“Poetic” is the way British costume designer Joanna Johnston describes
her journey creating the costumes for Steven Spielberg‘s newest film, the
intimate epic “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field,
in cinemas from 23 January.
The actor’s performance, in the running for the Oscar as Best Actor
in a Leading Role, was aided by the talents of Johnston, who became
obsessed with the details, from the texture of his top hat to the sheen of his
pocket watch, that can make history feel authentic and alive onscreen.
The veteran designer says she was inspired to delve deep by the arc
of movies she has worked on with Stephen Spielberg,
like Saving Private Ryan,War of the Worlds, Munich, and War Horse.
So, Johnson got specific about the Civil War and its colors and textures,
poring over scores of historical photos and inspecting period
dresses and jewelry at the Library of Congress and the
Chicago History Museum, before finding her sartorial
starting point. Rich shades of brown, black, blue and gray,she
drove the design of costumes for scores of men who
were fighting and governing at the end of the War Between the States.
And what gave the concept shape was a keen attention to silhouettes.
Even the poster for the movie shows Lincoln as we have long seen him, in profile.
But sometimes, also through drapes, that partly obscure him,
and often shrouded in a blanket-like shawl, Johnston says,
we can see the real contours of this man.
Reinforcing Lincoln’s vulnerability, the character cloaks
himself in these shawls at moments of deep thought and inner turmoil.
Thanks to the attention to details, to the remarkable effort that
Joanna Johnston put into this film of such historical significance,
she is allowed to be nominated for an Oscar for the Best Costume Design.