Admittedly, I haven’t seen many of the films that Piero Tosi designed costumes for. They’re all Italian, since he famously dislikes travel and has only worked in his native country even though he’s been working as a film costume designer since the 1950s. But images of his creations are everywhere, and they’re so exquisite, the costumes are often mislabeled as authentic historical garments, especially on Pinterest and Tumblr. You’ve probably seen his work without realizing it!
Early in his career, Piero Tosi began working with influential Italian director Luchino Visconti, who was part of the Neorealist movement in film. While movies made in that genre focused on the smaller-scale problems of the common people, the short-lived movement’s insistence on showing hyper-accurate locations, lighting, and how people looked carried over into the grand historical films Visconti began to make with Tosi as costume designer. The director and costumer were like-minded in dressing actors in garments as close to historically true costumes from the skin out. Tosi soon enlisted the tailoring house run by Umberto Tirelli to accomplish these goals, beginning a lifelong collaboration between Piero Tosi and Tirelli Costumi.
While Tosi hasn’t designed costumes for film in over a decade, he sometimes works in theater and opera while teaching in Italy. Also his influence continues today through his proteges such as costume designers Milena Canonero (Out of Africa, Marie Antoinette), Maurizio Millenotti (Immortal Beloved, The Happy Prince), and Gabriella Pescucci (The Age of Innocence, The Borgias). Let’s enjoy some of Piero Tosi’s fantastic historical costume work!
The Leopard (1963)
The Damned (1969)
Death in Venice (1971)
In Port Magazine, Piero Tosi remembers the starring actress in Death in Venice:
“Silvana Mangano had this unique gift of wearing a dress and turn it into something very special, thanks to her personality and incredible style.”
Piero Tosi, on finishing a complete costume in the LA Times:
“If the face and the hair are not right, then the costume really isn’t successful.”
The Night Porter (1974)
Beyond Good and Evil (1977)
Lady of the Camelias (1981)
Piero Tosi in Port Magazine, discussing his attitude toward historical research:
“I believe that an actor’s costume has to mirror the character wearing it, and also life. Therefore, it is especially important to know the historical period where the movie is set and to research into traditions.”
La Traviata (1983)
What’s your favorite historical movie costume designed by Piero Tosi?