Bluffton Today – From the bustling floors of a 1950s New York City department store to early 1700s aristocracy in Great Britain to a high-flying nanny in 1930s London, to say Sandy Powell has an outfit for every occasion is an understatement.
Now the three-time Oscar winner, nominated this year for two films, is in Savannah crafting a look for the 1960s and ’70s feminist movement as “The Glorias: A Life on the Road” films in town. The designer is excited to sink her teeth into the material and the charm of the Hostess City.
Starring Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Bette Midler and Janelle Monae, the film is based on feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s bestselling memoir, “My Life on the Road.” It tells the story of her itinerant childhood’s influence on her life as a writer, activist and organizer for women’s rights worldwide.
For Powell, the biggest challenge is keeping up with the time period they are covering on a given shooting date; the film ranges from Steinem’s upbringing in the 1940s and goes all the way up to the present day, the designer said.
“Sometimes we’re switching decades several times during the course of one day,” Powell said.
Not only decades, but actors as well. Four different actors, including Moore and Vikander, are portraying Steinem at points in her life, and with the shifting period of time comes a shift in costume design.
“The adult Gloria, she gets a style (and) starts developing a look, starting with Alicia and transitioning into Julianne,” she said. “Because the actors are so completely different as well, they sort of wear it different, but it all adds up to the same thing — the essence of Gloria.”
As Powell dives into the life of Steinem, she is also juggling two of her other “children” at this year’s Academy Awards — “The Favourite” and “Mary Poppins Returns” — which are up for best costume design at this year’s ceremony. While it would seem like a luxury to have two nominations for your work, Powell said it initially is very exciting until you realize you are “literally competing against yourself.”
“They are both designers’ dreams, really. I was very lucky,” she added.
“The Favourite,” which played at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival last year, stars Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz and tells the story of Queen Anne in early 18th-century England and the rivalry between two of her closest advisers.
“Mary Poppins Returns” features Emily Blunt in the role originated by Julie Andrews, coming back to the Banks home to help the children (played by Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw), who have now grown up and forgotten the initial lessons she imparted.
Powell said “The Favourite” was a treat, as it carries the look of a conventional period piece but also has an edge to it. “It definitely does have its own distinct style. It has a really modern feel even though it is steeped in period accuracy,” she said.
Powell hopes to bring that same degree of period accuracy to “The Glorias,” as Steinem has been a famous figure going on more than 50 years, but Powell said because of that fact, the research process takes on a much more precise facet as getting each element correct is paramount.
“What’s frustrating about (the heavy documentation) is that because it is so well-documented, you want to make it exact and then that’s not really possible,” she said. “Because you don’t have the budget to be able to make everything from scratch, so you have to find things that are as close as possible.”
Helping her are members of the Savannah College of Art and Design, which has more than 45 students, faculty and alumni working on the film. “At the moment they are doing a bit of everything, which is obviously why we have them working with us, but they are hard workers,” she said.
Powell will take a detour to Hollywood for the Academy Awards on Feb. 24, but plans for the long haul in Savannah, as “The Glorias” expects to film the majority of the narrative in the area. Parked in the Historic District, Powell said she is excited to explore the Hostess City, which marks her first visit.
“I’ve been working so hard, I’ve hardly seen any of (Savannah) so far,” she said. “I just hope I get to see a bit more of Savannah, that’s for sure.”