Gabriella Pescucci: The Frock Flicks Guide

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Gabriella Pescucci is one of my favorite costume designers, specifically for her work on The Age of Innocence and The Borgias — you also probably know her for Dangerous Beauty and Penny Dreadful. I’m always fascinated by looking at designers’ work over time, so let’s take a wander through this talented designer’s historical film projects, going back to some podunk Italian productions but then ending up with some Major Costume Movies!

 

The Seven Cervi Brothers (1968)

A World War II movie: “The true story of seven Italian brothers, farmers and Catholic, who became Communist and fought for justice and freedom against Fascism.” Not much about the images I’ve found looks very 1940s!

1968 The Seven Cervi Brothers

I’m getting more of a Mary Tyler Moore vibe here…

 

Many Wars Ago (1970)

An Italian World War I movie.

1970 Many Wars Ago

Nice hats, I guess?

 

The Murri Affair (1974)

IMDB says: “Based on a true incident, this tells the story of a troubled young man who kills his sister’s reactionary, violent, and abusive husband and is eventually arrested for the murder. However, the dead husband happened to be a member of the Italian nobility, and the trial starts to turn into more of a prosecution of the defendant’s socialist politics and the activities of his father, a well known liberal social reformer, than the actual crime itself.” Sounds pretty interesting, especially given the nice Edwardian costumes seen below!

1974 The Murri Affair

Lovely froof!

1974 The Murri Affair

I’m not totally convinced about that huge floral print…

 

The Divine Nymph (1975)

A love triangle set in the 1920s.

1975 The Divine Nymph

Okay that suit is pretty darn fabulous, although that fitted waist is not very 1920s…

 

Il Gabbiano (1977)

An adaptation of a Chekov play-within-a-play.

1977 Il gabbiano

I couldn’t find any photos that were clearer than this!

 

Passion of Love (1981)

1860s, Italy, love, insanity.

1981 Passion of Love

 

That Night in Varennes (1982)

One at the very top of my shortlist — a fictional story whereby American patriot Thomas Paine, Casanova, the French novelist Restif de La Bretonne, and one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting are all traveling in a coach to Varennes, and happen to be right behind the royal family who are attempting to make their escape.

1982 That Night in Varennes

LOVE!

1982 That Night in Varennes

Looks like she captured the class spectrum well.

1982 That Night in Varennes

I’m quite happy with these wigs!

 

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Pescucci’s first American film: Robert de Niro as a former Prohibition-era gangster in Manhattan.

1984 Once Upon a Time in America

That’s a young Elizabeth McGovern looking all 1930s fabulous…

1984 Once Upon a Time in America

 

Good King Dagobert (1984)

A French, medieval-era film — I think it’s a comedy?

1984 Good King Dagobert

 

The Name of the Rose (1986)

Every parents’ favorite when I was growing up, I’ve never bothered to see it although I know I SHOULD! Sean Connery, Christian Slater, medieval monks, murder, and tonsures.

1986 The Name of the Rose

How long can I look at wool sacks?

 

The Family (1987)

A man’s life story from his birth in 1906 to his 80th birthday.

The Family (1987)

A nice range of Edwardian daywear!

 

Haunted Summer (1988)

I feel somewhat offended that Trystan hasn’t reviewed this one yet! WTF? “In 1815, authors Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley get together for some philosophical discussions, but the situation soon deteriorates into mind games, drugs, and sex” (per IMDB). What gives, T?

Haunted Summer (1988)

Yes, it’s Regency nightgowns, but it’s your Romantic poets!

 

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

A fabulous, hilarious, and weird historically-inspired fantasy film! Pescucci’s first (of many) collaboration with director Terry Gilliam. The Baron Munchausen tells many tall tales of his adventures; somewhat set in the Regency era.

1988 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

That’s Uma Thurman as Venus.

1988 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

 

Indochine (1992)

I saw this back in the day, but don’t remember anything except it being depressing. Catherine Deneuve plays a French woman living at the end of the colonial era in what would become Vietnam (1930), there’s a love triangle between her and her adopted daughter.

1992 Indochine 1992 Indochine

 

The Age of Innocence (1993)

And, now we get to the Extra Good Stuff. Have there ever been better bustles on film? I think not!

The Age of Innocence (1993)

They pulled out ALL the stops.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Winona Ryder is the epitome of elegance.

The Age of Innocence (1993)

The detail on this dress!

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Michelle Pfieffer, stunning in red.

 

Per Amore, Solo per Amore (1993)

The birth of Jesus, told from Joseph’s point of view — Penélope Cruz plays Mary.

1993 Per amore, solo per amore

 

The Night and the Moment (1994)

Okay, so it’s a Dangerous Liaisons rip off — there are still some nice elements to the 18th-century costumes (and some theatrical shortcuts).

The trim and the color here are great, even if the sleeves were weird!

Some fab, some wtf!

 

Solomon & Sheba (1995)

Halle Berry as the Biblical queen.

1995 Solomon & Sheba

It’s pretty, but I can’t tell you anything else!

 

The Scarlet Letter (1995)

So Demi Moore was miscast in this adaptation of the classic novel, the 17th-century costumes were still gorgeous!

The Scarlet Letter (1995)

Solidly middling-class wear…

The Scarlet Letter (1995)

… contrasted with super fancy gear!

 

Slave of Dreams (1995)

More Biblical fun! “The Egyptian executioner’s wife tries to seduce Hebrew slave Joseph to fulfill a dream they are experiencing simultaneously” (IMDB). Starring a really weird cast of Edward James Olmos and Sherilyn Fenn, among others.

1995 Slave of Dreams

Nothing about this makes me want to watch it.

 

Albergo Roma (1996)

Italy, 1939, Mussolini is about to visit a small town when things get more complicated…

1996 Albergo Roma

 

Dangerous Beauty (1998)

Another highlight (or lowlight, depending on your opinion!). Yes, there’s the WTF “courtesan” costumes, but there’s also some great late 16th-century Italian wear on both women and men, plus Rufus Sewell.

Dangerous Beauty

Alright, so the faux-lacing front and the PANTS make me shudder…

Dangerous Beauty

The “courtesan” outfits may be totally inaccurate, but they are inspired by period art and they are pretty…

Dangerous Beauty

And the non-courtesan dresses are actually quite well done!

But, yeah. Sigh.

 

Les Misérables (1998)

Not my favorite adaptation. Liam Neeson, Claire Danes, 1830s snoozefest.

1998 Les Misérables 1998 Les Misérables

 

Cousin Bette (1998)

Not a totally successful adaptation of the Balzac novel, but Pescucci’s spot-on 1840s costumes are a definitely highlight.

1998 Cousin Bette

A theatrical stage costume.

1998 Cousin Bette

Pefect 1840s daywear!

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)

Haven’t seen it (sorry!). Yes, it’s fantasy, but this adaptation bookends things in the Edwardian era.

1999 A Midsummer Night's Dream

Lovely Edwardian daywear.

1999 A Midsummer Night's Dream

Titania’s fairy costume.

 

Marcel Proust’s Time Regained (1999)

An adaptation of the famous novel, but that’s all I can tell you!

1999 Marcel Proust's Time Regained 1999 Marcel Proust's Time Regained

 

Van Helsing (2004)

Oh dear. To quote our Trystan, “SUCH a shitty movie.” Not even the fabulous Kate Beckinsale can save us.

2004 Van Helsing

WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS??!! Okay, so yes, there are some Eastern European influences…

Van Helsing

And people other than me get excited about this red bustle ballgown

 

Secret Passage (2004)

1492, Jews escaping from Spain only to face the Inquisition in Venice.

2004 Secret Passage

Pretty, although I’d say about 100 years later…

2004 Secret Passage

 

The Brothers Grimm (2005)

A not-totally-successful, but still worth-watching, tale of the famous folk tale collectors set in the early 19th century. The highlight are Pescucci’s stunning fantasy costumes on Monica Belluci’s evil queen.

2005 Brothers Grimm

Present day Grimm brothers…

2005 Brothers Grimm

Medieval flashback…

2005 Brothers Grimm

Fantasy evil queen — OMG the detail!!

2005 Brothers Grimm

I love everything about this costume!

 

Beowulf (2007)

A CGI animated version of the classic Anglo-Saxon tale, but even in animation, someone has to design the costumes!

Beowulf (2007)

 

Agora (2009)

A really engrossing movie starring the fabulous Rachel Weisz as the ancient philosopher Hypatia.

2009 Agora

 

The Borgias (2011-13)

SO MUCH SHINY FABULOUS 1490S COSTUMES I CAN’T EVEN.

Showtime's The Borgias

SO BEAUTIFUL!

Showtime's The Borgias

SO PRETTY!

*flails happily*

 

Penny Dreadful (2014-16)

I admit to only watching one episode (gothy horror not being my thing), but what I saw in terms of costumes? STUNNING.

Penny Dreadful

Beautiful use of lace!

Penny Dreadful

Flashback to lovely natural form bustle dresses!

Penny Dreadful

Nicely done Edwardian lower-class wear!

 

What’s your favorite of Gabriella Pescucci’s costume designs?

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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.

20 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    I love her work, but my favourites are (in no particular order) The Borgias, Age of Innocence, Midsummer Night’s Dream (Titania’s blue/teal dress alone would add it to list – see Twitter post under Lady Cecily Neville), Dangerous Beauty, Penny Dreadful. Will have to try to find the others.

    Reply
  2. MoHub

    Didn’t know she did Baron Munchausen and am impressed. That is one of the most visually amazing films ever made.

    Reply
  3. Trystan L. Bass

    Yeah, I’ve reviewed Gothic & Rowing Against the Wind, but I’ll have to find a copy of Haunted Summer — it was in my college goth movie rotation, natch, but I haven’t seen it since & don’t remember anything about the costumes!

    Reply
  4. mmcquown

    Surprising how many times the Mary Shelley thing has been re-hashed. FYI, the Queen of Sheba’s name was Balchis. Don’t remember where I ran across that nugget, but there it is. I guess “The Borgias” is my pick of what I’ve seen of her work. Was in “The Age of Innocence” The wife made her own bodice, then had trouble convincing Wardrobe it wasn’t theirs. Ryder looked quite ill through most of the 2-day shoot (the opera sequence).

    Reply
  5. CatnipTARDIS

    I’ve loved her work for some time, but Penny Dreadful quickly became my favorite. I LUURRRVVEEE the (sadly) brief period post-bustle and pre-Gibson Girl and Eva Green wears those costumes SOOO very well.

    Reply
  6. ladyaquanine73551

    “Van Helsing” would have been a better movie if they hadn’t killed Anna Valerious near the end. I almost felt like howling and crying along with Van Helsing when he realized what he’d done as a werewolf when that happened :(. It isn’t technically a “historical fiction” film. In fact, it’s kind of an “alternate history/steampunk/fantasy/horror” film. Hell, Van Helsing was NEVER an actual badass warrior on a leather trench with a super-cool crossbow. In most Dracula stories, he’s an old man and a professor! This was totally a “drool over Hugh Jackman” movie for the girls, and for the guys, it was a “drool over the action, violence, and Kate Beckinsale” movie. Plus, Anna was supposed to be a Gypsy Princess and an action girl, hence the kick-ass outfit. What bothers me is some of the story-writing was ridiculous, but the action scenes and special-effects were great.

    “The Brothers Grimm” story would have been better if they’d spent more time on the writing and developing the characters more. Plus, they REALLY could have left out the gross stuff. Seriously. The concept was interesting, but the execution wasn’t so great. (Of course, considering who the director was, I’m amazed it wasn’t a film worthy of the most Razzies for the year). This film also gives you an early look at Lena Headley before she played Cersei Lannister.

    One of the most irritating trends I’ve seen among adult fairy-tale fans is, they like focusing on the violent, gross, nitty-gritty parts of the stories written down by the Brothers Grimm, and frankly, I really don’t enjoy seeing stuff like that turned into a violent grub-fest. They’re called “fairy tales” for a reason, not because of the bloodbaths or the dirt. It kind of robs the stories of the beauty and wonder that people originally loved.

    A lot of people really liked the Mirror Queen’s gown, though I thought some of the proportions were really insane, like the mile-long sleeves and train, or the devil-horns hennin. (Seriously, real medieval hennins were NEVER shaped like that, even the double ones). Her costume was so popular, it ended up in a SIMS game! “The Sims Medieval” has a modest and a slutty version of the dress, but with shorter sleeves and no train on the skirt.

    “Beowulf” was the very first CGI cartoon I had ever seen that was gratuitously gross and violent. I have NEVER, in my ENTIRE LIFE seen such a gory cartoon before that. Even “Starship Troopers” couldn’t measure up to that. Plus, I hated how it made the men weak towards Grendel’s mother’s sexual wiles and power, and despite slaying her children, she still technically wins in the end. That is NOT how the ancient poem goes, sorry. Its only good offering was the epic music and incredible CGI work. If you didn’t know it was a CGI cartoon, you could almost mistake the people for the real deal.

    Most of these movies and tv shows I’ve never seen or even heard of, but I guess it’s better that I hadn’t. I might still try the Borgias, though. I hear it was better than the Tudors.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Van Helsing — sure, you’re right, but it’s still a baaaaaaad movie!

      Brothers Grimm had its problems, but I’m guessing that there may have been some studio interference. Who knows!

      I’m not a huge gore fan, but I do like the realification (I just made up that word) of fairy tales. I find it interesting! But ANYTHING being more gore-y than Starship Troopers is impressive!

      Reply
  7. LouisD

    I’m happy to see “la nuit de Varennes” mentionned in frockflicks. I like the costumes and the set design of this movie, far from the glamorous 18th century, we are accustomed to see. Moreover, it turns out to be a movie about a costume, as we see in the scene with the mannequin and LouisXVI’s uniform.

    I find Indochine depressing too. But the costumes are very classy.

    Reply
  8. Sarah G

    I have very mixed feelings about Penny Dreadful as a show (they just didn’t stick the landing), but the costumes are amazing all the way through. In particular, there’s a ball scene in Season Two that features probably the best interplay of lighting and the colors chosen by the costumer as a way to convey mood that I can remember.

    Also, there’s this fantastic background detail: a sign that reads “Mme Pescucci, Dressmaker.”

    Reply
  9. Hillary

    “The Borgias”! Always, always, always “The Borgias”! Followed closely by “The Age of Innocence”.

    I love that Ms. Pescucci can design costumes which are both historically accurate and fabulous. No one does it better, IMHO!

    Reply
  10. Marie McGowan Irving

    I was at a talk about Mary Shelley and ‘Haunted Summer’ came up. The giver of the talk had never seen it. I’m now about to fall down the rabbit hole that is YouTube to see if I can track it down and feed my inner Lord Byron fangirl. Send prayers and popcorn!

    Reply

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