, 'I don't want to wear a dress' and wanted a pantsuit, so I put her in a jumpsuit. She has worn jumpsuits on the show and that was her showing her strength, as well as, you don't always have to walk into a room and command a room with a dress."

"Mad Men," Janie Bryant for Outstanding Period Television Series

"I would say the last scene where we see Don Draper with all of the extras at the Northern California retreat because it was such a complete change from everything that we had ever done on 'Mad Men.' Also, we were trying to match a lot of the extras [along the way] to the Coca-Cola commercial at the end. That was all about Don's inspiration for the commercial for the finale, so it was really important that you see all of those similarities with the cast members and the extras when Don is at the retreat."

"Penny Dreadful," Gabriella Pescucci for Outstanding Period Television Series

"The most challenging scene to costume was the one with all the blood falling from the ceiling like rain. All the costumes needed to be made in quadruples for cast and extras and I was very afraid that they wouldn't be enough."

"Transparent," Marie Schley for Outstanding Contemporary Television Series

"The reception scene in episode 201 called for a white wedding in which the entire bridal party, family members and over a hundred guests and hotel staff were dressed in white. Each of our principle character's individuality needed to be expressed, but in an all-white version of themselves. Each background artist had to be specifically defined by their clothing whether it was Tammy’s (Melora Hardin's) WASPY family members or her friends from CrossFit class.

In the middle of the scene, as the guests and bridal party are dancing, the story line flashes back to a party in 1933 Berlin. The director, Jill Soloway, used the same cast playing Maura’s [Jeffrey Tambor's] nephew and the musicians in the wedding band for the 1933 scene. The idea was to use them to create an emotional and visual link between the present Pfefferman family and its past. She asked me to put the repeated cast in all white for the 1933 Weimar Berlin flashback to facilitate the visual transition between past and present. It was our first episode and we only had two and a half weeks prep for the entire season, so the scope of the scene and the time limitations made it incredibly challenging."             

"The Knick," Ellen Mirojnick for Outstanding Period Television Series and recipient of the Honorary Career Achievement Award

"The ball scene in episode eight required costuming 250 upperclass men and women in formal wear. The challenge was to find an affordable way to accomplish designing formal costumes the 250 extras head-to-toe. Nothing was rentable and I was on a budget. I was extremely fortunate to have discovered an amazing resource overseas. The Costume Angel sat on my shoulder."

The interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.