Costume Designer Christian Gasc: The Frock Flicks Guide

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I don’t know if I always love the costume designs of Christian Gasc, but he’s one of THE period film designers in French cinema, so he’s an important person to know about if you’re into historical film. Despite being way too into back-lacing dresses, he’s won the César (the French Oscar) four times, for Farewell, My QueenOn GuardRidicule; and Madame Bovary; and he was nominated for Rendez-vous and The Women of the 6th Floor. There’s a number of video interviews with him available online, so if you’re interested, do some searching — I’ve included the few bits I’ve been able to track down from print sources below.

 

Aloïse (1975)

Gasc’s first film, starring Isabelle Huppert as Swiss artist Aloïse Corbaz, who was institutionalized for most of her life.

1975 Aloïse

I like the hat?

 

The Brontë Sisters (1979)

The weirdness of a French version of such an English story, but Trystan didn’t hate it, so okay! Isabella Adjani plays writer Emily Brontë, Isabelle Huppert is Anne, and there appears to be a lot of brown.

Les Soeurs Bronte (1979)

No combs or irons owned by this family!

Les Soeurs Bronte (1979)

Dumpity dump dump.

Les Soeurs Bronte (1979)

This looks reasonable, if drab.

Les Soeurs Bronte (1979)

I live in anticipation of someone explaining Huppert’s partially crimped hair.

 

Les deux Fragonard (1989)

Painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) and his anatomist brother fall in love with the same woman.

1989 Les deux Fragonard

I’m liking what I see here!

 

Madame Butterfly (1995)

A filmed version of the opera, set in Tunisia.

1995 Madame Butterfly

I know nothing about Japanese kimono!

 

Ridicule (1995)

Late 18th-century courtiers (including Fanny Ardant) try to out-snark each other.

From a historical basis, I take certain liberties taking into account the morphology for example. The actors must be comfortable when they ride horses. The modern look also comes from the choice of fabrics or a detail. On Ridicule, by Patrice Leconte, I had asked Fanny Ardant to remove her choker while a countess like her was supposed to wear it. It was fine, she hates having something around her neck (my translation of Toulouse. Christian Gasc présente des costumes de « Ridicule » et « Le Bossu »).

Ridicule (1996)

Reviewers plopped over these costumes.

Ridicule (1996)

But there’s a whole lot of princess seams and back lacing.

Ridicule (1996)

The wigs get WHACK at the end!

But overall, it’s a decent attempt at late 18th-century costume.

 

On Guard (1997)

A 17th-century-set swashbuckler starring Daniel Auteuil and Vincent Perez. This one is weirdly on my watchlist … for someday.

1997 On Guard

I’d like to see more of this!

1997 On Guard

Less of this, though — although Perez is SO pretty!

1997 On Guard

Ah yes, the proverbial “I lost my dress/jacket”!

 

Dolce far niente (1998)

The two years that French author Stendhal spent in Italy, sometime in the early 19th century.

1998 Dolce far niente

When, apparently, the hair was stringy and the eyeliner was smudgy.

 

Sade (2000)

Daniel Auteuil plays the famed Marquis de Sade, imprisoned in the 1790s for writing pornographic novels.

For example for Sade, with Daniel Auteuil, I did not want to fall into the cliché of the writer dressed in blue (under Louis XVI, it was the color of the aristocrats). I imagined a red suit: we were during the Terror and the blood flowed afloat (my translation of Toulouse. Christian Gasc présente des costumes de « Ridicule » et « Le Bossu »).

Sade (2000)

I like the collar and lapels on the left!

 

The Widow of Saint-Pierre (2000)

In 1849, a French-Canadian woman (Juliette Binoche) falls in love with a convicted murderer.

2000 The Widow of Saint-Pierre

Mid-Victorian Canada.

FEEL MY ENTHUSIASM.

 

Love Street (2002)

Set in 1940s Paris, a handyman tries to help a prostitute with her singing career and love life.

2002 Love Street

Nothing better than the old, unattractive man hanging with the young hotties!

 

Strayed (2003)

Emmanuelle Béart as a widowed mother escaping occupied Paris during World War II.

2003 Strayed

Seems reasonable.

 

Gaspard le bandit (2006)

A highwayman hides out in a convent in the 18th century.

2006 Gaspard le bandit

This feels VERY high school theater.

2006 Gaspard le bandit

But I can’t see enough to really judge.

 

The Counterfeiters (2010)

“High-school student Bernard discovers that he’s the fruit of a one-night stand by his mother,” per IMDB. Set in the 1940s.

2010 Counterfeiters

Sure, fine.

 

The Women on the 6th Floor (2010)

The contrast between a wealthy family and another that works as their servants, in 1962 Paris.

2010 The Women on the 6th Floor

Nice stripes!

 

Farewell, My Queen (2012)

The final days for Marie-Antoinette at Versailles, seen through the eyes of her fictional reader.

I disliked to hated most of the costumes in this film.

#unnecessarybacklacing

Farewell, My Queen (2012)

Marie-Antoinette dressed 10 years out of style.

Farewell, My Queen (2012)

WEIRD aniline dyes!

Farewell, My Queen (2012)

Maybe it’s a safety vest?

Farewell, My Queen (2012)

And then the one really great costume!

 

Madame Bovary (2014)

Yet another adaptation of the bored-woman-has-affairs-in-mid-19th-century-France novel.

The Costume Designers Valerie Ranchoux and Christian Gasc chose an extraordinary array of colors which either contrast or echoes with the tones of the production design and nature. Emma first dresses are different shades of greens (green is the color of hope and youth) and as her character develop stronger colors are introduced (red, orange, and almost poisonous purple) and the end her dress completely blends with the nature in the fall (yellows and greens) (An Exclusive Look at the Costumes and Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of ‘Madame Bovary’).

The costumes were the most time-consuming and labor-intensive part of the film. The costume designers (Christian Gasc and Valérie Ranchoux) have worked on a lot of period films, which take place in the 18th and 19th centuries, in France. But I started sketching ideas almost two years before we started shooting. We had an on-going dialogue about the style and the fabrics, and how every dress was there to support the journey of the character. So what I love about the team is that they don’t just create costumes for the characters; they create dresses that tell the audience stories. They created beautiful dress, and took a lot of liberties with the fashion of that time (Interview: Sophie Barthes Talks Madame Bovary).

Madame Bovary (2014)

Nothing about this inspires me to want to watch it.

Madame Bovary (2014)

It just seems SO heavy handed.

Madame Bovary (2014)

What’s with all the screamingly bright colors??

 

 

Which is your favorite of Christian Gasc’s historical films?

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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.

12 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    Innnteresssting stuff. BTW, what De Sade was actually imprisoned for was the fact that his porno writing covered hidden political treatises, not friendly to the regime.

    Reply
  2. Roxana

    What is with all the screamingly bright colors indeed. Judging from the images Gasc has two palettes; drab and screamingly bright. Also hate that shade of green in the Marie Antoinette movie with the heat of a thousand suns.

    Reply
  3. Aleko

    Gack! I HATE it when directors and designers decide that silk stockings and buckled shoes are too foppish for soldiers, and insist on putting them in big clumpy boots no matter how genteel the surroundings and how formal the occasion. French infantry officers – or officers of any other nation – would NEVER have worn boots indoors in the royal palace. (And of course they wouldn’t ever have turned their backs on the Queen, either! What kind of revolutionaries don’t even bother pausing their casual natter and coming to attention when their monarch sweeps past in full court fig? Off with their heads!)

    Reply
  4. LisaS

    I get the bright colors in the Bovary film. In the 1850s aniline dyes were just coming into use and since Madame is a bit of a spendthrift social climber, it would be in character to acquire the newest and flashiest.

    Reply
  5. LadySlippers

    I used to live in Japan. There’s not enough information for me to determine which kimono she’s wearing (my guess is it’s the unmarried woman’s kimono or the wedding kimono). I’m just grateful it’s not black and white as that colour combination is strictly seen only at funerals with white tie/black tie as an exception to the rule.

    Here’s a quick overview of the various kimonos:

    https://www.tsunagujapan.com/10-different-types-of-kimono-for-women/

    Reply
  6. Damnitz

    Many really poor decisions in Ridicule, Gaspard le Bandit and “Farewell my queen”. However at least one consequent handwriting of bad taste through all these flicks.

    Very ridiculous how the “officers” on one screenshot are ignoring the queen in “Farewell, my queen”. WTF!

    Reply
  7. Roxana

    BTW who cast the Bronte Sisters? Charlotte at least would have KILLED to be that pretty. Emily on the other hand is on record as wanting to be ‘as God made me.’ Anne actually was the prettiest of the sisters and would have liked to be less paralyzingly shy.

    Reply

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