Anthony Powell, an inventive British costume designer who won three Oscars but is perhaps best known for the extravagant clothes he designed for Glenn Close as the fur-loving Cruella de Vil in “101 Dalmatians” and his following, died on April 16 in London. He was 85 years old.
The Costume Designers Guild announced his death but did not cite the cause. Fellow costumer Tom Rand said he died in a nursing home.
“There is so much intelligence behind his work, no matter the genre or the character,” said Keith Lodwick, curator of theater and screen art at the V&A Museum in London. “You watch a movie like ‘Evil Under the Sun’, and you see amazing details – like in a scene, Roddy McDowall’s red socks match the red eyelet on his jacket.
Powell, who has brought extensive research to his work in both theater and film, won a Tony Award for the 1963 production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th century comedy of manners “The School for Scandal,” his first show on Broadway. He has collaborated on films with Steven Spielberg and Roman Polanski. He won his Oscars for “Travels With My Aunt” (1972), directed by George Cukor; “Death on the Nile” (1978), directed by John Guillermin; and “Tess” (1979), the first of his three films with Polanski.
“Anthony, in a way, is an incredible director,” Kevin Lima, who directed the sequel “102 Dalmatians” (2000), told the Los Angeles Times, “because he has to dig deeper into these characters and visualize them. And he doesn’t just perceive what they wear, but also who they are and how to layer character based on their clothes, which we did with Cruella.
For Cruella de Vil, in two live-action movies based on a 1961 animated feature, Powell crafted wild sets that enhance villainy. They included a black and white silk dress with shark fin appliques; a red dress edged with ostrich feathers that seemed to swallow Close in flames; and the dress of a couture nun with a backless dress and a wimple the size of an umbrella.
“When we first started, Glenn told me the scariest thing,” Powell said in his obituary in The Telegraph. “She said to me, ‘Just do the clothes, the makeup and the hair, then I’ll look at myself in the mirror and decide how I’m going to act.’ It’s a lot of responsibility. “
Close, who would also wear outfits (including turbans) that Powell designed for the Broadway musical “Sunset Boulevard” – both the original production, in 1994, for which he earned a Tony nomination, and the revival of 2017 – said on Twitter after his death, “He put me in outfits that taught me to move in and wear a costume rather than being consumed by it.”
Powell received an Oscar nomination for his work on “102 Dalmatians”.
Powell was born on June 2, 1935 in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, a suburb of Manchester, to Arthur and Alice (Woodhead) Powell. He attended schools in Manchester and Dublin before serving in the British Army as a wireless operator.
After graduating from the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, he apprenticed with Cecil Beaton, Oscar-winning set designer and costume designer, and set designer and costume designer Oliver Messel.
While teaching at Central School, Powell began his career. Beaton introduced him to John Gielgud, who directed and starred in the 1962 London production of “The School for Scandal”.
In addition to winning a Tony for his costume design for this show, Powell was nominated for Best Stage Design.
Powell occasionally returned to the stage in London and Broadway. But most of his work was on film, starting in 1969 with Irving Lerner “The Royal Hunt of the Sun”, a historical drama about the Spanish conquistadors fighting the Incas in the 16th century.
With Franklin Schaffner’s ‘Papillon’ (1973), a story of prisoners on Devil’s Island in French Guiana, Powell fitted Dustin Hoffman with small round glasses and found ways to distinguish his uniformed appearance from that of other prisoners. , including the one played by Steve McQueen.
“I had to make him look as bad as possible,” Powell said in an interview with the British Film Institute in 2016. “He was in a dressing room for four hours while I played with him making him feel like having narrow shoulders, and subtly altering the proportions to give it a completely different physical appearance.
The three films for which Powell won Oscars were period pieces.
Among the many stars of the cast of “Death on the Nile,” based on a novel by Agatha Christie and set in Egypt in 1937, was Bette Davis, whom he met at her home early in the process.
“They had a gin and tonic, or something, and she said, ‘Let’s go upstairs, you have to see what you’re working with,’” Rand said. “She took off her clothes and stayed there in her bra and panties.
He added: “He said she had great skin.”
For “Tess”, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel “Tess of the Urbervilles”, Powell dressed the actors, including Nastassja Kinski, in Victorian dresses. On The Film Experience blog, Claudio Alves wrote after Powell’s death that he “displayed remarkable attention to detail, artful tailoring, a keen sense of beauty in the pastoral simplicity of the English countryside ”.
Powell continues his association with Polanski through the films “Pirates” (1986) and “Frantic” (1988) and a production of “Amadeus” in Paris in which the director plays Mozart.
In 1984, Powell designed the costumes for “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Death,” Spielberg’s prequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. He followed this up in 1989 with “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” which paired Harrison Ford in the title role with Sean Connery as his father.
Deborah Nadoolman Landis, who designed the costumes for “Raiders,” said that when she first met Powell, he offered his gratitude for creating the costume model for the Jones franchise.
“He knelt down when he was introduced to me, looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you,'” said Landis, president of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “How could I not want to marry this man?”
For “Last Crusade,” Powell dressed Connery in a three-piece Harris tweed suit, bow tie and hat – a look he inspired from his grandfather’s – to give the leather jacket a counterpoint. and the Ford fedora. When filming moved from Venice to Petra, Jordan, Powell admitted he had a problem.
“Sean has a thing for heat, and he sweats like a pig,” Powell said in the BFI interview. He added, “Sean said, ‘I’m not going to wear this Harris tweed in Petra.’ So we had to photograph a length of Harris tweed, then screen print it on a thin cotton veil. It cost a king’s ransom!
Other credits from Powell’s film include Spielberg’s ‘Hook’ (a retelling of the Peter Pan story in which Hoffman’s braids, as Captain Hook, were modeled on the wigs of King Charles II of Great Britain. ) and “Miss Potter”, with Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter, the author of the children’s book “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”.
No immediate family member survives.
During the filming of “Death on the Nile” a new scene was written requiring a new costume for Mia Farrow. Powell had enough silk to make pajama pants but had nothing to make a top. As he walked around, he encountered his tailor’s mother cooking a paella and using a striped cloth covered in grease, garlic and olive oil.
“I thought there would be just enough of it to make a little vest,” Powell said in an interview with Lodwick of the V&A Museum in 2018. “So we boiled and boiled it until it was sort of the color it was supposed to be, and we put this really cute little vest on.