Costume Designer Danilo Donati: The Frock Flicks Guide

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The costume designers who worked with Italy’s Tirelli Costumes are famous for both meticulous historical recreations and fabulous flights of fancy. Danilo Donati (April 6, 1926 – December 1, 2001) created movie and TV costumes that were both historical and fantastical, often at the same time. His work is always incredibly detailed, and though he eschewed reproducing specific portraits or garments, his knowledge of the history of fashion shines through. While some of the films he worked on are dated or uncomfortable to watch by today’s standards, the costumes he designed for them stand up as stunningly creative works of art. Let’s admire!

 

 

 

Vanina Vanini aka The Betrayer (1961)

Danilo Donati, Vanina Vanini aka The Betrayer (1961)

Apparently set in 1820s during early Italian unification.

Danilo Donati, Vanina Vanini aka The Betrayer (1961)

Can’t find any full-length pix, but I like the shoulder treatment here.

 

 

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

Danilo Donati, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

Filmed in black & white, this movie was the first time Danilo Donati worked with director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

 

 

Scaramouche (1965)

Danilo Donati, Scaramouche (1965)

A TV miniseries that I can’t find too much about but this pic looks good.

 

 

Madamigella di Maupin (1966)

Danilo Donati, Madamigella di Maupin (1966)

Vaguely 18th-c. story & costumes.

 

 

El Greco (1966)

Danilo Donati, El Greco (1966)

Heavy eye makeup aside, this looks like quite a well-costumed biopic of the Spanish artist.

Danilo Donati, El Greco (1966)

Her gown is right out of a portrait!

Danilo Donati, El Greco (1966)

LOVE that white & silver gown too, & the mens’ outfits look snazzy with good ruffs.

 

 

The Taming of The Shrew (1967)

Taming of the Shrew (1967)

Elizabeth Taylor wanted Irene Sharaff to design her gowns, but the director insisted on a using Danilo Donati. They split some of the work, & Richard Burton was particularly impressed with Donati’s designs. Donati had the edge of working with Tirelli Costumes, which built the pieces.

Danilo Donati, The Taming of The Shrew (1967)
Danilo Donati, The Taming of The Shrew (1967). Photo by Sartoria Farani.

Photo by Sartoria Farani.

 

 

On My Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who… (1967)

Danilo Donati, On My Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who... (1967)

Surprisingly detailed medieval gown for a comedy about a chastity belt.

 

 

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Romeo and Juliet (1968) costume review

Another excellent Zeffirelli adaption of Shakespeare.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Juliet’s red gown at the ball.

Danilo Donati, Romeo and Juliet (1968)

The red dress on display.

Romeo and Juliet (1968) costume review

Fantastic headgear.

Romeo and Juliet (1968) costume review

Danilo Donati won the Best Costume Design Oscar for this film.

Danilo Donati, Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Subtle shine for the death scene.

Danilo Donati, Romeo and Juliet (1968)

The death scene gown on display.

 

 

The Lady of Monza (1969)

Danilo Donati, The Lady of Monza (1969)

Googling this flick turns up a lot of … uh … partially-costumed pix, so I’ll just mention that it’s supposedly about a 17th-century nun.

 

 

Fellini Satyricon (1969)

Danilo Donati, Fellini Satyricon (1969)

The first of Donati’s collaborations with Federico Fellini, who made this impressionistic film set in imperial Rome.

Danilo Donati, Fellini Satyricon (1969)

The elaborate costumes were inspired by Fortuny gowns, among other things.

Danilo Donati, Fellini Satyricon (1969)

 

 

The Decameron (1971)

Danilo Donati, The Decameron (1971)

The first of director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s historical sex romps, this one based on the 14th-c. collection of novellas by Giovanni Boccaccio.

Danilo Donati, The Decameron (1971)

Submitted for your amusement.

 

 

Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)

Danilo Donati, Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)

A biopic of St. Francis of Assisi. Unfortunate biggins alert!

Danilo Donati, Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)

Flashy papal stuff!

 

 

The Canterbury Tales (1972)

Danilo Donati, The Canterbury Tales (1972)

Another of Pasolini’s historical sex romps, this one based on Chaucer.

Danilo Donati, The Canterbury Tales (1972)

I think this is the Wife of Bath, & the costume is amazing.

Danilo Donati, The Canterbury Tales (1972)

Then there’s these dudes who are just out looking to get laid.

 

 

Fury aka One Russian Summer (1973)

Danilo Donati, Fury aka One Russian Summer (1973)

Something gritty set in 1700s Russia.

 

 

Bawdy Tales (1973)

Danilo Donati, Bawdy Tales (1973)

Can’t find more pix (clothed or not) for this movie set in 1850 Rome. I like the hat though.

 

 

Arabian Nights (1974)

Danilo Donati, Arabian Nights (1974)

The last of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s historical sex movies, this one is based on One Thousand and One Nights. Beautifully filmed in Iran, Yemen, & Nepal, this one seems to be a bit more serious & dramatic.

Danilo Donati, Arabian Nights (1974)
Danilo Donati, Arabian Nights (1974)

 

 

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Danilo Donati, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

This controversial & extremely graphic ‘art-horror’ film is set during World War II & was Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final work.

Danilo Donati, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Danilo Donati created costumes that reflect period styles as well as the drama of the story.

Danilo Donati, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Danilo Donati, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Danilo Donati, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Danilo Donati, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

 

 

Fellini’s Casanova (1976)

Fellini's Casanova (1976)

Another collaboration with Fellini & another riff on historical designs, starting with 18th century & then going wild.

Danilo Donati, Fellini's Casanova (1976)

Danilo Donati won a second Best Costume Design Oscar for this film.

Fellini’s Casanova (1976)

The pink suit shown at the Glamour: Famous Gowns of the Silver Screen exhibition in the Serlachius Museums of Mänttä, Finland. Photos by Maija Hallikas-Manninen.

Fellini’s Casanova (1976)
Fellini’s Casanova (1976)

Danilo Donati, Fellini's Casanova (1976)

Not sure if this is the same black suit, but that hint of gold looks like it’s the same waistcoat.

Fellini’s Casanova (1976)

The suit on display at the Glamour: Famous Gowns of the Silver Screen exhibition. Photos by Maija Hallikas-Manninen.

Fellini’s Casanova (1976)
Danilo Donati, Fellini's Casanova (1976)

The back of this yellow & red dress can just be seen in this banquet scene.

Fellini’s Casanova (1976)

The gown on display at the Glamour: Famous Gowns of the Silver Screen exhibition. Photos by Maija Hallikas-Manninen.

Fellini’s Casanova (1976) Fellini’s Casanova (1976)

 

 

Caligula (1979)

Danilo Donati, Caligula (1979)

Malcolm McDowell stars as the Roman emperor in this graphic flick produced by the founder of Penthouse magazine.

Helen Mirren plays Caligula’s wife & stands by the movie, calling it an “irresistible mix of art and genitals.”

Flashy costumes though!

Danilo Donati, Caligula (1979)

 

 

Ginger & Fred (1986)

Danilo Donati, Ginger & Fred (1986)

After all that sexytimes in the ’70s, Danilo Donati only did a handful of movies in the ’80s, most notably Flash Gordon (1980). While Ginger & Fred is a contemporary film, the characters are recreating dance routines in the style of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers in the 1930s. Donati recreated this lovely gown in a period style.

Danilo Donati, Ginger & Fred (1986)

The costumes on display.

 

 

Nostromo (1996)

Albert Finney, Nostromo (1996)

This TV miniseries was Danilo Donati’s first full historical production in ages, but I can’t find many screencaps.

Danilo Donati, Nostromo (1996)

 

 

Life Is Beautiful (1997)

Danilo Donati, Life Is Beautiful (1997)

This sweet, sad, charming film by Roberto Benigni is set before & during World War II.

Danilo Donati, Life Is Beautiful (1997)

Early in the movie, there are some lovely period outfits, like this pink gown.

Danilo Donati, Life Is Beautiful (1997)

Catalog image of the gown.

Danilo Donati, Life Is Beautiful (1997)

The rest of the costumes are rather grim, being in a concentration camp, but that’s accurate.

 

 

 

What’s your favorite historical costume design by Danilo Donati?

16 Responses

  1. Nzie

    Has to be Romeo and Juliet. I have fabric envy–so much yardage to make all these! :-)

    Reply
    • Missy

      Totally agree. Romeo and Juliet. I recreated the red dress using gold corduroy for a Halloween party in ’70. I was 15. The movie holds a place in my heart.

      Reply
  2. hsc

    THANK YOU!!! This man was one of the reasons I became interested in movie costumes.

    I was wondering if some of Danilo Donati’s credits were going to keep him from getting fully examined here, but this overview was wonderful– and you didn’t shy away from covering the more controversial films.

    (I saw SALO in a rare theatrical showing when I was visiting NYC about 40 years ago, and afterward, a woman walked over and verbally accosted me in the lobby because I was smiling as I walked out of the auditorium. She literally screamed, “How DARE you smile after that!” right in my face. Seriously.

    That’s how controversial that film was– and is.)

    I’m a HUGE Pier Paolo Pasolini (and Federico Fellini) fan, so I enjoyed seeing costumes from his “historical sex romps”– or as they were then billed, “The Trilogy of Life” (to which SALO was the anti-thesis).

    The costume from THE DECAMERON was– not surprisingly– for a character billed as “The Queen of Skulls” (Monique van Vooren), who only appears for a few seconds (as a vision, IIRC), so you don’t get to focus as much on that outfit as you see it here.

    And that is indeed the Wife of Bath (Laura Betti) in that shot from THE CANTERBURY TALES, and the man she seduces in that segment was a pre-DOCTOR WHO Tom Baker!

    The “Trilogy of Life” films were not only well-reviewed in serious film journals, but appealed to the exploitation crowd, so they were heavily imitated (as was FELLINI SATYRICON) resulting in a whole cottage industry of Italian historical sex films with “Canterbury” or “Decameron” in the title.

    BAWDY TALES– which I managed to catch on Netflix streaming about a decade ago– was an offshoot of that, with a script co-written by Pasolini and his frequent collaborator Sergio Citti, brother of frequent Pasolini star Franco Citti, who’s seen in the photo. And that hat is about the most interesting costume from the film, as I recall.

    I enjoyed seeing the shots of costumes from museum exhibits showing the details, particularly all the texture added to the costumes from FELLINI’S CASANOVA. One thing along those lines that really surprises me is a quote I read decades ago about the making of the costumes for FELLINI SATYRICON, or possibly CALIGULA.

    They were having to execute all the elaborate Roman jewelry pieces and running out of time and budget, and someone (not sure if it was Donati), snapped, “Well, what do you expect me to do? Just make it out of pasta?”

    And supposedly, that’s exactly what they did do– glue various pasta shapes all over the tiaras and earrings and pendants for “texture” and then gild them. Probably not for any of the main characters, but I could see it as a solution for background figures.

    I’m a little disappointed you didn’t have anything from one of Fellini’s most popular films, AMARCORD, which is a period piece though not as flashy as some of the others. Magali Noel as Gradisca got a few nice outfits, even though there’s a lot of drab black-clad housewives and school uniforms.

    But overall– Brava! Brava! Grazie mille!

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I’ve been fascinated by Danilo Donati’s work even tho’ I’ve only seen a few of his movies. Every time pix show up of his costumes on display, I’m stunned by all the detail, it’s just amazing. Pity that the actual films are getting harder to track down these days. In college / grad school, I had brief Fellini phase aided by the local art house movie theater playing things like La Dolce Vita & 8 1/2, but sadly they didn’t play the historical-ish flicks & now nobody seems to.

      Reply
      • hsc

        Unfortunately, it’s increasingly hard to see any of the films from this period.

        Home video killed off the “art house/revival theater” for the most part, and streaming has eliminated video stores– and even worse, has largely done in physical media itself.

        The larger DVD/Blu-ray manufacturers are only interested in current mainstream material, and the niche companies only offer small limited editions that quickly sell out.

        Even worse, the reputation of the films themselves has shifted over the years. Sure, it’s great that we’ve gone more “global” and have a much more inclusive film Pantheon, but it’s at the cost of making European and older U.S. directors less accessible.

        (And I say this as someone who ran a university film program around 30 years ago and tried to give as much exposure as possible to “other voices”– women and LGBTQ filmmakers as well as films from Asia, Africa and South America.)

        And on top of that, rights issues have made a lot of these films practically “lost films” even though pristine prints and negatives exist, because the copyright holders want too much money in relation to the actual market for the title.

        So you have to track down unsubtitled prints on questionable websites out of foreign countries, and hope you aren’t getting malware installed or being flagged as a video pirate.

        Ain’t the 21st century great, kids?

        Reply
        • Trystan L. Bass

          Oh I know, & as the Frock Flicker here who loves pre-1980s movies (having seen more of them), it kills me that I struggle to find those movies to review for this blog :( Turner Classic Movies & the Criterion Collection are some help, but there are vast gaps in their catalog sigh

          Reply
  3. Susan

    Romeo and Juliet followed by both Fellini films, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. And I want the pink Court suit from Casanova.

    Reply
  4. Gray

    I love to compare “Shrew” and “R&J”… both set in Northern Italian Renaissance but one much earlier in the period than the other.
    And I love “Flash Gordon” which tho’ not historical, is friggin’ amazballs! Can you say “bugle beading”?

    Reply
    • hsc

      Yeah– even though I hate the film, I love the Danilo Donati costumes, especially the red costume Ming the Merciless wears on the poster.

      It’s like Joan Crawford’s bugle beaded Adrian gown in THE BRIDE WORE RED re-interpreted by Alex Raymond, the creator of the FLASH GORDON comic strip.

      Reply
  5. Julia R

    Wow, I didn’t realize how many of his moves I’d seen! All of them are so beautiful. I may have problems with the source, but Romeo and Juliet is breathtaking to watch.

    Reply

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