Trystan has been really good at doing guides to various American and British costume designers, so I’m trying to fill in with the French! Pierre-Jean Larroque is one of the better designers doing French period film these days. He started working as designer Franca Squarciapino’s assistant on productions like Cyrano de Bergerac, then on his own as a designer with a bang with The Lady and the Duke, and keeps going strong!
The Lady and the Duke (2001)
Real-life Englishwoman Grace Elliott’s experiences during the French Revolution. This has some of the most historically accurate late 18th century costumes (and hair!), and the cinematography is AMAZE-BALLS. Even if you’re one of those “I hate subtitles!” WATCH THIS. Nominated for a César (the French Oscar) for costume design.
Antoine Fontaine, production designer: “With Diane Baratier and the costume designer, Pierre-Jean Larroque, we discussed the issues of colors, contrasts, rhythms and lighting a lot.. [Larroque] painted lace on the costumes. There is also trompe-l’oeil on the costumes: some fabrics are not printed but painted” (my translation of Priska Morrissey, “Entretien Avec Antoine Fontaine,” Positif, 2011).
“Respecting the vestimentary modesty of the era, L’Anglaise et le Duc avoids any representation of nudity, yet plays repeatedly on the exposure of Grace’s shoulders, neck, throat and cleavage, both in her night shirts and in her more public gowns. The film’s costume designer, Pierre-AJean Larroque, admits that particular attention was paid to Grace’s décolleté in order to highlight the lady’s ‘fragile and sensual side'” (The Legacy of the New Wave in French Cinema).
“The painter of the backgrounds, Jean-Baptiste Marot, and the designer of the costumes, Pierre-Jean Larroque, both explain how they have used paintings and pastel drawings from exactly this period as their main source of information; they mention works by Jean-Baptiste Genillion, Louis Léopold Boilly, Baptiste Mallet and Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun” (Distance and Involvement: Visualising History in Patrice Chéreau’s La Reine Margot  and in Éric Rohmer’s L’Anglaise et le duc ).
“At an antiques sale, Pierre-Jean Larroque noticed a series of Mallet gouaches (you can see some at the Carnavalet Museum), and the seller offered him five or six photos. [Director] Rohmer liked the very ‘flat’ aspect of these paintings, which served as a starting point. The prints on the dresses were painted in order to find the ‘gouache’ side of the trompe-l’oeil decor” (my translation of Le tissu déchiré de l’Histoire).
“Pierre-Jean Larroque immersed himself for several weeks in specialized books as well as in ‘the Gazette du bon ton’, a fashion magazine published under the Empire, which the Musée du Costume de Paris allowed him to consult. To find the fabrics, the costume designer diversified his sources. If he went to Lyon to buy the luxurious silk velvet for the consul’s orange coat, he went as far as … India to have the large “N” embroidered in cannetille on the emperor’s coat. Less exotic, but close at hand, the Saint-Ouen flea market where the costume designer notably found the silver thread embroidery with which he covered Queen Hortense’s sea green dress” (my translation of Un million d’euros et quatre mois de travail).
Arsène Lupin (2004)
Jaw-dropping c. 1900 costumes. JAW DROPPING. Nominated for a César for costume design.
“To dress the countess [played by Kristin Scott Thomas], Pierre-Jean Larroque… had 17 dresses made to measure… For the two big ball scenes, Pierre-Jean Larroque, who has a costume budget of 450,000 euros, had around sixty dresses made in Spain, because he could not find what he was looking for in the Parisian costume rental companies” (my translation of Une scène en costume rassemblant plus de 150 figurants Arsène Lupin prend ses quartiers gare de l’Est).
Triple Agent (2004)
An exiled Russian general has hidden motivations in this late 1930s-set French film directed by the legendary Eric Rohmer.
The 4 Musketeers (2005)
A French TV miniseries adaptation of the famous Alexandre Dumas novels. This appears to have had no budget, so I’ll try to forget it existed.
Les brigades du Tigre (2006)
A reboot of a successful French TV series from the 1970s-80s, this tells the story of a crime fighting squad in 1912 Paris. Nominated for a César for costume design.
Romance of Astree and Celadon (2007)
Another Eric Rohmer film, this one is set in 5th century Gaul (not an era you see very often!). It’s based on a 1607 novel and tells the love story of a shepherd.
“Pierre-Jean Larroque starts from Renaissance engravings, since the shepherds and shepherdesses of Gaul are seen in the imagination of the sixteenth century (my translation of Le tissu déchiré de l’Histoire).
Everyone else plopped about this film, I found it snoozey — except for the costumes, which were very good if not great. I’ll do a full review of it one of these days! French playwright Molière ends up living out the plots of many of his plays in the 1640s. The costumes were nominated for a César.
Female Agents (2008)
Sophie Marceau leads this film about French resistance fighters in World War II. Another César nominee.
“Pierre-Jean Larroque drew models, looked for fabrics based on precise documentation. Choices were made: a little blouse cut from an old curtain, a floral dress in period fabric (bought at the flea market), two hand-knitted and embroidered vests. The cost of this work imposed a limit in the number of costumes – which is an accuracy. Arsinoé doesn’t have a lot of dresses. She composes variations with the heterogeneous elements of her wardrobe, she ‘invents’ her outfits and fetishizes elements that become familiar to us. She is a painter even in the touches of color that dress her, she is an artist even in the stitch of her knits. The manufacture of his costumes made it possible to give not only to see, but to be. Each item of clothing is a choice, it reveals the harmony of the character with a universe or fits into the coherence of a scene” (my translation of Le tissu déchiré de l’Histoire).
The Roundup (2010)
How have I not heard about this before? A film about the mass arrest of Jews in Paris under the Nazis. I’ll definitely be watching this soon!
Astérix and Obélix: God Save Britannia (2012)
I’ve never been an Astérix fan, so please forgive me in not understanding whether this film is actually supposed to be historical or not. I skimmed the trailer and am seeing a total mishmash! Theoretically, the famous ancient-Gaul set comic characters going to Britain.
A film loosely inspired by Florence Foster Jenkins, the woman who loved to sing but was terrible at it; it came out before the English-language film. Set in the 1920s. Larroque won a César for his costume designs.
Lead actress Catherine Frot: The first costume fitting was a decisive moment for me. I remember Xavier putting on the bear fur coat that André Marcon wears in the film. The tone was set; Marguerite’s world was really taking shape. It was a powerful moment; it was wonderful. Pierre-Jean Larroque, the chief costume designer, is a true artist, and his passion for this film comes across in his work. We all talked a lot together; everyone sharing their ideas. We had to find the outfits that I felt comfortable wearing, and that suited Marguerite. We also had to choose the costumes that Marguerite would wear for her own photo shoots, when she dresses up as a diva under the watchful eye of Madelbos. We actually started the filming process with these photo shoots. They took three days in total to complete. It felt like I was in a dream, one of Marguerite’s dreams, where she turns into an opera diva from all the operas she loves. These photo shoots were also a great way to get into the part, into the character’s world of illusion. MARGUERITE is a film about illusion. There is one line that sums this up I think: ‘Either we dream life or we accomplish it'” (production notes).
The Visitors: Bastille Day (2016)
Someday I really want to watch the comedic “Visitors” series, in which a 12th century French knight and his squire end up in different periods. The problem is I’m a completionist, and I want to watch them in order, and I can’t find the first film to stream! The costumes in this French Revolution-set film look quite good.
This story of a conman turned doctor who goes to a small town in the 1950s, starring hottie Omar Sy.
Return of the Hero (2018)
A French comedy set during the Napoleonic wars and starring Jean Dujardin. Despite the messy hair, it’s on my list!
Lady J (2018)
A very stylized take on mid-18th century costume, but well done nonetheless. Larroque won a César for his costume designs.
Director Emmanuel Mouret: “It’s what we wanted, for the Marquis, with Pierre-Jean Larroque, the costume designer: clothes whose relaxed style and colors go through time to the present day. They do not seek to show the Marquis’ social rank or fashion. How did you work on the costumes? I went with Pierre-Jean’s immense talent. The idea was to create silhouettes that stand out on the set. So, we worked together on the costumes with the set designer, David Faivre, and the director of photography, Laurent Desmet. We wanted an image stripped of frills, and which didn’t look dusty or old. In fact, we wanted something new with clear lines. The late 18th century was the end of the Ancien Régime, but it was a time full of vitality and constant invention, with a sense that a new world was coming” (production notes).
17th-century lesbian nuns directed by none other than Paul Verhoeven (Flesh and Blood, Showgirls, Black Book).
Lost Illusions (2021)
An adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s 1837-43 novel.
Couleurs de l’incendie (coming soon)
An adaptation of a French novel set in the 1930s.
What’s your favorite of Pierre-Jean Larroque’s historical designs? Which films are you adding to your watchlist?