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Stephens alumna creates dresses for 'Selma'

January 13, 2015

Those watching the movie “Selma” this month might pay particularly close attention to some of the dresses on the big screen.
Many were constructed by Zina Wilson Arthur, a Stephens alumna who graduated with a fashion degree in 1978. Specifically, she made the turquoise dress Oprah Winfrey is wearing during the scene in which she recreates Annie Lee Cooper’s struggle with officers; a burgundy dress Winfrey wears during a voting scene; and a green print dress Carmen Ejogo wears while portraying Coretta Scott King in a courthouse scene. She also made all but one of the stunt garments—which are prominent in an “aftermath” scene, she said.
The film credits list Arthur as a “cutter,” which is technically a patternmaker in the film industry, she said. She got the job on the referral of a friend.
“I was familiar with ‘Selma,’ so that was important to me,” she said. “And then I heard Ruth Carter was the designer. I’d hope to someday meet her—so when I found out she was the designer, I was thrilled.”

This was Arthur’s first feature film, although she has done work for television and theatre. The difference, she said, is having to keep in mind just how large the garments will appear.
“Every angle counts,” she said. “Everything is blown up, so you’re evaluating everything you see.”
Arthur did not take a costume design course while at Stephens—she was afraid to, she admitted.
“I was scared of it because I’d heard it is so fast-paced,” she said. “Speed is not my gift, and going into film and TV is a lot of ‘hurry up.’ I had to face my fear and go ahead and do something that’s not my strength.”
Arthur came to Stephens with a knack for sewing. During college, she said, she honed her patternmaking skills, as well.
“One of the very good things about Stephens was that it was so hands-on so quickly,” she said.
Arthur has enjoyed a longtime career as a designer, tailor and patternmaker. She hopes more film work is in her future, as well—even though she admits it’s changed how she watches movies.

“I had to see it for a second time,” she said. “The first time, I found myself evaluating the costumes so much.”

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