She may not be a well-known name among frock flickers, but when Yvonne Blake passed away this week at age 78, she left behind a body of work that many of us may recognize. While the Hollywood press remarked on her costume designs for the original Superman movies, historical drama fans will appreciate her most for the fabulous creations from the 1970s Three Musketeers films and her Oscar win for Nicholas and Alexandra.
Let’s remember some of her historical costume movie and TV career highlights.
Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)
“It was agony. The production was oversize. I was a young 29-year-old, I was disorganized, and I was in charge of several departments with a lot of people in them. It’s also true that we had a bottomless budget that gave me great freedom to create. But there were two tailors there who hated one another, and I was caught in the middle of that. It was a year of preparation and another year of filming, and by the end of it I was very angry and depressed. So much so, in fact, that I thought of quitting this profession.” — Yvonne Blake, describing work on Nicholas and Alexandra in an interview with El Pais
Yvonne Blake, describing her creative process in an interview with the Universitat de Barcelona:
“I receive a script and decide whether it interests me or not; I read it several times; I hold meetings with the director to analyse characters; I look for works of reference. If it is a period movie, I look for inspiration in museums; I also have many books of art at home. For instance, I frequently visit the Prado Museum or the Costume Museum, in Madrid, and I always carry with me a little notebook to note down interesting things, uncommon things I find in period costumes. I always look for something new, slightly different, if possible. On the contrary, to design costumes for characters that live in our age is much more difficult, and I enjoy it less. It is much easier to make a period film than one set in current times.”
Presence of Mind (1999)
The Bridge of San Luis Rey (2004)
Goya’s Ghosts (2006)
“I think that, concerning the costume, my best work is Goya’s Ghosts (2006) because the result was really realistic. It is also quite a recent film. In my opinion, our work improves as we get older; we feel more secure as we have a better control of our work. When I was young, I felt so insecure. I continue being insecure, but it is a different matter. Now, I organise myself in a different way and I enjoy it more. I particularly enjoyed that film; working with Milos Forman was a great pleasure; he is a great director. Probably, this is the work I feel most proud of.” — Yvonne Blake in an interview with the Universitat de Barcelona
Yvonne Blake and fellow costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis talk at this hour-long session titled “Dressing the Screen – Costume Design in Hollywood” at the Museum at FIT in 2013. Blake describes working on Nicholas and Alexandra starting at 16:03, The Three Musketeers at 29:59, and Goya’s Ghosts at 46:36, plus many more in between!
What will you remember of Yvonne Blake’s historical costume work?