Friday, August 17, 2012

The legacy of the "Atonement dress"

This post was orinally published on my personal blog in December of 2007.  Creative food for thought...

Saw a lovely article in The New York Post (which I don't normally read) about this dress (above), made for Keira Knightley's character in "Atonement". Make sure you read on to page two of the article, where the costume designer's (Jacqueline Durran) inspiration is explained.

I adore this article, because, unlike so many others, they don't make it seem that anyone just "whipped up" a little number for her. The article really lets you know that specificity, specialness and art take a considerable amount of time, expense, and experimentation.

At this summer's visit to the Cameron Art Museum in North Carolina, I learned that this simple looking dress, made by William Ivey Long for the show "Contact"...

took EIGHT tries to make.

EIGHT tries!

This means seven dresses, wadded up and tossed aside before getting to this one, which moved with the dancer like absolute magic.

So when you have to trash something on your way to achieving your vision, think of the effort involved in really creating something special.

Encouraging, isn't it?


  1. Mimi - I FINALLY learned this lesson when I enrolled in a 2 year Art and Design studies program about 6-7 years ago. Art is very much trial and error. When we are in the audience we see only the final product, and if done well, looks effortless - nothing forced or contrived. But the process is definitely work, trial and error, and takes time. Thanks for the post!

  2. It's always encouraging to know that it's isn't effortless for the professionals either.

  3. It certainly gives me some comfort. I was once in Opening Ceremony with a non-sewer and we were admiring a dress that looked very simple. She would not believe me when I said that even simple things can't be "whipped up" and made to fit without some effort.

    And don't ask me how one would have found fabric that even vaguely resembled the kind used in the dress: It looked like it was made from vintage coffee sacks of an African country whose name escapes me.

    New York Sewer

  4. I felt this topic was timely, and would resonate among the creatives reading this. Thanks to you three for supporting that feeling.

  5. That was an awesome dance! I have some experience making dance costumes and they are truly a subset of theatrical costuming because the technical and durability requirements are pretty significant, it's not like opera costumes where the players pretty much just stand and walk, dancers move and they also have very fast costume changes (often less than 2 minutes) Also, the dancer above is busty and anything over a B-cup is *always* a challenge in a dance costume. I noticed she had not one bit of bounce in very strenuous dance. The dress is probably lined with a full length leotard and yet there is no panty line at her hips, which makes me think it's interlined with something. I can't quite tell what the fabric might be although silk jersey is a possibility. This a great example of a costume that appears really simple when in fact the construction is certainly a lot more complex and it appears to be on stage.

    1. Fantastic comments, Phyllis. Yes, I noticed the absence of "jiggle", too!


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