The Hollywood Reporter
By Rhett Bartlett
The Britain-born costume designer won an Oscar for her work on 1971 historical drama 'Nicholas and Alexandra.'
Yvonne Blake, designer of the iconic costumes of the 1978 box-office hit Superman, has died. She was 80.
Blake died on Tuesday in Madrid, the Spanish Film Academy told The Hollywood Reporter. She had been the Academy's president since Oct. 2016, but suffered a stroke in January this year.
She shared an Academy Award with Antonio Castillo for the three-hour-plus 1971 costume drama Nicholas and Alexandra, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. "I suppose all one can say is that if it wasn't for the Russian Revolution I wouldn't be here," Blake said when accepting her award.
Her work could also be seen in Norman Jewison's Jesus Christ Superstar (1973); Robin and Marian (1976), starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn; the 1976 war film The Eagle Has Landed, and Milos Forman's Goya's Ghost (2006).
But her most recognizable work was on Richard Donner's Superman, for which she designed the iconic superhero costume. In her original design sketch made before Christopher Reeves was cast in the role, Blake's annotations read: "Leotard in shimmering blue two-way stretch fabric worn over false muscles & harness for flying. Capes to be made in various flowing fashion for resting. Boots in glove leather or elastic with small heel. ‘S’ motif in red & gold on breast & again in all gold on back of cape. Gold metal belt with ‘S’ buckle."
The film was co-produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind who Blake had earlier worked with on The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge (1974).
In a presentation to the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2013, Blake spoke about the difficulties in designing the iconic costume. "I started prepping long before there was a director or an actor," she said. "I worked solely with the production designer, director of photography and the special effects director. These were then innovators on special effects on a grand scale. Now it seems very familiar, but in those days, pre-digital, we were like Christopher Columbus discovering the New World. A voyage into unknown territory. "
Blake began working in front of blue and green screens, testing out different shades of turquoise lycra for the flying scenes. "If the lycra was either too green or too blue Superman would disappear and all we would see are his shorts, his boots and his cape." She settled on material sourced from a factory in Austria.
For Marlon Brando's glowy Jor-El costume she aimed for a look that reflected strong light and energy. "I looked everywhere for the right material, in desperation I consulted the director of photography who suggested a material called 3M, it's what cinema screens are made of."
The only drawback to the material was that it turned black when touched by bare sweaty hands, so all crew had to wear white cotton gloves. Not surprisingly, Blake returned for Richard Lester's Superman II (1980).
Born in 1938 in Manchester, England, her early work was as an assistant costume designer and art director on Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, and as costume coordinator on the Elizabeth Taylor thriller Night Watch (1973).
Her telefilm work included Onassis: The Richest Man in the World (1988), Casanova (1987), Crime of the Century (1996), and James Dean (2001). In her career, she won four Goya Awards (Spanish Oscars) and received four BAFTA nominations and two Primetime Emmy nominations.
Born: 1938, Manchester, England, U.K.
Died: 7/17/2018, Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Yvonne Blake’s western – costume designer:
A Talent for Loving - 1969