Fashion and Film

Costume Design: Oscar Nominated Trish Summerville for “Mank”

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In the build-up to the Oscars 2021, I had the opportunity to join a conversation with Oscar-Nominated Costume Designer, Trish Summerville this week in Los Angeles, CA. Trish Summerville is an amazing costume designer who designed the costumes for The Hunger Games.

The Academy Awards (the Oscars) will be televised on April 25, 2021 from the Art Deco styled Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles. One of the movies nominated for an Oscar is the Netflix film “Mank. Mank is a beautifully shot and produced “film noir” from the golden age of holiday.  It follows the story behind the making of the classic film “Citizen Kane”  as legendary writer Herman J. Mankiewicz (Mank) struggles to write the script while struggling with writer’s block and illness. The film is completely shot in black-and-white film.  Most of the costumes also follow the monochromatic theme and are in either black or white.

Trish Summerville was the costume designer chosen to recreate the 1930’s Hollywood fashion worn by actress Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst &  screenwriter “Mank.”  It’s no surprise that the most beautifully produced costumers in the film were created for Amanda Seyfried to play Marion Davies. The real Marion Davies was well known for her style both within the entertainment industry and in her personal life as Hearst’s partner and hostess.  The costumes that Trish Summerville created for Marion offer classic 1930s fashion trademarks such as bias cut gowns, flutter sleeves, yoke blouses and pajama pants.


Sketches for Costumes from the Oscar nominated Netflix film” Mank”

Trish Summerville explained that reproducing Marion Davies wardrobe for actress Amanda Siegfried required painstaking attention to detail and fabric. To recreate Marion’s dresses, Ms. Summerville created new patterns, but also looked for 1930’s weight & vintage style fabric.  She found 1930s vintage styles at Western Costumes in Los Angeles.

Western Costume has vintage fabrics and some gold fabric from Western’s stock piles was chosen to recreate a gold bias-cut gown for Amanda as Marion Davies. “The fabric we found that was kind of an antique, it was an antique gold material that has like crinkle through it,  said Ms. Summerville. There’s was only one problem with using the authentic material, there was a very limited amount of it.  “There was only enough yardage to make one dress really. We had a bit extra and we thought we’d be fine with that,” notes Ms. Summerville. However, problems arose when the filming of the scenes where Amanda as Marion, spread over a 4 day period under hot lights and intense outdoor sunshine.  Even for evening shots, bright lighting to be used to create the feeling of  moonlight.

Gold Dress in Mank

A sketch and photo of Marion’ Davies gold bias cut dress for the movie “Mank”

Beyond the intense lighting on the dress, the movement of the actress during the scene caused some damage to the costume. “There’s a part where she takes her shoes off and then she bends down and she gets this bottle of gin out and I’m thinking she kneeling on her knees and the dress,” says Ms. Summerville.

Mank and Marion

Marion Davies and Mank in a scene from the film “Mank”

The problem was that Amanda as Marion was moving so much in the scene that her costume was getting a bit damaged. At one point, she was walking in the fragile dress across the top of a fountain. The dress was modified to put a loop into little train in the back of the dress so she could put it around her wrist to help her maneuver and move in the gown.

Amanda as Marion with finger loop on dress

Amanda Seyfired as Marion Davies in “Mank” walking across the top of a fountain with a finger loop to hold her train.

Unfortunately, after  two of shooting with intense lighting, the back of the dress was shredded in the back.  Ms. Summerville  and her team had to painstaking repair the gown before the next day’s shoot. Fortunately, they were able to repair the dress. Even though the film is in black-and -white, just as you knew when you watched Jezebel that Bette Davis’ ball gown was red, you know that Marion’s dress is gold.  That’s a tribute to the talent of Trish Summerville as a costume designer, you see the color she wants you as a viewer to imagine even though the film is in black and white.

If you haven’t see Mank, do take the chance to see it on Netflix. It’s one of the best made films of the pandemic season.  The film is worth watching just for the beautiful 1930’s style costumes and the authentic costume details.

Mank is nominated for 10 Academy Awards this year including Best Costume Design (Trish Summerville), Best Picture, Best Director (David Fincher), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gary Oldman), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Amanda Seyfried).  If you haven seen it yet, it’s well worth watching particularly for the costumes and the cinematography.


Since 2008, Mary Hall has been the author of The Recessionista Blog, which is read by thousands of regular readers in over 160 countries. An internationally recognized expert on the art of the living the good life for less, she has been a commentator on local, national, and international radio and TV shows. Her advice has been featured in over 2,000 media outlets, including The New York Times, Reuters, Life & Style magazine, ABC News, NBC News and now The Huffington Post, among many others.