Previewing Keira Knightley in Colette

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We’ve been looking forward to Colette (2018), the biopic about the French author (born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, 1873-1954) of works including Gigi and Chéri. Keira Knightley stars, with Dominic West (The Hour, The Devil’s Whore) as her husband Willy and Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark, Death Comes to Pemberley, The White Queen) as a potential love interest. The film is set during their marriage, which was 1893 to 1906, and focuses on Colette’s initial years as a writer trying to come out from under — quite literally — Willy’s thumb.

The film screened at Sundance in January and has a limited U.S. release on September 21, 2018 (probably to qualify for award season?). Wider release is slated in the U.K. on January 25, 2019, and then watch for more in America and elsewhere.

Keira can (not always! Sometimes I like her!) irritate me as much as the next person, but I’m really digging the costumes, and what I see of her performance in the trailer looks good (I only spot one clompy moment!):

The costumes were designed by Andrea Flesch, a Hungarian costume designer who has a number of films on her credit list; only the Tulse Luper Suitcases series jumps out as being historic.

Colette is depicted as being modern — she’s a woman writer who is going to have some same-sex relationships, so her wardrobe reflects her crossing of gender boundaries. They’ve definitely referenced some photos of the real Colette, which makes me pretty happy! Here’s two practical suit-esque outfits, one earlier than the other:

This predates the next, just based on the hairstyle, which is very turn-of-the-century.

Can’t tell if that’s a bob or just worn more loose, but definitely later.

Now, working through the trailer, skipping costumes that aren’t clearly depicted:

We start off with this adorable, menswear-inspired shirtwaist made from gingham. Check out all those great pleats and seaming in back!

More pleats at the shoulder and a literal tie. Women definitely wore menswear-inspired skirt suits like this in this era.

Uber practical, with just a bit of black on the bodice front and sleeve cuffs.

Here’s the real Colette in a similar skirt suit, probably from about 1909-13 based on the fashions shown.

At an early party, she’s wearing a fuller-sleeved blouse.

Jumping forward in time, Colette has bobbed her hair and is wearing a super plain black dress with white collar.

They are clearly referencing this photo shoot of the real Colette and Willy — AND THEIR FRENCH BULLDOG!!!!

AIEEEEEE!

Colette Willy dog French bulldog

MOAR OF THE REAL PUPPERINO

Ahem. Back to costumes. Beautiful embroidery on this shirtwaist and skirt.

And definitely a style worn by the real Colette (left).

Now we’re back in practically-menswear as Keira gets clompy.

Again, keeping it plain although the black trim and vertical pintucks keep it interesting.

Stripey bathing suit! She’s bobbed her hair.

This vest is very ethnic in an Eastern European sort of way.

STRIIIIIIIIPES

I did find this one painting of Colette (by Jacques Humbert, c. 1896) that shows a more feminine look not seen in the film, although this would have been early in her marriage.

Colette supported herself by performing on stage. It looks like this costume…

…was inspired by the real deal! Cool!

Tomlinson plays American socialite Georgie Raoul-Duval. Here she’s wearing a teagown, a relaxed option for at-home socializing.

This suit is GORGEOUS. So much detail!

Dunno. The print is period but it reads Civil War to me, and the cotton fringe…?

I’m impressed by the fact that the extras look good too.

LOVE the fans!

Lovely!

Getting frisky

Loving the stripey dress, but why is far left wearing a giant hat at a ball/indoor party?

 

Will you see Colette when it comes out?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

28 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m so looking forward to seeing this flick. Although Ms Tomlinson’s dress on the standalone shot looks uncorseted.

    Reply
  2. Nzie

    Loving these beautiful costumes—and that they clearly referenced images of her. :-) I don’t really know much about Colette, but she seems very unique.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Judith Thurman’s biography is the best–she really gets both Colette and the part she played in French literature and social history.

      Reply
  3. Daniel Milford-Cottam

    The evening/dinner hat is definitely a thing I’ve seen in illustrations and artwork. Can’t recall specifics offhand, apart from some famous shots of Camille Clifford (the inspiration for the Gibson Girl) wearing a black evening dress and huge hat, which I imagine is what’s being referenced here. I agree it’s jarring in this context though.

    Reply
    • hsc

      Camille Clifford was dubbed “the quintessential Gibson Girl,” but this was because she won a contest to find a woman who matched Gibson’s popular drawings, and she capitalized on this in her stage career.

      Gibson’s wife, Irene Langhorne (sister of Nancy Langhorne, later Lady Astor) was said as well to have been the inspiration for the drawings, but Gibson himself made it clear that there was no specific woman that inspired “the Gibson Girl”:

      “I’ll tell you how I got what you have called the ‘Gibson Girl.’ I saw her on the streets, I saw her at the theatres, I saw her in the churches. I saw her everywhere and doing everything. I saw her idling on Fifth Avenue and at work behind the counters of the stores… [T]he nation made the type. What Zangwill calls the ‘Melting Pot of Races’ has resulted in a certain character; why should it not also have turned out a certain type of face?…There isn’t any ‘Gibson Girl,’ but there are many thousands of American girls, and for that let us all thank God.”

      Reply
  4. Daniel Milford-Cottam

    I’m also slightly disappointed that I don’t seem to be seeing anyone wearing a claudinet/Claudine collar which was a fashion directly inspired by the Claudine books, essentially a pre-Peter Pan collar with long trailing scarf tied in front.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Well, at least those photos with Willy are supposed to be the little schoolgirl child-bride who inspired “his” Claudine novels.

      Reply
      • M.E. Lawrence

        Finally saw “Colette” yesterday, and the latter part is full of would-be Parisian Claudines in school girl attire. The movie itself is beautifully produced and trying very hard to respect Colette and her writing–to be authentic–but Keira’s likable and kind of boring, as usual. I don’t know who could play Colette, who was not sweet and likable.

        Reply
  5. themodernmantuamaker

    I might actually be willing to put up with Keira-leads-with-her-jaw-Knightley for this!

    Reply
    • Am

      Literally LOL’ed at this. I like Keira Knightley, but your description of her is spot on!

      I still want to see her & Keeley Hawes play either daughter and mother or sisters ASAP.

      Reply
  6. Violet1211

    This is so wrong. Colette was a fascinating, complex woman who deserves better than the platitudes in the preview, and her posture was nowhere near as slouchy as Keira’s. And the clothing descriptions in Claudine at School are amazing.

    Reply
  7. India Edghill

    Ah, the can-can….which still can’t be shown accurately except in an X-rated film.

    Reply
  8. Susan Eiffert

    I guess I’m not done grousing. She’s too damn thin; it detracts. The costumes look wonderful. But agree that bolero/cape print is definitely Civil War.

    Reply
  9. Donnalee

    I didn’t recognise her facially in most of these photos, and yet her body doesn’t look much heavier. They must have done something to her–filler, whatever–or maybe she had a child? I forget. No, I am not interested in seeing this film, although I hope it is good. The facial skin quality in the bathing suit is odd and looks injured–do we know if that is the case?

    Reply
  10. Saraquill

    Looking at the cancan photos makes me wonder. Did those dancers in period wear closed crotch drawers when dancing?

    Reply
    • picasso Manu

      Nope! Which was sort of the whole point, really… But that film looks like it has potential, even if it’s SO easy to go wrong with Colette. The costumes looks gorgeous, anyway.

      Reply
  11. Melponeme_k

    The real woman has a gorgeous hourglass figure paired with a round, cute face. How anyone thought Knightly was a dead ringer for Colette, is beyond me.

    Reply
  12. Gosia

    To be honest I’m fed up with Keira Knigtley in period films. Must she appear in very second costume film? Aren’t there more talented and prettier actresses around to work in period films? Keira Knightley must have very good connections in the business that allow her to work in this kind of films, despite her moderate talent and physical flaws (she is too thin for period films and don’t get me started on her jaw).

    Reply
    • Am

      Wow, there’s some serious shade being thrown on here towards Keira Knightley’s jaw. Was not expecting that (haha).

      Reply
  13. Hawke

    My fingers are crossed it’s as nice as the trailer looks, and an good movie for other reasons as well. Turn of the century is one of my favorite periods, and seems to rarely be done well

    Reply
  14. Justme

    Could it be that, after years of wearing period dresses, Kira Knightley has finally learned to (sort of) walk in them?

    Reply
  15. Adrienne

    I was obsessed with Colette in college -after reading an omnibus of her Claudine novels I read every biography our library had. If nothing else this looks a thousand times better than the terrible movie about Colette they made in the 90s. And I’m excited that they seem to be dealing with her sapphic side as well! My biggest gripe is honestly that her bob is way too long and flat!

    Reply

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