Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Dressing Jane: About the Costumes

This time, I copy an article from the U.S. about the costume. I’m happy to see that quite a few of my earlier observations in the female and male costumes were correct (including Tom's white coat referring to Jane's letters on January 9 and 16, 1796). But of course, this article gives more info than what I have excavated. See the U.S. Official Site, under the ‘About the movie’ and ‘Production Notes’ for ‘Dressing Jane’. I've said it, and I will say it again: this movie deserves an Oscar for costume design!

As with the photography and production design, Julian Jarrold hoped to take a different view of Austen-era costumes in BECOMING JANE. For this, he worked with Emmy-nominated Irish costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh ("David Copperfield," THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY).

"Like most people I studied Jane Austen at school so I was familiar with her world," says Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh. "But I deliberately moved away from recent film adaptations of Jane Austen's work and my priority was to try to do something different. 1790s Regency England was a very transitional era in terms of fashion so it was a real challenge to make it work."

Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh read up on the fashion of the day, visited museums for inspiration, consulted Austen's letters for clues and reread the novels for context and color. In particular she investigated the influence of continental fashions and also the likely differences not only between town (London) and country (Hampshire) but between the social classes. She discovered that Jane and her family were quite fashion conscious - but the family's financial circumstances dictated that they make their own clothes. While practical clothes were required for the farm yards, there was also the opportunity to dress up and show off at the occasional local ball.

By the mid-1790s, Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh also learned, fashion was becoming simpler, moving away from the huge dresses of the French Revolution and towards a more modern look. "Things were heading towards the Empire line which is a very basic style influenced by the Roman and Greek civilizations," she says. "1795 marked the beginning of that trend. But because Jane Austen was from the country which is slower to adapt to fashion changes we are showing just the introduction of that. The look in London of course is very different from the look in the countryside."

Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh sourced authentic fabric in India and scoured the costume houses of London as well as the BBC costume department. "We kept away from very ornate fabrics and were very careful to pare back the look," she says. When it came to dressing Jane, Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh made Anne Hathaway's wardrobe entirely from scratch, using a combination of research and intuition. "I wanted to get her youthfulness and innocence across through her dress," she states. "But crucially there was also her strength of character. So we kept away from frills and flounces. I wanted a look that was quite strong but also pretty. Jane was living on a working farm so her dress had to be practical as well. We were definitely trying to steer away from the chocolate box image that we associate with Jane Austen." Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh sifted through Austen's own correspondence to get a better picture of the writer's fashion sense and sensibility. "In her letters to Cassandra, Jane talks about going into town and buying new ribbon for her hat," she says. "She would not, at that time, have been able to afford a new hat so she buys ribbons and flowers to trim the bonnet. People would also visit from London and Jane and her friends would ask them about the latest fashion in London. She would write in her letters of new fabric that she had bought and she would describe it in detail."

It didn't hurt that Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh was dressing the preternaturally lovely Anne Hathaway, who became a close collaborator in the creation of her character's costumes. "It was great to dress Annie," the designer says. "She had just come from THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, in which she wore all this amazing couture fashion and now I had to talk to her about wearing simple cotton dresses! But she was very keen to get the details right. Sometimes I would suggest a little extra piece of lace but she would say that it might be too much. She really grasped what we were trying to do. Of course Annie looks so wonderful on camera that she doesn't need adornment."

Meanwhile, Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh focused equally on creating clothes for Tom Lefroy that reveal him as a fashionable man-about-town. The designer was partly inspired by Jane Austen's letter to Cassandra, in which she writes of Lefroy: "He has but one fault, which time will, I trust, entirely remove - it is that his morning coat is a great deal too light. He is a very great admirer of Tom Jones, and therefore wears the same colored clothes."

But she also was influenced by the screenplay's colorful portrait. "When we first meet him, Tom is boxing, boozing and cavorting so there's definitely had to be rakishness to him," says Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh. To make Lefroy stand out from the crowd, Ní Mhaoldhomnaigh used a few tricks of the rag trade. "We used much richer fabrics like velvets," she says. "For his hat we used a beaver fur which is a lot more luxurious than the other hats. He wears very stylish waist coats and cut-away jackets.

With Jane around he'd have an extra swagger in front of her. James was really into it. We'd talk about the colors and fabrics to achieve his distinctive look." Ní Mhaoldhomnaigh notes that men's fashion at the time was also in a state of flux in 1795. "Some of the younger men have cut away style jackets which were just coming into fashion," says Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh. "In the countryside the men were wearing slighter older fashions except for those who had been to London and picked up styles there like a silk waist coat which they would wear to the ball.

Long trousers did not come into vogue until the early part of the 1800s. Men wore riding boots which were practical but also fashionable. Men's calves were seen as very sexy at the time so if somebody had good calves it was something to be proud of."

Of the other characters, one of the most distinctive is Maggie Smith's Lady Gresham. "I spoke with Maggie and told her that I'd like her costume to be from a slightly earlier period," recalls Ní Mhaoldhomnaigh. "We went for the 1770s, the sort of dress that the Of the other characters, one of the most distinctive is Maggie Smith's Lady Gresham. "I spoke with Maggie and told her that I'd like her costume to be from a slightly earlier period," recalls Ní Mhaoldhomnaigh. "We went for the 1770s, the sort of dress that the character would have worn when she was much younger. Lady Gresham is very much her own character and is not someone who is dictated to by fashion. She looked quite stern, almost gothic so the colors that we choose were greys and sea greens. Everything about her is quite rigid from the skirts to the fabrics. She wears a very large hood called a calash that was very common at the time. No one else in the film is wearing it so it makes her look quite different and even eccentric. Maggie loved it.

Not so enjoyable were the corsets -- de rigueur in Regency England but the bane of the 21st Century actors' lives. "Having to put on the corsets, especially first thing in the morning, they would say, ‘Oh do I have to?’" recalls Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh. "But that's how you get the distinctive look and silhouette of the period."

Pic 1,2 and 5: www.annie-hathaway.com

Pic 3 and 4: www.james-mcavoy.net

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