Exclusive Insights from Oscar-Winning Colleen Atwood: Unveiling Iconic Costumes in ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ ‘Chicago,’ and More

Hollywood’s recognition of Colleen Atwood’s extraordinary talent was evident from the very beginning of her career. Working with renowned directors such as Michael Apted, Michael Mann, James Toback, Ridley Scott, John G. Avildsen, and Jonathan Demme in the mid-’80s, Atwood quickly established herself as a rising star in the field of costume design. Even before her debut as a costume designer, she served as a production assistant on 1981’s “Ragtime,” directed by Miloš Forman.

Atwood considers herself fortunate to have collaborated with these visionary filmmakers early on. She specifically mentions Jonathan Demme, Michael Apted, and Michael Mann as influential figures in her career. Each director had their own unique approach to filmmaking, exposing Atwood to different styles and techniques. However, it was her fruitful partnership with the gothic master, Tim Burton, that truly defined her career. She has worked on twelve of Burton’s films over the past three decades, with a potential total of fourteen including the canceled Superman movie and the upcoming “Beetlejuice 2” sequel in 2024.

Most recently, Atwood worked alongside David Yates, known for his work on the Harry Potter series, on the dramatic thriller “Pain Hustlers.” The film explores the story of a financially struggling single mother, brilliantly portrayed by Emily Blunt, who finds success in the morally ambiguous world of painkiller trafficking for a pharmaceutical company. Atwood explains that this film allowed her to delve into a different narrative, telling the story of a female character’s rise from humble beginnings to wealth in contemporary America.

From her initial meeting with Tim Burton to her iconic costuming of Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs” and her entrance into the magical world of “Fantastic Beasts,” Atwood reflects on some of her career highlights. These experiences have shaped her artistic choices and solidified her reputation as an Oscar-winning costume designer.

Atwood’s journey began as a production assistant on Miloš Forman’s “Ragtime,” where she discovered her talent for creating hats. The costume designer on set took notice of her work and started incorporating her hats into the film’s wardrobe. This experience exemplifies Atwood’s belief in seizing opportunities and trying new things, even if it’s outside one’s comfort zone.

Among her earliest film experiences, Atwood credits Jonathan Demme’s “Married to the Mob” as a crucial collaboration that instilled in her a sense of teamwork and inclusion. Working with Michael Apted on his films became a valuable learning experience, as he showcased the role of a director in a collaborative manner. Michael Mann’s films presented their own challenges but exposed Atwood to the brilliance of a master filmmaker.

On meeting Tim Burton for the first time, Atwood recalls an instant connection and comfort. Burton hired her on the spot during their conversation, a rare occurrence in her career. Their shared visual sensibilities and understanding of characters like Edward Scissorhands allowed them to form a lasting friendship and creative partnership.

Creating the iconic look for Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands presented its own set of challenges. Atwood vividly remembers Tim Burton’s character sketches and their discussions about the character’s heart and outsider status. Crafting the costume from various pieces of leather in the heat of South Florida required exceptional tailoring skills that Atwood eventually found, resulting in a memorable design.

Another significant milestone in Atwood’s career was costuming Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs.” The famous flesh-colored mask was created by a hockey mask manufacturer in New Jersey, which perfectly captured the eerie appearance Atwood envisioned. The simplicity and authenticity of the mask made it an iconic element of the character’s identity. Additionally, the cream tropical outfit worn by Lecter at the end of the film added an interesting contrast to his incarcerated persona.

Colleen Atwood’s contributions to the world of costume design are immeasurable. Her collaborations with visionary directors, her unique creative perspective, and her ability to bring characters to life through clothing have solidified her status as one of the industry’s most celebrated artists.


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