Marie Antoinette: A 21th Century Take on 18th Century Fashion

Cannes Film Festival 2006–With her exuberant youth and pale-skinned beauty, Marie Antoinette continues to be remembered as one of the most stylish and trend-setting women in European history. She arrived in France at a time of extreme fashion extravagance among the aristocracy when bigger was always better and she indulged in the massive hoop dresses and long-trained gowns from the most famous fashion houses of Paris.

It was also the era of the Belle Poule the infamous hairstyle that was piled mile-high on the head and lined with fruit, toys and feathers which Marie Antoinette cultivated to an extreme degree. Yet later, Marie Antoinette also ushered in a major fashion shift, turning France towards a period of simpler, more free-flowing and natural dress that presaged a time of tremendous change.

For Coppola, the costumes for MARIE ANTOINETTE were always a central part of her bold vision for the films design. She knew she would need a designer who possessed both an historical understanding of 18th Century styles and the unbridled creativity to give them a distinctly modern flair.

That person was clearly Milena Canonero. A two-time Oscar winner for CHARIOTS OF FIRE and BARRY LYNDON as well the recipient of five additional nominations, Canonero is one of todays most sought after costume designers. She quickly developed a deep affinity for what Coppola was trying to do with this unconventional take on a film about the past. Sofia is a bit like me in that she is most interested in the feelings that a costume gives to the audience, says Canonero. So some of our work in MARIE ANTOINETTE is symbolic, some of it is stylish and some of it is psychological. There is always a reason for a particular texture or color.

As soon as she came aboard, Coppola presented Canonero with a strong basis for her work. When I first met with Sofia, she had already been doing several months of research in France and she told me about her ideas about the macaroon colors the bolds pinks, the gold yellows, the pistachio greens, recalls Canonero. So we started with that as an inspiration and then we moved into more graphic stripes and florals.

She continues: Sofia didnt want the film to have the expected look of the period. This is not a classic vision of Marie Antoinette but Sofias personal vision of her. The film is a very modern look at her inner experience and therefore the clothes had to respect that kind of language. We took the essence of how things were and stylized them. We wanted more warmth and humanity to come through, so the clothes had to have at the same time a kind of richness and a simplicity a contemporary vision.

So many of our costumes were in the framework of the song I Want Candy, says Canonero. We chose colors and textures that remind you of things you would want to eat. We go from very pale and soft to more shocking. You can say we were very influenced by the period but we dont present a classical vision. Its more of a fashion statement. At times, it was very rock and roll.

Canonero used a mixture of authentic period pieces and original designs, importing yards of tulle, organza, taffeta and silk from specialty houses in Italy and England, as well as thousands of plumed feathers, to create a rainbow array of royal costumes. She brought in milliners to put together hundreds of hats and spent endless hours embroidering buttons. Buttons are absolutely key to the 18th century look, she notes.

As for footwear, one of Marie Antoinettes obsessions, Canonero utilized the designs of todays trend-setting designer Manohlo Blahnik to create stylized versions of 18th Century shoes. Theyre not 100% period, yet they have that kind of feeling, she says.

In dressing Dunst, Canonero collaborated closely with Coppola. Sofia wanted a richness and a freshness for Marie Antoinette, and the clothes needed to show her evolution from a very young girl to a sophisticated woman, she says. You see through her dresses how she gains more confidence and even her dcolletage becomes more emphasized.

Although many women wore wigs during the time of Marie Antoinette, Canonero and Coppola chose a more natural look for Dunst, often using powder on her hair in the 18th century manner but also allowing her blonde hair to remain natural. The hair is a departure from what we often associate with Marie Antoinette, but we looked for what would suit Kirsten best in these more intimate moments, notes Canonero.

Dunsts makeup while extreme was very much in keeping with the 18th Century fascination with heavy rouge. If anything, the real look of the times was even more bold, explains Canonero.

While the gowns for Marie Antoinette could have occupied her team for months by themselves, Canonero simultaneously was designing a broad array of costumes for Mare Antoinettes court with each character getting his or her own unique look.

In addition to Marie Antoinette, two of Canoneros favorite female characters are the Comtesse de Noialles, portrayed by Judy Davis, and Madame Du Barry, played by Asia Argento. They are unique women, says Canonero. For the Comtesse de Noailles, the look was very elegant and striking she wears lots of yellow, citron and lime to represent her acidic qualities. Madame Du Barry, however, is like an exotic bird, almost like a parrot. Shes a little over the top, full of jewelry, turbans and feathers.

When it came to Schwartzmans Louis XVI, Canonero again moved away from the standard clichs. I didnt want to cover him in embroidery the way you always see him in paintings, so we tried for a bit more simplicity, she explains. This was the height of French decadence but we wanted to emphasize that Louis XVI was from a new generation and his clothes show a movement forward. We used a very tailored look, strikingly graphic, with rich materials and a lighter embroidery. But he does wear a lot of Louis XVIs favorite colors soft blues and grays.

Schwartzman found that when it came to going back in time, the clothes indeed helped to make the man. The costumes were a big help to me because theres something about putting on these kinds of outfits that just changes you physically. Layer by layer, you start to travel back in time. You stand in a different way. Your back goes up, your shoulders are tighter, and you walk and sit differently, too. Its very transporting, he says.

Throughout the extensive process, Canoneros team worked both day and night shifts to keep the films entire cast of court members in fresh and spirited outfits. Canonero was constantly presenting Coppola with choices, to assure that their visions were in sync.

Coppola was thrilled by Canoneros contribution to the film. It was amazing to see what she did and how she saw the big picture, because we would look at the individual costumes separately in her studio. But when all the actors came together on the set, you could see how all the different colors and incredible details each worked together to create something very rich and beautiful, she says. It was very exciting to watch that happen, to see what we had imagined come to life.

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