In Carol, the film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, Cate Blanchett plays the titular character, a married woman who falls for a shopgirl named Therese (Rooney Mara). One of the things to look out for in this film—other than the beautiful love story at the forefront—is the costuming. Famed costume designer Sandy Powell, who has previously worked on Cinderella, The Young Victoria, The Aviator, and more, turned her attention to this period drama set in the early 1950s and helped transform Blanchett into one of the most fashion-forward women of the time.
Powell told us it was a challenge and a thrill to work on this film when we caught up with her for a feature in our December issue, now on newsstands and available for digital download. Because back in 1952, at the time this love story is set, there was no fast fashion. Stylish shoppers, like Blanchett's Carol, relied on custom dresses and statement pieces. “Only someone with means could look as elegant as Carol does,” Powell told us. “Carol is timeless, yet ahead of her time.” Powell’s trick to her look: “Keep it simple,” she said. “Don’t try to over do it. The less there is, the easier it is to get it right.”
Powell did a few more things to help send Blanchett so believably back in time. Scroll down to read Powell's seven secrets to mastering the costumes of Carol, in theaters now.
1. You don’t even see the most important part of the costumes.
"I start with the silhouette, and that means the underwear. The bra had to be the right shape for the tie, which was the conical cups. She also needed a silhouette that accentuated her hips, bosom, and waist, so she wears waist cinchers. So, while the rest of the film looks 1940s and a lot of characters still have the big ‘40s shoulders, she looks more modern with the very soft rounded shoulder, the tiny hips, and the tiny waist."
2. Everything Carol wears is real.
"Carol is meant to look like she had money. But she wasn’t extravagant and she wasn’t flashy or showy. Instead, I wanted her to be completely tasteful and stylish, yet up-to-date. Therefore, all of her stuff is less big, more real, as in using real diamonds, rubies, and pearls. We borrowed estate jewelry from Fred Leighton and Van Cleef & Arpels. Those types of pieces get handed down, and never go out of fashion. This also goes for Carol’s top-handle bags. All of those were real, too, made with real ostrich and alligator skins."
3. You will see a lot of brooches.
"Brooches were fashionable at the time, so we wanted to include a variety of them. They haven’t been fashionable for many, many years now. I like them because they are big statement pieces, which work well with the simple, refined shapes of the dresses in the period. Really, they were used as a focal point in a look."
4. You’ll see more scarves on Carol than hats.
"We used scarves many times to replace hats, as the ‘50s were the first time when women weren’t wearing a hat every single time they left the house. Carol has a muted palette overall, but her scarves are designed so you see her from across the room. That’s how Therese sees her for the first time, and audiences should, too."
5. Coral is an important color for Carol.
"When she wears coral, it uplifts her look. It’s a color that was very fashionable for the period, be it lipstick, nail polish, clothing, or scarves. It’s a very old-fashioned color. Recently it’s become more fashionable. I think that’s because colors always go in and out of fashion."
6. While Carol wears cat-eye sunglasses, they aren’t your modern day specs.
"In the film, Carol wore a pair of vintage sunglasses. They look modern, but the biggest difference is that they are much smaller than the ones we wear today. Today, a similar shape is a bit bigger. Though, that could have to do with the fact that people are bigger these days than they were 60 to 70 years ago."
7. Her watches are extremely delicate.
"There was no choice. If you’re choosing a watch for a woman in 1952, it’s going to be delicate—so tiny you can hardly see it. They didn’t have big watches then. If they were big, a man wore it. At the time, they were considered pieces of jewelry as opposed to timepieces."