Anthony Powell, Oscar-Successful Costume Designer, Dies at 85

Anthony Powell, Oscar-Winning Costume Designer, Dies at 85

Anthony Powell, an inventive British costume designer who won three Academy Awards but is perhaps best known for the edgy clothes he created for Glenn Close as the fur-loving Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians and its sequel, died on April 16 in London. He was 85 years old.

The Costume Designers Guild announced his death, but did not name the cause. His fellow costume designer Tom Rand said he died in a nursing home.

“There is so much intelligence behind his work, no matter what genre or character,” said Keith Lodwick, curator of theater and screen art at the V&A Museum in London. “You see a movie like ‘Evil Under the Sun’ and you see extraordinary details – like in a scene, Roddy McDowall’s red socks match the red carnation on his jacket.”

Thoroughly researching his work in both theater and film, Mr. Powell won a 1963 Tony Award for the production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th century mannered comedy “The School for Scandal,” his first Broadway show. He worked 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 Mr. Polanski.

“In a way, Anthony is a great director,” Kevin Lima, director of the sequel 102 Dalmatians (2000), told the Los Angeles Times, “because he has to look deeply into these characters and visualize them.” And he not only senses what they are wearing, but who they are and how to create layers of character out of their clothing, like we did with Cruella. “

For Cruella de Vil, Mr. Powell conceived wild, vicious ensembles in two live-action films based on an animated feature film from 1961. This included a black and white silk dress with a shark fin appliqué; a red dress with ostrich feathers that Mrs. Close seemed to swallow in flames; and the habit of a couture nun with a backless dress and an umbrella-sized wimple.

“When we started, Glenn said the most terrible thing to me,” Mr. Powell was quoted as saying in his obituary in The Telegraph. “She said to me, ‘Just do the clothes, the makeup and the hair, then I’ll look in the mirror and decide how I’m going to play it.’ That’s a lot of responsibility. “

Ms. Close, who would also wear outfits (including turbans) that Mr. Powell designed for the Broadway musical “Sunset Boulevard” – both the original 1994 production, for which he received a Tony nomination, and the 2017 revival – continued to tell Twitter after his death: “He put me in outfits that taught me how to move in and wear a costume instead of being consumed by him.”

Mr. Powell received an Oscar nomination for his work on “102 Dalmatians”.

Mr 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 as a radio operator in the British Army.

After graduating from the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, he studied with Cecil Beaton, the Oscar-winning stage and costume designer, and the stage and costume designer Oliver Messel.

Mr. Powell began his career while teaching at the Central School. Mr. 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 costume design for this show, Mr. Powell was nominated for best scenic design.


April 26, 2021 at 12:32 AM ET

Mr. Powell returned to the stage occasionally in London and on Broadway. Most of his work, however, has been shot in film, beginning in 1969 with Irving Lerner’s “The Royal Hunt for the Sun,” a historical drama about Spanish conquerors who fought against Incas in the 16th century.

In Franklin Schaffner’s “Papillon” (1973), a story of prisoners on Devil’s Island in French Guiana, Mr. Powell provided Dustin Hoffman with small round glasses and found ways to distinguish his appearance in uniform from that of other prisoners, including that of Steve McQueen played.

“I had to make it look as weed as possible,” Powell said in a 2016 interview with the British Film Institute. “He stood in a locker room for four hours while I played around with the fact that he appeared to have narrow shoulders.” and subtly change the proportions to give it a completely different look. “

All three of the films that won Mr. Powell Oscars were historical pieces.

Among the many stars in the cast of “Death on the Nile,” based on a novel by Agatha Christie and set in Egypt in 1937, was Bette Davis, with whom he met at her home at the beginning of the trial.

“They had a gin and tonic or something and she said,” Let’s go upstairs, you need to see what you’re working with, “said Mr. Rand.” She undressed and stood there in her bra and panties. “

He added, “He said she had beautiful skin.”

For “Tess”, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, Mr. Powell dressed the actors, including Nastassja Kinski, in Victorian clothes. On The Film Experience blog, Claudio Alves wrote after Mr Powell’s death that he showed “a remarkable attention to detail, refined tailoring and a keen eye for finding beauty in the pastoral simplicity of the English countryside”.

Mr. Powell continued his relationship with Mr. Polanski through the films “Pirates” (1986) and “Frantic” (1988) and a stage production of “Amadeus” in Paris in which the director played Mozart.

In 1984, Mr. Powell designed the costumes for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Mr. Spielberg’s predecessor to Raiders of the Lost Ark. It followed in 1989 with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which brought Harrison Ford together in the title role with Sean Connery as his father.

Deborah Nadoolman Landis, who designed the costumes for “Raiders,” said when she first met Mr. Powell he was grateful for having created the costume templates for the Jones franchise.

“He knelt down when I was introduced to him, looked up at me and said,” Thank you, “” said Dr. Landis, chairman of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design at the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television. “How could I not want to marry this man?”

For “Last Crusade,” Mr. Powell dressed Mr. Connery in a Harris tweed three-piece suit, bow tie and hat – a look he based on his grandfather’s – to counterpoint Mr. Ford’s leather jacket and fedora. When filming moved from Venice to Petra, Jordan, Mr. Powell realized he had a problem.

“Sean has something to do with heat and he sweats like a pig,” Powell said in an interview with BFI. He added, “Sean said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to wear this Harris tweed in Petra.’ So we had to photograph a piece of Harris tweed and then screen print it onto a thin cotton voile. It cost a king’s ransom! “

Other Mr. Powell films include Mr. Spielberg’s “Hook” (a retelling of the Peter Pan story in which the curls of Mr. Hoffman 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 members survive.

While filming Death on the Nile, a new scene was written that requires a new costume for Mia Farrow. Mr. Powell had enough silk to make pajama bottoms but nothing to make a top out of. As he wandered around, he met his tailor’s mother, who cooked paella and used a striped linen covered with fat, garlic, and olive oil.

“I thought there would be just enough to make a little vest,” Powell said in an interview with Mr. Lodwick of the V&A Museum in 2018. “So we boiled it and boiled it until it was the color that it was it had to be, and we threw up that very pretty little vest. “