Yvonne Blake, Award-Winning Costume Designer, Is Dead at 78

A scene from “Nicholas and Alexandra” (1971), with Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman, front, in the title roles. Yvonne Blake shared an Academy Award with Antonio Castillo for the film’s costume design.

Yvonne Blake, the British-born, Spanish-based costume designer who won an Oscar for Russian chinchilla-trimmed coats and grand military uniforms in “Nicholas and Alexandra” and science-fiction immortality for superhero and supervillain ensembles in “Superman,” died on Tuesday in Madrid. She was 78.

The death was announced by the Spanish Film Academy, which said Ms. Blake had a stroke in January. Ms. Blake, who lived in Spain with her husband, Gil Carretero, a Spanish screenwriter and director, had been the academy’s president until then.

She shared her 1971 Academy Award for “Nicholas and Alexandra,” a drama about Russia’s ruling family, the Romanoffs, with Antonio Castillo. “If it wasn’t for the Russian Revolution, I wouldn’t be here,” she said when she accepted her award.

Her most recognizable work, however, was for “Superman” (1978) and its 1980 sequel. She did her original sketches before Christopher Reeve was cast as Superman, calling for a “leotard in shimmering blue two-way stretch fabric worn over false muscles and harness for flying.”

Credit...Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

For Marlon Brando, who played Superman’s father, Jor-El, she chose a reflective material recommended by the director of photography and used for making movie-theater screens. The only problem was that it turned black when bare hands touched it, so crew members had to wear white cotton gloves.

Ms. Blake also won Goya Awards, Spain’s equivalent of the Oscar, for “Rowing With the Wind” (1988), “Carmen” (2003) and “Canción de Cuna” (1994), all set in 19th-century England or Spain, and “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (2004), set in 18th-century Peru.

Yvonne Ann Blake was born in Manchester, England, on April 17, 1940, the daughter of Harald and Marga (Heilbrün) Blake. She taught herself to draw when she was a little girl and once told Audrey Hepburn that as a teenager she was inspired to become a designer by the 1957 film “Funny Face,” in which Ms. Hepburn wore Givenchy fashions.

Ms. Blake attended the Regional College of Art and Design in her hometown for a year. But she viewed her internship at Bermans, the British costume house, as her real education.

When Cecil Beaton worked with Bermans as the costume and production designer for the 1964 film “My Fair Lady,” Ms. Blake recalled in a 2013 presentation at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum in New York, she had the chance to work with him, although she was uncredited.

“I was holding the pins,” she said. “I went in to buy beading” — and, most important, “I was like a sponge.” She also designed costumes for cabaret performances and drag shows.

She worked on François Truffaut’s film version of the Ray Bradbury novel “Fahrenheit 451” (1966), set in a dystopian future, although she was again uncredited. Truffaut, she said later, liked her uniforms for the futuristic “firemen” (who actually burn books) because they had a Nazi quality.

Ms. Blake’s other work included the costumes for Norman Jewison’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1973), Richard Lester’s “The Three Musketeers” (1973) and “Robin & Marian” (1976), and Milos Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts” (2006). Her final film was “There Be Dragons” (2011); she also designed the costume Jack Taylor wore as a sadistic serial killer in the 2014 horror movie “Wax.”

In addition to her husband, Mr. Carretero, her survivors include a son, David Carretero Blake, who is a cinematographer; a sister, Juliet Blake; and three grandchildren.

Asked for career advice by audience members in an event at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum in New York, Ms. Blake suggested working with young directors who were making short films and going to museums for research. When a woman asked her for time-management advice, Ms. Blake essentially threw up her hands.

She did it “very badly,” she said, adding: “I had a small child. I had nannies from hell, and once” — while working on “Superman” — “I didn’t have time to fire her.”

Ms. Blake brought her son to the studio, she said, and co-workers helped entertain him.

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