Milena Canonero: The Frock Flicks Guide

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Milena Canonero — if you recognize the name, it’s probably for her costume design work on Marie Antoinette (2006) or The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). But did you know this incredibly talented Italian-born designer, who got her start working with Stanley Kubrick, is also the genius behind such films as Barry Lyndon (1975), Out of Africa (1985), and The Affair of the Necklace (2001)? Canonero has designed a number of really quite fabulous period films, and I thought it was time to give her work a shout-out!

Let’s take a look at all of Canonero’s films, with some quotes by (or occasionally about) the designer and her work:

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Awards: won the Academy Award (co-designer with Ulla-Britt Söderlund) for Best Costume Design.

“Stanley prepared the look of Barry Lyndon through selections of painters of the time. I did not go for an academic look, nor the realistic look that could have come by looking at Hogarth’s work, so well rendered in [Tony Richardson’s 1963 costume drama] Tom Jones. Stanley [wanted] a romantic and elegant view of the period. So we went for other inspirational painters” (Pavel Barter, “An Awfully Big Adventure: Kubrick’s masterful Barry Lyndon was a dramatic experience in more ways than one,” Sunday Times, 03 May 2009).

1975 Barry Lyndon

Lady Lyndon wears faaaaabulous hats over her amazing hairstyles.

1975 Barry Lyndon

Lots of sharp-dressed men in uniform!

Another gorgeous look on Lady Lyndon — this hat was reworn in Marie Antoinette (2006)!

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Some of the film’s costumes on display.

Barry Lyndon (1975)

A beautiful range of menswear.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Awards: won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

“Part of our contribution is to give the actors — whether principals or crowds of 500 extras — a feeling of authenticity, down to the last detail” (When the Mood Strikes).

1981 Chariots of Fire

A film about racing, so lots of athletic wear!

1981 Chariots of Fire

But there’s always time for dapper tuxes!

1981 Chariots of Fire

University boys, some kind of scouts, plus athletic wear!

1981 Chariots of Fire

There are girls, too!

The Cotton Club (1984)

“It wasn’t the most difficult film I’ve worked on, but it was the most crazy. We had this extensive panoramic draft of a script, and one-liners gave an indication of lots of possible scenes that could be developed…. In some films, especially in America, you may have some very good actor or actress who decides to do period films, but they keep their own look… It just upsets the whole thing. You might as well go home and give up… We tried to give [director] Francis [Ford Coppola] the right look, for the crowd as well as for the principals, so if he felt like pointing the camera in any direction, he could” (Lorna Koski, “Canonero on The Cotton Club,” WWD, 20 Nov 1984).

The Cotton Club (1984)

Diane Lane is allll 1930s glamour.

The Cotton Club (1984)

Dapper gents and sparkly ladies!

The Cotton Club (1984)

Every girl crazy bout a sharp-dressed man!

The Cotton Club (1984)

I don’t usually say this about Richard Gere, but, rowr!

The Cotton Club (1984)

Bringing the glamour to stage costumes!

Out of Africa (1985)

Awards: nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

“Once I’ve done my research, I go into what each character should wear. For a period movie where period clothes exist, you try to combine real things with things you design and make. The real thing, you can never make it as good as that’ (Milena Canonero: Fashion On and Off the Big Screen).’

Out of Africa (1985)

The film is best remembered for its “safari wear”…

Out of Africa (1985)

Which spawned a massive fashion craze!

Out of Africa (1985)

And for good reason!

Out of Africa (1985)

But it also has some STUNNING dressed-up 1910s wear!

Out of Africa (1985)

I’ve already raved about Meryl Streep’s wedding suit

Out of Africa (1985)

But there are a ton of great looks for those who love this era.

Tucker: The Man & His Dream (1988)

Awards: nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)

Fabulous 1940s suits on men AND women!

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)

Now THAT is a tie — and some high-waisted pants!

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)

Joan Allen looks SO glam!

Dick Tracy (1990)

Awards: nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

“Left to her own devices, Oscar-winning Canonero, a stickler for period accuracy, would have styled Madonna’s hair like Jean Harlow’s. ‘I would have preferred the hair less curly with finger waves instead, and have it coming over the eyes… But Warren thought that was too sophisticated” (Kathleen Boyes, “The Scene: Milena Does Madonna,” WWD, 4 June 1990).

1990 Dick Tracy

A theatrical take on the 1940s…

The Bachelor (1990)

The Bachelor (1990)

Miranda Richardson looking lovely and Edwardian…

Titus (1999)

Awards: nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

“[Director] Julie [Taymor] wanted to make a movie where there were no specific, direct references to a period, but to create a world unto itself… There are longago, faraway references like Roman and Etruscan, and also fairly recent references, like the wartime 1930s and 40s. That gives a symbolic relevance to the violence and revenge, makes it more eternal. Also, her vision is very witty, and we tried to get that across with the look of the movie” (John Calhoun, “Taymor Tackles Titus,” Entertainment Design, March 2000).

Titus (1999)

1930s meets Roman/Etruscan — not strictly historical, but still interesting!

The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

Awards: nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

Canonero wanted the costumes to be “elegant and simple, rather than historical-hysterical… [Jeanne’s transformation is] subtle-it’s not that she’s in rags and then in silk. And we’re not all of a sudden going to put her in a white wig with a bird in her hair…The cut and the silhouette has to be 100% accurate; I never compromise on that” (John Calhoun, “Versailles Vivant: Milena Canonero Dresses Up an Elegant ‘Necklace,'” Entertainment Design, Jan 2002).

The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

Such a great line-up of late 18th century menswear/menswear-inspired!

The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

And who can forget Joely Richardson‘s look as Marie Antoinette

2001 The Affair of the Necklace

Hilary Swank may have been a bit miscast, but she LOOKED great!

2001 The Affair of the Necklace

I mean, THE HATS, PEOPLE!!

Marie Antoinette (2006)

Awards: nominated for Period Film, Costume Designers Guild; won the Academy Award.

“Sofia [Coppola] didn’t want the film to have the expected look of the period. This is not a classic vision of Marie Antoinette, but Sofia’s personal vision of her. The film is a very modern look at her inner experience and therefore, the costumes had to respect that kind of language. We took the essence of how things were and stylized them. It’s more of a fashion statement. At times, it was very rock and roll” (Brian Russak, “Fit for a Queen,” Footwear News, 9 Oct 2006).

Marie-Antoinette (2006)

Her trim! His wig!

Marie-Antoinette (2006)

A line-up of macaroons…

Marie-Antoinette (2006)

Even the extras look amazing!

Marie Antoinette (2006)

Canonero really captured the creampuff aspect of this era.

I Vicerè (2007)

2007 I vicere

Beautifully done mid-19th century, and I don’t say that often.

2007 I vicere

Adding this to my pinboard of “Mid-Victorian I Don’t Loathe”…

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Awards: won for Period Film, Costume Designers Guild; won the Academy Award.

“[Canonero] collaborated with the fashion house of Prada on many of the costumes and although her hotel staff uniforms depicted the 1930s period, Canonero traded the look of the typical colors of the hospitality industry-various shades of grey … to the more vivid shades of purple and mauve” (Get to Know Costume Designer of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel,’ Milena Canonero).

2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel

So very just-slightly-theatrical, so very (director) Wes Anderson!

2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel

But hey, let’s add a little fascism!

2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel

And some total realism!

Which film features your favorite of Canonero’s 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.

8 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    You cannot help but love and massively drool over Milena Canonero’s work. My favourites are Out of Africa (thought she won Oscar for that), Marie Antoinette, and Cotton Club.

    I feel that with those and her other work , she captures the elegance and spirit of the age in which the film is set. I would love to see her take on films with Russian Court Dress and Restoration England.

    Reply
  2. picasso Manu

    I WANT the green/blue dress in the title pic! *drools*

    And yeas, all that is very nice, but let’s be honest with ourselves, ladies: We all know the real stroke of genius was that towel…

    Reply
  3. Adina

    Speaking of the Grand Budapest Hotel *looks around shiftily then slides pics of Adrien Brody across the table* can we have a MCM on Ralph Fiennes?

    Reply
  4. Renngrrl

    Acheson and Canonero were my idols in school. I never get tired of the costumes in Out of Africa. The blue traveling suit, the wedding dress, the danish shooting outfit, …. I could go on and on. /sigh

    Reply

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