ELLEN MIROJNICK: Costume Designer
Her creative roots run deep. Born and raised in New York City, her early interests in fine art, photography and fashion led to the prestigious High School of Music and Art. After graduation, she further pursued her study of design at The School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design.
Mirojnick entered the world of fashion after Parsons School of Design. Her fashion-forward instincts quickly propelled her to become one of the most sought after designers in the field. Her talent for creating youthful, au courant style reverberated throughout the industry.
It wasn’t long before Mirojnick set her sights on Hollywood, beginning a career that has spanned three decades. As a preeminent Hollywood costume designer, Mirojnick’s passion for contemporary design has had an impact on motion picture style. Mirojnick’s film work has exhibited a sophisticated, timeless approach to modern storytelling and has yielded iconic characters that have become cultural references.
She has been nominated twice for BAFTA and Emmy® Awards, winning the Emmy for “Behind the Candelabra.” In 1998, she received a Saturn Award for her work in “Starship Troopers” and has been honored with the Cutty Sark Menswear Award for her sartorial statement in “Wall Street.”
She has been nominated by her peers on multiple occasions for the CDG Award, winning for both “Behind the Candelabra” and “The Knick,” and in 2016 was honored with the Career Achievement Award.
The list of prominent filmmakers Mirojnick has designed for is extensive, and includes: Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Paul Verhoven, Tony and Ridley Scott, Kathyrn Bigelow, J.J. Abrams and Angelina Jolie, to name a few.
In 2010 she collaborated with actor James Franco to create images that were included in “Visionaire 59: Fairy Tales.” Subsequently, Mirojnick joined forces with artist Richard Phillips to create videos that were exhibited at the 2011 Venice Biennale. Thanks to this partnership, Mirojnick continues as an innovator at the crossroads of fashion, art and film.
Mirojnick has lectured at UCLA, the Lincoln Center Film Society, the Directors Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and has been profiled in numerous international fashion publications, as well as on AMC’s Hollywood Fashion Machine series, “The Costume Designer.” In addition, she is also featured in the design book “Filmcraft.”
Her work has been displayed in the “50 Designers/50 Films” exhibit at AMPAS, the Florence Biennale, FIDM’s Annual Film and Television Exhibits in 2011-13 and 2015, and the “Hollywood Costume“ exhibition, which originated at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
Mirojnick’s diverse range speaks for itself, for in 2017 alone, her work could be seen in Soderbergh’s “Logan Lucky,” Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father,” and the opulent movie musical “The Greatest Showman.” Her diverse range continues in 2019 with the release of Soderbergh’s “Laundromat” and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.”
Ellen Mirojnick: My role is to bring the characters to life visually. When I read a script, my first impression is to envision images. Working with the director, the actors and all the different artists involved in filmmaking, we conceive a theme about the overall film vision. I begin to apply that vision to the costume designs to show how the characters feel, how they move through the story and how they change. Costume design is storytelling. It can subtly and subliminally convey the characters’ emotions and personalities to the audience and heighten their understanding.
There was a new story to be told, and I’d never worked in this genre so it was quite attractive. Working with Angie is a very interesting experience because she is really, really smart and has an overall vision and the ability to work through a story in ways that are truly exceptional.
Maleficent is a complicated character and a difficult one to define. She has a huge story arc that ultimately brings her back to love. I just thought it was such a beautiful tale about pure, unconditional love.
I researched art from many different eras, as well as contemporary fashion, and created a look book with images for all the characters in each of the different film segments. From that, the director and other film artists could see what I was envisioning. The look book becomes a foundation and valuable tool for the costume department. We constructed almost everything on this film, from shoes to headwear. What we didn’t make we rented from stock houses around the world.
Well, what I hoped for and what we talked about early on, was the idea that this kingdom is a new, bustling, more citified kingdom. With that in mind, we asked ourselves, what would a more modern fairy tale look like in a time period that is somewhere in medieval times but bordering on the renaissance period, with a new fresh spin on that? With the freedom to create a new era, we broadened our use of fabrications, different colorations and silhouettes. Certainly more than you would use in a historically accurate period piece.
Maleficent is the strongest character in the film…she needs to rise above everyone else, never blend in and always have her own unique silhouette and shape. Maleficent is iconic, so you have to be able to continue that idea and raise the stakes a bit. She is the black and white movie star of the fairy tale world: that’s the image we started with. Her skin is very white, her lips are red and her body is totally silhouetted in a very strong shape. Her accessories start off as organic and evolve to include bone and gold and eventually black diamonds and emeralds. Her dress in the opening scene is a goldish, green, color with a subtle reptile pattern. In this film she has wings, which is different than the first film, so her costumes are made of fabrics that are fluid and fluttered beautifully in the wind. When she comes on screen, the simplicity of her silhouette with bone detail, the starkness of black and white with little bits of gold, and her red lips is striking. Her shape is high glamour, movie star slickness, gorgeous headgear, a crown of black diamonds and emeralds. Emeralds are very powerful now. Her stone and staff are emerald green, as are all her accents.
Aurora’s wardrobe is ethereal with a touch of sophistication, perfectly suited for someone who reigns over a realm of mythical creatures. Hers is a modern fairy tale look with an impressionist color palette of predominantly blues and pale pinks. I knew as Queen of the Moors it was essential that she begin her journey in a blue dress with an organic fairy tale design made in the forest. The result looks like hand-tied leaves made by the fairies…extremely magical, unlike anything that we have seen before. The look is totally different from her formal courtly dresses. I also love the Aurora pink dress because it has a revised element of the traditional design of the “Sleeping Beauty” dress. It is a paler shade of pink but has the same shape of the “Sleeping Beauty” collar. We embroidered the tulle and replaced the gold accents with flowers.
Compared to Maleficent, the contrast is night and day. Queen Ingrith’s look is regal and somewhat modern, and suggests an aire of wealth and privilege for the bustling kingdom. We used platinum, gold and champagne colors coupled with tons of jewelry to really bling her up and make a bold statement. She has a presence that is both soft and strong at the same time Her colors do not give any hint of her being evil…in fact, it's quite the contrary. We first see her in a dress that is the palest color of champagne and creamy white, which she wears with a whole mantle of pearls. For the in-law dinner scene she is in a platinum dinner dress that’s bodice and skirt is totally adorned with a massive panel of diamonds and pearls. Altogether, Queen Ingrith has eight different dresses. They are all relatively the same shape but with different fabrics and accessories. When she goes to battle, her dress is stunning, conveying power, beauty and boldness. It is an armor-like ensemble with gauntlets and shoulder pieces adorned with pearls and silver. It looks like it is made of metal, but it is a very special kind of platinum woven into the design
In our story, Maleficent finds where she comes from, her origin. This introduces us to the dark fey. The dark fey are winged creatures with horns similar to Maleficent’s who come from many different points on the earth but were driven from their kingdoms many years before. Their looks are based on their geographical biome: jungle, tundra, forest and desert. What was wonderful about this challenge, was the simplicity and, subsequently the elegance that was created by not being able to use anything man-made; everything was pure and natural of the earth and of the place of origin, including their wings and their horns. So the palette for the jungle is comprised of lots of color; the desert look dry and crackly and their wings are even of a very dry-colored nature, as is their skin. The tundra are white, arctic-like and feathery with some pale blue and pale gray colors and the forest fey are green and brown with very organic, treelike qualities.
It was a wild roller coaster ride making the film, but that creates the fun for everyone to experience and for me it was so creative, fulfilling and satisfying. I hope that people get swept up in the story and are intrigued by the film’s new characters that are different, diverse and mysterious, AND, after all is said and done, I hope everyone experiences the concept that love conquers all and that we can all live together in harmony without sacrificing our earth.