Friday, 15 March 2013

Anna Karenina. Costumes ...

Here is the long overdue post about Anna Karenina and the Oscar winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran, coinciding with the opening of the film in Spain. 

Anna Karenina marks Durran's third Oscar nomination for costume design, and coincidentally, her third Oscar nomination for a film directed by Wright and starring Knightley. (The previous honors were for Pride & Prejudice and Atonement) While some directors of period films can be strict for the costumes' historical accuracy, Durran says that Wright "likes stylized pieces and he likes them to be accessible to the modern eye". In this case, the stylized ensembles would complement Wright's poetic, slightly surreal adaptation of the Tolstoi saga, much of which was filmed, with extra attention to choreography, inside a decaying theatre near London.

"Joe always comes with a vision before we've even started" she explains. "In our first meeting, he talked about how he wanted to pare down the costumes to the kind of essence to them... down to their silhouette. The way that he illustrated that, to me, was to look at 50s couture and say, "Take this kind of style and apply it to the 1870s silhouette." For her homework, Durran says that she "looked at lots of pictures of 50s couture, particulary French couture. And I looked at 1870s paintings and photographs and pictures of existing garments from the period and I tried to make it an amalgam of these aesthetics, if that makes sense"

One costume that required much discussion between Wright and Durran is the black tulle gown that the married heroine weares while sharing an impassioned dance with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) at a ball. In Wright's bold reinterpretation of the scene, the other dancers in the room temporarily freeze in the background as the waltz plays out in the foreground.

Of the design process for the dress, Durran says, "The first thing we discussed was wether it should be in black or not" They ultimately chose that colour. "It is a very significant costume in the history of literature, so we thought that we should respect that" she explains. "And also, black kind of worked in the playing out of the scene, because we had already decided that the colour of society would be a range of sour pastels. So I made th 25 dancers' dresses that are at the ball in 25 shades of sour pastels. So that was already the backdrop for her dancing. To put Anna in that environment, with those colours behind her, that just made sense that she would be in black."

Durran contrasted Anna's black ball gown with a similar white ensemble worn by the character later in the film, to represent her inner transformation. "The black gown is mirrored in the opera dress she wears when she is humiliated - when she goes back to the opera and no one will speak to her." White is also what Kitty (Alicia Vikander), the virginal character aspiring to marry Count Vronsky, wears in the earlier ballroom scene as Anna upstages her. "Kitty's gown, which is trimmed with pink rosettes and designed in a 1950s bell shape, was purposefully hemmed several inches short to make her appear even more childlike in contrast to Anna's sumptous, jet-black sophistication"

For Anna's train ride to Moscow, Durran replicated a peacock-feather-adorned cape found in the Victoria & Alber Museum. Peacock feathers, one of which can be found in Anna's hat, are a sign of bad luck.

Anna's colour palette moves towards rich reds, purples and blacks - the first exhibited in the crimson ball gown she wears for another dance with Vronsky in the midst of rumours of their affair. Because Knightley's movement is especially crucial in this scene, Durran decided not to bone the bodice or add a corset, creating the lightest possible ensemble for Knightley. The brigh-red trim that is seen below the bodice was discovered at a vintage sale. 

The ensembles are accessorized with $2 million worth of diamonds on loan from Chanel, including the stunning necklace with a camelia motif. As Anna falls in love with Vronsky, her clothes become lighter to reflect her mood, before returning to darker shades to complement her growing anxiety and paranoia. 
Durran has said that she was committed to using real jewels in the film, since Anna is "slightly about vanity and glamour and opulence." Because so much choreography was involved in the production, Durran has said that all the actors wore dance shoes at all times. 

Durran drew heavily from a 1950s aesthetic for the elegant ivory costume Anna wears to a tearoom in Moscow, complete with custom-netted pillbox hat and 50s-inspired wrap bodice with asymmetrical button details. The cream material actually has a pale-gray stripe to it. Durran has called this her favourite ensemble of the film.

Along with its elegant costumes, Wright's Anna Karenina is noted for its extraordinary theatricality. Each scene is blocked and each character's gestures are choreographed like a ballet, with actors elegantly moving in and out of scenes as the backdrops rise and fall around them. This is one of the reasons why I fell in love tih the movie right away. Wright took a big risk when deciding to shoot the whole movie inside a theatre but it payed off by creating a unique aesthetic as well as symbolizing 19th century's russian society, when everybody's lives were anything but private and each scandal was a public spectacle. 
I remember reading the book about 4 years ago (when I was back in college and had time to read). It transported me from my grey and rainy afternoons to a world of glamour and opulence, where what you wore was just as important as who you were. I don't think anyone else could've portrayed better what my imagination came up with. Now, both the book and the movie can be stored in my mind as what they truly are:  classics. 

Watch the behind the scene video below with interviews with Jacqueline Durran, Keira Knightley and the rest of the cast.


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