The Costume Designer Who Creates Period Garments as Well as Superhero Suits

By the end of Autumn de Wilde's first feature film, an adaptation of Jane Austen's "Emma", the elaborate costuming, opulent fabrics, and lush pastels may leave you wondering: Who created the period attire? Who designed Emma's ethereal ball gown? How did the embroidery on Emma's dress match the flowers on the tree she stood next to when Mr. Knightley proposed marriage? If de Wilde's youthful reimagining of "Emma" rekindles interest in Jane Austen, much of the credit goes to costume designer Alexandra Byrne.

Woman standing near mannequins
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Byrne was born in Hampshire and grew up surrounded by many artistic influences. She grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, where the Royal Shakespeare Company is based. The English designer had studied architecture at Bristol University and hoped to work in set design. To gain experience creating those rich illusory settings for the theatre stage, Byrne enrolled in the Motley Course at the English National Opera, where she was mentored by renowned theatre and opera costume and scenic designer Margaret Harris. Her costume and set design for Roger Michell's comedy play "Some Americans Abroad" earned her a Tony nomination for Best Set Design in 1989. However, through this process, Byrne discovered her true calling in costume design, making her greater recognition. She received a Best Costume Design award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for Michell's television film "Persuasion" (1995), as well as a nomination for his television series "The Buddha of Suburbia" (1993). Byrne built on her early success, receiving her first Academy nomination for Best Costume Design in Kenneth Branagh's 1996 film adaptation of "Hamlet", and her first Academy award for the 2007 biopic "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" in which she dressed Cate Blanchett, who starred as the legendary monarch, in fabulous royal gowns.

In her three-decade career, Byrne has also suited up superheroes in Marvel blockbusters such as "Thor" (2011), "The Avengers" (2012), and "Doctor Strange" (2016). The 57-year-favorite old's design memory is from the filming of "Garden of Eden" (2010) in Spain, which was adapted from Ernest Hemingway's novel set in the Jazz Age. She designed a dress for Mena Suvari on a project where there was no time or money to overthink anything. Byrne said that the serendipity was the convergence of a good idea, a stunning piece of vintage gold lace fabric, brilliant cutting (from an incredible colleague, Dale Wibben), and Mena's embrace of the piece. This delivered a crucial storytelling moment in which Mena's character wanted to cause shock and outrage despite her vulnerability. Byrne was dressing the Royal Ballet in Frederick Ashton's "Cinderella" a comic ballet in which costumes, by convention, accentuate the dizzying routines, and we can surely expect Byrne to take it out of this world.