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Not Just Another Costume Drama

Having worked on a key garment of Anna Karennina; this is my take…

With a fresh new Academy award under her sartorial belt Jaqueline Durran receives the highest accolade for Best achievement in costume design 2013. In the running were:

Anna Karenina – Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables – Paco Delgado
Lincoln – Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror – Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman – Colleen Atwood

The visually sumptuous movie Anna Karenina opens with early scenes of Keira Knightley in a sophisticated black evening dress, poised and elegant in comparison with the pale almost immature pastels the other principal ladies are dressed in.

As Anna attempts to stifle her rising emotions the atmosphere is almost as suffocating as her tightly bridled corset. It is evident in the early scenes as Anna abandons her outer clothes, and rushes into the arms of her young lover in her corset and undergarments, that Anna has removed her outer layers. Jaqueline Durran herself is quoted as saying “the underwear is very similar, its just a different colour at the end of the movie…’ The colour transformation conveys the storytelling and everything in between that has happened to Anna. As though the visceral inner world of Anna’s passions and subsequent anguish are translated through her visual disrobing.

The brief from Joe wright was essentially think fifties couture with 1870’s silhouettes. It is with this in mind and guarding against frivolity….Joe wright insisted on “no lace, no flounces or ornamentation..”, that Jaqueline reimagined ensembles with a nod towards the asymmetric Westwood inspired dresses and not dissimilar to my ball dress ‘Scarlett‘ which I designed three years ago. The variety of intricate costumes really pulled the atmosphere together in a heavily staged production with obvious theatrical conventions. Has Jaqueline Durran indulged Joe Wrights balance of aesthetics over storytelling as some critics have suggested?? Honestly… I don’t think so. However when discussing the Film with Chris Sullivan, Film critique and X lead singer from Blue Rondo La Turk.

…it became clear that he disliked Joe’s film style immensely! Describing them as mere fashion shoots with a story line! He hit the nail on the head! Joe’s filming is so exquisite and a fashion shoot! This is why I like his style .

There has always been an unbreakable bond between fashion and film. This intimate relationship of mutual benefit is often used to tell stories like Anna Karenina. From the opening scenes with Anna dressed in black to her almost virginal bride outfit at the opera where she is publicly outed for her adultery, and her shocking demise at the end when she clearly unravels. Her loose hair and again scenes involving Anna stripped to her corsetry…the symbiosis of garments and narrative is really cleverly introduced and it is here that I think Jaqueline Durran had the edge over her competitors. Jaqueline Durran executes the role of costume in the construction of Anna’s character brilliantly.

Given that the profession of costume designer was not included in the role call until the Academy award first introduced in 1948. It is without doubt a personal celebration of mine to have worked so closely with Jaqueline. To see her brilliantly honored, her over garments receive the well-deserved spotlight, it is a moment of private and public delight to see corsetry and undergarments in their well deserved supporting role. In Anna Karenina this, should I say My corsetry!! Is used innovatively to bookend lavish storytelling. Well done Jaqueline!!

As a foot note:The unsung heroes of the stage and screen must go to all the pattern cutters and staff in particular Jo Van Schuppen who is the costumier who turned the vision into reality. Van Schuppen also worked with Joe and Jaquline on the film Atonement; and was responsible for creating the green dress that Keira wore in the memorable seduction scene. This dress has been described as ‘As iconic as the Marilyn Monroe dress of 1954’.