Milena Canonero: The Distinctive Eye
How can costume design be essential to character?
For better or worse, when we talk about films we tend to focus almost exclusively on the work of the director, performers, and occasionally the screenwriters. And yet, at the same time, almost everybody recognizes and understands on some level that cinema is a collaborative art and can feature the work of hundreds of technicians each bringing specific areas of expertise to a project. But how often do we extend our appreciation, and specifically, acknowledge these individual contributions, many of which deeply shape our understanding of a film?
While it’s not entirely uncommon to hear praise of a cinematographer’s rigorous planning or enthusiasm around a composer’s memorable score, it remains relatively rare to highlight and critically analyze the importance of costume design in cinema.
One could argue, a glaring example of such oversight is Milena Canonero. Her career spans several decades and features collaborations with Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson on some of their most iconic productions like A Clockwork Orange and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. As a costume designer, Canonero has demonstrated her capacity to dress a stark, dystopian future, as well as recreate the flourishes of eighteenth century French couture like her work in Marie Antoinette.
So we beg the question: How do these accomplishments further attest Canonero’s considerable role in a film’s storytelling? How can costume design be essential to character?