I have finally returned after a long(ish) absence and am ready to titillate you all on the subject of historical costumes! Every costumer at heart loves a good period costume, and by reflection so does the Academy based on the number of Oscars doled out to Designers for their work on period films. Walter Plunkett, costume designer for notable period films such as Gone With The Wind and Little Women, once stated his preference for period films over modern as ‘no one will question you’. While this may be true, period films are by no means easier, even when creating a reproduction of an outfit worn in real life. The sheer number of layers in addition to the complexity of simply dressing in the past can prove a challenge to costumers and the actors who have to wear them. Let’s take a look then at some of film’s best recreation of real period clothing.
My Week With Marilyn
The film has the curious conundrum of re-creating some of Marilyn Monroe’s personal outfits in addition to her costume for The Prince and The Showgirl. For the majority of the costumes worn by Williams in the film, costume design Jill Taylor did not make replicas of Monroe’s but rather drew upon pictures of Monroe and created a wardrobe based on similar pieces. Monroe’s costumes for The Prince and The Showgirl and for her famous arrival in England were however replicated for the film. The process of replicating the costumes began with finding shape wear to fit beneath the costumes for Michelle Williams to wear. More petite and less curvaceous than Monroe, Williams wore a padded cone bra, in addition to a shaper which padded her hips and buttocks to give her that famous hourglass shape. Taylor describes how detailed the reproduction costumes were “[I] watched archival newsreel footage to study how Monroe’s sunglasses sat on her face. ‘We were mad!’ she says, of creating the custom piece. ‘It was just millimeter measurements. We looked at where the sunglasses ended on Marilyn’s face and made sure that’s where they ended on Michelle’s face.’” For her arrival in England Monroe wore a White Coat over her shoulders with a knee length three quarter sleeve light blue silk dress beneath, paired with a pair of white heels and black frame sunglasses. Taylor also recreated Arthur Miller and Sir Laurence Olivier’s suits in addition to Lady Olivier’s (otherwise known as Vivian Leigh) brown wool suit with a pleated skirt, gold brooch and matching hat and handbag. The re-creations are spot on and help the already famous actors capture the essence of their equally famous characters.
The replication of Monroe’s costume from the Prince and The Showgirl proved more difficult for Taylor. The dress was originally created by Beatrice Dawson for The Prince and The Showgirl, which takes place in the Edwardian era. Monroe reportedly had problems wearing the costume as she was known for spilling food on it, so much so that Dawson eventually replaced the gown and remade double of it in two parts in case she spilled food again. Taylor remade the intricate costume bead by bead and choose to create it in one piece. The dress had to last for 11 days of filming and when the metal zipper broke, there was no time replaces it because of the tight that filming schedule and the fact that the dress would have to be mostly disassembled to replace it. Actress Michelle Williams was subsequently stitched in for the remaining days of filming. Taylor also maintained Dawson’s worry of food being spilled. “Every time Michelle went outside or ate something, [Costume Assistant] Vicki ran after her to throw a wrap over her. The last day was the worst day of all. I couldn’t even go on set; I was so neurotic about that dress. I thought: We’ve worked with this dress for 10 days and, Sod’s law, something will happen to it on the last day. Thank God it didn’t.” The elaborate embroidered blue silk wrap that Monroe wore in the film was also recreated stitch by stitch. The costume looks as good on Williams as it did on Monroe, both take the viewers’ breath away.
Madonna’s film about the love affair between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII received a lot of award season buzz and for good reason. Following last year’s smash The King’s Speech which, tells the story of Edward’s brother’s ascension following his abdication, W.E. tells the story form Wallis and Edward’s perspective with the help of a fan from the modern times. The subject is intriguing and the task of recreating a wardrobe for the infamous divorcee fell to Madonna’s long time collaborator Arianne Phillips. Phillips is well known for her connection in the fashion world, something which came in handy for the film as Wallis was a couture client. Like Taylor with My Week With Marilyn, Phillips only recreated a few of Wallis’ outfits and relied on archival photographs and footage for the rest of her wardrobe. Phillips was very adamant however about recreating the Duchess’( as Wallis would later be known) jewelry, including a cross bracelet which plays a large role in the film. Jewelers Cartier and Van Cleef & Arples (who created a piece for Wallis to wear for The King’s Speech) recreated the jewelry specifically for the film. Sadly all the jewelry re creations for the film had to be destroyed because the original pieces were privately owned and therefore couldn’t be replicated for any reason other than the film’s use. Fashion houses such as Dior and Schiaparelli recreated some of the Duchess dresses for the film, otherwise they were created by Phillip’s team. One of the film’s notable recreation was of a Schiaparelli black evening gown that included a white art deco trim around the neck and mid section of the dress. The original gave the public the impression of sophistication and beauty to the slandered Duchess, in the film it has the same effect. The other notable recreation was actually of an outfit worn on vacation with Prince Edward. Even when in relaxation mode Wallis was fashionable the cotton blouse with large fabric covered buttons paired with a lightweight tea length wool button front skirt and the obligatory large white sunhat. The outfit in the film is not a perfect recreation but rather captures the essence of the outfit and serves and accurate enough interpretation. There are more recreations in the film and some lovely new dresses that evoke the Duchesses style, that make for a lovely film for any costumer’s enjoyment.
The Young Victoria
This elaborate costume drama won costume designer Sandy Powell her third Oscar, and rightly so. The gowns Emily Blunt as Queen Victoria dons are a delight. Two of the film’s most notable gowns are actually re creations of real dresses worn by Queen Victoria. Powell was thankfully able to study the Queen’s actual wardrobe at Kensington Palace and the Victoria &Albert Museum in London. The Queen herself also described her clothing in many of her diary entries. The most difficult replication was of Victoria’s Coronation Robes, made of red velvet and trimmed with Ermine and gold embroidery and measuring around 15 ft long.
Atop her red velvet robe Victoria wore a gold robe with embroidered floral and gold fringe trim complete with its own long train. Due to time and budget constraints thread by thread replication wasn’t able to happen so for the voluminous robes, different fabrics were used and dyed to match and false stones used. Powell also took some short cuts such as hand painting and printing the embroidery on. The audience is left none the wiser for it and the robe still serves as a magnificent piece of clothing, much less a costume.
The other delicately reproduced costume for the film was Victoria’s Wedding Dress. Victoria married as a Queen and her dress match her sophisticated regal status. In the film the dress was constructed form an ivory silk satin with a antique lace overlay complete with silk flowers and a silk lace veil in addition the reproduced jewelry. Victoria helped set the trend of brides wearing white with her dress, representing her virgin status and more importantly her dress was made from British lace, a dying art by this point due to the advances in textile production machinery making handmade lace an unnecessary art, the very cloth on her back represented the glory of her domain.