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Oscar-Winning Costumer Talks 'Geisha'

23 Mar, 2006 By: Brendan Howard

Colleen Atwood

Colleen Atwood has designed costumes for dozens of major feature films and just won her latest of two Oscars for the $57 million box office grosser Memoirs of a Geisha, streeting March 28 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Now, she wishes behind-the-scenes DVD film crews would just let her work.

“I find it extremely unnerving,” Atwood said. “I feel like I signed up to make costumes, and being in front of the camera doing my process is awkward. They always want you to do the DVD [featurettes] in the middle of the shoot.”

The work Atwood and the makeup crew did is in the featurette “The Look of a Geisha” on the $28.96 two-DVD set. Unnerving for Atwood, but fascinating for film fans, is seeing the details of making kimonos and the warehouse of kimono construction that Atwood had to organize.

“The hardest thing was the scheduling, the quick amount of time I had to get them all done,” she said. A traditional kimono can take one year or more to make, but Atwood had to make dozens of kimonos for the film, less intricate but challenging in their own way.

“The details of traditional kimonos are sometimes very low-key, oriented from the knee down on the garment,” she said. “[Director Rob Marshall] wanted the aesthetic of the kimono as it's applied to film. We used more sensual fabrics and elongated the silhouette of the kimono. We mixed the best of both worlds.”

Atwood preferred sharing time on an audio commentary on Geisha after her work is done, when she could look back at things and talk about the whole finished project. She also participated in commentary on the production gallery on 2000's special edition DVD for Little Women.

“Then it's more relaxing, but not when the commentary's in the middle of it,” she said. “I know a lot of directors feel the same way.”

That interest in behind-the-scenes work has been strong since the beginning for Atwood, who began her film career as a production assistant on 1980's Ragtime. She knew she wanted to work in movies, and that entr?e from a friend of her parents led her from one costume-design job to another. She's at the top of the heap now, with such return customers as Tim Burton, Jonathan Demme and Geisha's Rob Marshall, whose Chicago won her her first Oscar.

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