Colleen Atwood: Costume Designer for Into The Woods

Every movie takes so much preparation that it’s hard to imagine how it’s all put together, for I think any good movie will have you lost in the film and not really thinking much about how it was made, including the costumes.  After talking with Colleen Atwood, the costume designer for Into the Woods, I learned that everything, color, texture, style, flow, it all is carefully thought out.  A process I am now fascinated with and lucky for you, I am able to share the time I had to listen as Colleen shared her role of making everyone look their part.


Colleen has been nominated 10 times and is a 3-time Oscar winner. One of those wins was another film she did with Director Rob Marshall, Chicago.  I wonder if she will get to add another after the Academy sees the work she put into this Into the Woods?  Hmmm, maybe that and Best Picture?  You never know.

Colleen Atwood:  Costume Designer for Into The Woods

This is quite a fun project to get to work on, how did you get involved?

Every project starts with a story.  So I get the phone call and the script and I read the script and kind of have a little dream about what I – sometimes when you get a script you sort of see different things right away and sometimes, you know, it’s a different process.  But I start thinking about it and then the next step is usually meeting with a director and having a kind of a conversation about what he’s thinking it is, because ultimately that’s the person that I collaborate with the most on a film is the director.  So you’re there to kind of, kind of serve his vision of the story.  And then the next step is going off and doing research, design, costume textile development which I’m huge on because I love the craft.  And people doing things with their hands is exciting and, and sort of inspiring for me.  Then I take those things once I put them together and present them to the director. And then as actors are cast in the film and I have meetings with them, I usually show them.  Before I give them clothes at all, I usually try to meet with them and show them my ideas so if they have something they don’t like, they object to, I kind of figure it out there and sort of talk to them about it.  And get to what the heart of what their feeling is and then I start the actual making of the costumes and fittings and that process.  

Colleen Atwood Into The Woods
Photo Credit

This film had so many amazing characters and costumes to go with the characters.  Which was your favorite to work on?

You know, it’s kind of like children, it’s a weird question to ask, because I never like one, one day some of them are definitely not my favorites. (Laughing) I had a great time of course with Meryl’s costume because of the textile art that was involved in it.  And it involved not just my ideas but the hands of a lot of really talented people, mainly women.  Each one has a different beat, so it’s kind of fun!  The thing that makes it great for me because I kind of bounce around, it’s great that in the room you can go from Meryl’s costume and walk over to, to Billy’s costume, and walk over to the baker and his wife’s costume.  You know, the vocabulary is so varied that, that when you walk around and go from one thing to the other, you’re thinking about each thing as you go, and you kind of as you hit one, you go oh, and you kind of go back to the other one.  But it’s, it’s nice ’cause they’re so varied and you can always take from one and sort of lend to another when it’s something isn’t working in the room.


You mention the costumes of the children.  Do you cringe a little bit inside when they’re wearing these amazing designs and they’re falling down a hill and they’re tripping over and the costumes are getting destroyed?

You know, I like the costumes to look like they’re worn, so it doesn’t bother me.  I cringe on a different level like if I don’t have enough of them to be destroyed (Laughing) but I don’t cringe on an artistic level at all.  I kind of- especially with a movie like this because of the rehearsal period, I kind of knew what the costumes were going to have to do so I made them to kind of accommodate that.

Has there ever been a costume that you were stumped on and that took some time?

You know what, a lot of times for me, when you work on a movie, all the costumes aren’t done the first day of shooting.  You’re still continuing making as you’re shooting.  Because the schedules for preparing are pretty tight and sometimes the casting doesn’t happen at the beginning, and you get the actor later in the story.  So to me the costume that kind of stumps me the most is when I know it’s going to be the last costume.  And then you’re sort of it’s a weird thing, it’s like psychological, you don’t want to let go of that costume or something, it’s like the baby of the family. (Laughing) So traditionally with me the hardest costume to kind of like say, oh it’s at the right thing.  Like I get more anxiety about that than the first one, you know, it’s, it’s funny.

Whose costume would you say involved the most from your first thoughts to the finished product and why?

Well I’d say Emily’s because she was pregnant. (Laughing) It changed the most of any costume.  It had a lot of it had a lot of panels and you know, when I got her, she was just barely pregnant.  And all of a sudden she got into that like kind of fifth month kind of thing.  And she came to work after a weekend and it was like she’d grown I swear. (Laughing)


She’d grown like two or three inches I’m like what happened over the weekend, the baby just kind of (popped out).  And so I was continually kind of modifying her costume because, her bust was bigger and her belly was bigger and even though she was incredibly small for how pregnant she was.  So I was continually like making the apron bigger and all that.  Thank goodness she was in an apron from the start. (Laughing)  And the little jacket, I kept raising the kind of where it buttoned and kind of painting it in darker and darker on the side, so you kind of use a lot of tricks of the trade.  But that costume I was continually changing and touching the whole time.

I read that Meryl  went to school for costume design, so did she have any input or involvement in her costumes?

Well there’s not an aspect of a character development that Meryl isn’t involved in. (Laughter)  She is the Meryl Streep.  But, in fact she understands costumes really well, which doesn’t like mean she designs them on any level, but she feels them.  And any request she made to her costumes were all sort of related to movement in the costume and what it had to do for her.  And she embraced all the textiles and stuff in a way that somebody that really knew what it took to make it appreciated it, so it was a really gratifying collaboration to not only work with someone of her kind of amazing talent.

IntoTheWoods Meryl Streep

But just somebody that kind of just loved going in the room and seeing what everybody was doing and, you know, was really great with the stitchers.  Like she actually acknowledged they existed, which is really nice for the people that make the costumes, because a lot of times, I always try to like get the actors to kind of walk through when it’s done, just to give them that gratification.  But a lot of times actors, they’re like, reluctant to do it, and Meryl was just so kind and generous in that way.

Can you talk just a little bit about the design process of Cinderella’s costume?

Cinderella’s costume for me, the first costume in the house in that whole world, it’s hard to talk about just her without the world, because she’s in the world with the steps.  And it kind of when I saw what Rob was doing with the rehearsals with the girls and their action and how they were playing that opening scene, where you kind of establish who they all are it was very farcical to me and I immediately went to the eighteenth century for kind of reference.  Because it lends itself well to that kind of comedy.  It’s exaggerated in a way that really worked with the girls.  And I wanted, so for Cinderella she was sort of a nod to that world but with a little bit of a more modern kind of take on it, not so over the top and very peasant and aged down and- and dirty.

IntoTheWoods Anna Kendrick Cinderella

What you’d expect Cinderella to be in a way.  And then when she has her moment.  The costume was created by her mother.  And in the early Grimm fairy tales, the shoes are gold not glass.  I kind of wanted it to be gold and sort of of the tree and the willow.  And I started with more green in it, but then it became, I found this great thirties vintage fabric that I had been hoarding for a while.  And it sort of had the right feeling of what I wanted it to be when it went through the forest kind of like a butterfly wing, like when you see a butterfly in the light and it goes in the dark and you don’t see it.  So I wanted it to have that kind of flighty quality to it.  And she had to do a lot in the dress, I mean, you see, she runs, she goes upstairs, she goes downstairs.  You know, I kept the same sort of silhouette, but I sort of made the sort of shape of it more loose and modern in the sense, and also to get the movement I wanted for the camera.

When you watch a film, is it hard to watch the whole film, are you always watching the costumes?  Um, or can you get past the costumes and see the whole film?

You know what, I really love movies, I really love watching them still, I always have my whole life, and I can really not go- I think when the costumes are bad or the hair, which is kind of can be more disturbing.  I really don’t like it.  It takes me out of the moment.  But if, if the movie is a good movie and stuff, I don’t do it.  Watching my own work is harder, I’m more self critical than I am of other people, I think.


I’m curious as a mom, did you do costumes for your kids?  I can picture quite the elaborate costumes coming from your house.

You’d think right, it’s so funny, in the early Halloween years, I did a lot of costumes.  My favorite was when my daughter was like in sort of kindergarten, I made her a giant pumpkin, it was so cute with her little hands coming out and she hated it so much. (Laughing) But it was really cute. But I love going to see what people do for their kids for Halloween, it is pretty amazing, like the kind of low tech and where they go with it is really crazy.  But it’s my favorite holiday needless to say.  But when my daughter got to a certain age, she went through a huge like Darth Vader (phase), and then she wanted to be Batman Girl and then I think we had a ninja turtle phase.  Like but she didn’t want (me to make it) she wanted the thing (store bought costume) like, you know, she was a total victim of the store bought costume, so it was kind of embarrassing really. (Laughing).

This is a fantastic Featurette of the costumes of Into the Woods with Colleen, the cast, producer and director.  Great video!

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INTO THE WOODS is rated PG is in theaters now!

*I was invited to take part in this Disney Into The Woods and ABC Family sponsored event.  As always, all opinions are my own.
Trippin with Tara
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