Colleen Atwood: A Costume Designer Extraordinaire

Colleen Atwood has become one of the focal points in Hollywood thanks to her costume design. We chart her journey.

We couldn’t even imagine how many characters Colleen Atwood created for the film industry. From The Silence of the Lambs, Little Women, Gattaca, Planet of the Apes, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to the numerous Tim Burton’s films, she started her career at the age of 27, never mind becoming a costume designer. 

Before her name lit the Hollywood stage, Colleen Atwood left behind dozens of jobs. The path Colleen Atwood experienced until her name appeared on the posters, was full of obstacles. 

At the age of 17, she got pregnant, interrupting her education at high school. Instead, she started working at the Fry Factory to support her young husband, who attended College and a newborn child. 

Mrs Atwood said that her occupation for a while was cutting the black spots of the potato. That work blew her mind. Really, how can you pretend otherwise, when you are 18 and ambitions have been crushed down. But all the trials just tempered her personality. 


From Potatoes To Scholarships

Later she got a scholarship for Cornish College of the Arts, based in Seattle. After graduation, she moved to New York, where started her career in the TV wardrobe department. 

She began with a small job, which by far led to the more promising ones. In a short period, Colleen Atwood created the costumes for well-known Hollywood stars, like Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert Downey Jr. 

It took more time before life gave another lucky chance to release the talent. 

Colleen Atwood said that all the experience helped to gain the ultimate understanding while creating the character. As time went on, she spent time communicating with people from different spheres. 

In other words, she painted her heroes from a life memory collection. But as Colleen Atwood said, the main thing for actors is to feel that the costume is a part of them. Otherwise, it wouldn’t resonate with something vivid inside the plot. 


Every director knew Colleen as an attentive worker, including painstaking work with the smallest details. Everything is important. 

Even the part of the costume wouldn’t be in a camera. It belongs to her authorial style. She means that nothing is secondary. 

The hero’s life is full of emotions and accidents, which complete his inner world. Colleen Atwood collects the ideas of what else could be inside the wardrobe and what he or she could like. 

One of the main rules for Colleen – the film has to keep attention through time. The secret of the harmonious connection between the character, his general outfit and how he implemented the idea depends on how the actor feels the role. 

She makes the accents that her costume design could only work if the person unites with the story. 

Neither motley picture, nor well-designed dress could fill the gap between an excellent play and emotional investments in the role. Like Hannibal Lecter – an icon of the murderers in the film history. 



Colleen Atwood was the main costume designer for The Silence of the Lambs. Initially, she drew the mask based on the hockey samples and sent it to the technical manufacturer, who, in part, changed the idea. 

On Amazon, the full Halloween outfit of Hannibal Lecter costs from 50 to 60 dollars. Almost 30 dollars belongs to the mask. 

People are trying to copy the legendary detail of Hannibal maniac from Silence of the Lambs. It became a mass business, while the real mask design – only uniquely. 

Mr Hopkins tried too many types of masks. One of them was made of a grid. At first glance, it adds the shade of horrific and pressure. But from another side – there was no burst effect: ‘This is it’. 

Once Colleen created the sample based on the hockey mask prototype. It was planned to be made of fibreglass with a painting surface. 

While from the workshop, it was back in the raw material. It impressed Colleen. We could see, as the facial accessory of Hannibal.


Memoirs of a Geisha

Colleen Atwood created original costumes for this film. All the scenery based on a hypothetical fiction novel, describing the life of geishas as well. 

So that Colleen Atwood allowed more colours, materials and brave accessories for them.

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Memoirs: Colleen Atwood had a huge hand in Memoirs Of A Geisha

The kimonos are sophisticated, most convenient to contemporary audiences. 

The cut has its elegance shapes: the slight illusion of the waist, breasts under the kimono. 

Partly it fits tighter, then should be. 

Colours and materials used to show the tempers and transformation of the character. As Atwood said, Geishas in the film rather invented fashion than followed its traditions. 

It didn’t follow the line of history. What is more, it creates a new vicinity for this film. 


Elegance and Salvatore Ferragamo shoes for Angelina Jolie

The Tourist with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in the main roles was a kind of breakdown of fantasies. Colleen Atwood paused to create elegance suits for the heroes of the spy thriller. 

Here Angelina Jodie changed her one naked- shoulders nude dress with high gloves to another restrained black outfit. 

It is completed with chick shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo, whose collections were prominent throughout the film. 

Her imaginary woman was a sign of femininity, connected old and fresh. Jolie’s outfits were completed with vintage accessories. That reflected her onscreen Elise Ward.

Johnny Depp is quite unsteady in the film. A protagonist of his, a school teacher Frank Tupelo wore the wealthiest costume almost from the middle of the story when he was more and more into Elise Ward’s life. 

He didn’t change the style generally. It was an idea to save the immediacy but mixed with brutal accents. Colleen Atwood noticed that Johnny Depp is intuitive. He could sense what would work, live in it and alive the scene.

Moreover, Colleen Atwood always follows the path of feeling rather than master. She thought the role must communicate with the actor’s heart, and then it does touch the others. 

Her original attitude saw her win Oscars and BAFTA and create new bases for the costume design industry.


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