Costume Designer Sandy Powell: A Profile

With an impressive career that spans 30 years (and over 40 films), Sandy Powell is a costume designer that’s still at the top of her game. She continually partners with highly acclaimed artists and has once again been nominated for an Academy Award. Therefore, we felt it fitting to take a closer look at some of her most innovative projects.

Sandy Powell by Manhattan Wardrobe Supply

Sandy Powell: Collaborations

Sandy Powell often works side-by-side with marquis directors. For starters, she’s collaborated with Martin Scorsese six times, beginning with Gangs of New York (2002). Powell also has a strong relationship with Todd Haynes. They worked together on the glam rock salute Velvet Goldmine (1998), the 1950’s melodrama Far From Heaven (2002) and last year’s Carol, a story of forbidden love. Of course, we’d be remiss if we neglected to mention the individual responsible for her debut – fellow Brit Derek Jarman. The punk-influenced director hired Powell to make the costumes for Caravaggio (1986) after she called him up and expressed the desire to work with him. The collaboration was a resounding success and they continued to work together until Jarman’s untimely death in the early 1990’s.

Sandy Powell by Manhattan Wardrobe Supply

However, her big breakthrough came from the film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1992). The movie would have been challenging for even the most seasoned designer. After all, the story follows Orlando as he travels through several centuries of British history and experiences a variety of lives (from both gender perspectives). Naturally, the costume design was integral to the success of the film. Fortunately, boldness, creativity, precision and attention to detail are all hallmarks of Powell’s work. And she was able to dress Tilda Swinton impeccably. Her outstanding costumes earned Sandy her first Oscar nomination. And she’s since become one of the most respected designers in the business.

Sandy Powell: Oscars

Sandy Powell by Manhattan Wardrobe Supply

Sandy Powell has been nominated for a total of 12 Oscars, winning 3 times for Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Aviator (2004) and The Young Victoria (2009). This year she’ll be competing against herself, having been nominated for both Cinderella and Carol. This astounding feat appears even more impressive when one learns that she was also a double-nominee back in 1999.

Sandy Powell: A Look Back

We have selected 4 highlights from her vast portfolio:

Prospera (Helen Mirren) in The Tempest (2010)

Sandy Powell the Tempest by Manhattan Wardrobe Supply

To achieve this look, Powell sewed pieces of painted, vacuum-formed plastic onto a strong mesh in a pattern created to look like flowing lava. It took two people to carry it.


Bill ‘the Butcher’ (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Gangs of New York (2002)

Sandy Powell Gangs Of New York By Manhattan Wardrobe Supply

Has there ever been a taller top hat than this 9-inch beauty?


Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench) in Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Sandy Powell Shakespeare In Love BY Manhattan Wardrobe Supply

Both Dench and Powell won Oscars for their work in this movie.


Orlando (Tilda Swinton) in Orlando (1992)

Sandy Powell Orlando by Manhattan Wardrobe Supply

A breakthrough: Powell’s first Oscar nom.


With both the upcoming Costume Design Guild and Academy Awards, it’s likely a safe bet that we’ll be discussing Powell again soon. The ceremonies will take place on the 23rd and 28th respectively. Be sure to check back with us for our scintillating recaps!