Rooney Mara & Cate Blanchett in Carol.
For some people, New Year means New You, however, for me it seems it’s still much of the same. If nothing else, my posts for Curate serve as solid proof that, yes, I do watch a lot of movies and this post is proof that, no, I don’t intend to stop anytime soon. For my first post of 2016 I couldn’t help but indulge myself and write on the sort of recently released movie Carol (directed by Todd Haynes), which I’m sure you’ve all seen by now or at least been told to see by an over-eager film-going friend like myself.
Carol is a love story. Set in the winter of 1952, its heroines Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara) meet and fall in love in a moment when to do so was unspeakable. So much of the movie exists in the absence of words whose expression are found in glances, gestures, in- between type moments that speak a language of their own. Carol is a wealthy New Jersey housewife and Therese a young woman working in a department store. We’re meant to feel the large gap between the two women’s lives through the subtle differences in speech, demeanor, and most especially in their modes of dressing. In fact it is clothing, or rather an accessory, that brings the two women together when Carol forgets her gloves at the counter Therese works at and in an act of kindness Therese returns them. Side by side the incongruence of their lives practically smacks you in the face. Therese is more understated and simple in modest wool skirts and sweaters she’s probably had for years and Carol, without being too splashy, dresses smartly in contemporary silhouettes that undulate with wealth. The blond mink coat she wears throughout the film becomes such a key visual element its hard to imagine her without it.
Costume designer Sandy Powell’s costuming was essential to telling the story of these women. This moment in time marked a transition from the 1940s into the 1950s, from wartime to post- war. You can feel the growing pains of this time through the clothes worn. Therese’s clothes aren’t especially fashionable, the ghost of 40s wartime austerity measures lingers in the simplicity of her wardrobe. For Carol, Powell composed her look based on research from issues of Vogue and Harpers during this exact moment, late 1952. The pluming, voluminousness of Christian Dior’s New Look is what we historically think of for this time but Powell opted out of that for a sleeker, narrower silhouette that was also du jour for the fashionable women of 1952. If the New Look is freedom—freedom to spend, freedom to move—this alternatively restrictive silhouette adds dimension to the repressive confines of Carol’s life as a housewife. Carol is statuesque, beautiful and meant to be seen. Therese is likewise beautiful but otherwise beholden to no one as a symbol of beauty per her choice. There’s no need to dress to suit any particular role because she’s free and unencumbered. It’s easy to imagine why at first sight they would appeal to one another, each one visibly representing something that the other is without.
The significance of costume cannot be overstated in this tender and subtle love story and Sandy Powell does not miss a beat in recreating this period of sartorial history. While it appears that Carol has been excluded from this years Oscar nominations for Best Picture (not that I care about the Oscars, this is me not caring about the Oscars) the Academy has the chance to redeem themselves with Sandy Powell’s nomination for Best Costume Design for Carole (and a second nomination in the same category for Cinderella). Vintage lovers, if you know what’s good for you, I insist you run, don’t walk, to the nearest theater or torrenting site and watch Carol ASAP.
Costume Designer Sandy Powell’s Sketches