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?
Set in 1330? My, my, late middle ages has never looked so frilly before! LOL
And those are all magnificent. See, Hollywood, that’s what doing your homework and acting on it looks like.
I blame Kendra for that typo!
These are just stunning. And that last gown in particular I love. Amazing! (And no shortage of hairpins for the most part, either!)
Tosi has been adamant that the costume includes the head-to-toe, skin-out look, especially for historical fashions. Details matter!
it shows! can we, like, make an award and send it to him? and other worthy designers? I mean, these are just fantastic.
Marcel Escoffier actually designed Alida Valli’s costumes in Senso, which is why they look more “Hollywood leading lady” than all the others which were designed by Tosi.
Are the costumes in the first two pictures of Tosi designed by him for the theatre? Do you know what production they were for? They (as all of these) are incredible!
I believe Medea with Ms Callas was at the La Scala.
No, this was Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1969 film “Medea,” which was Callas’ only film. Piero Cicoletti and Gabriella Pescucci worked on the costumes as well.
It’s on YouTube in an English-dubbed version.
Thanks I will look it up.
I’m drooling here. Wonderful!
My favourites of Piero Tosi costumes are Il Gattopardo, Ludwig and L’Innocente. But all are so incredibly awe inspiring that I’m literally kneeling in adoration.
He is the benchmark for costume designers as Mr Tosi dresses his actors including the extras from head to toe. They look right bc of this.
The Leopard is hands down one of the most gorgeous films ever. I think Coppola pulled a lot from it for The Godfather.
I read in a book on clothing through the ages, about the film “The Leopard”, that some of the shots were composed so the people were arranged like they appear in contemporary paintings of that era. They really tried with the verisimilitude of that film. I was surprised how much I liked it, and I still remember it though I saw it many years ago. I was just entranced by watching it.
I’ve actually seen a lot of thee films and remember the costumes fondly. I think my favorite is Ludwig. I’m so glad there is a designer out there who believes in head-to-foot design.
Thank you for this look at Piero Tosi’s magnificent work. I saw a number of these films in the theater back at the time, and it was nice revisiting them.
I wish the male costumes in Il Gattopardo had received more coverage. Burt Lancaster as the patriarch had it all — the clothes, the posture, the hair. His character spoke so little during the performance (good thing as he was dubbed), yet his look, especially at the ball scene, conveyed so much emotion. One of my favorites, and it’s a hoot on the DVD extras to hear the director Sydney Pollack basically drool over Lancaster’s dressed by Tosi.