Costuming a movie

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I’ve just been doing the costumes for our second movie, Albert.

Here in France, a group of us have got together and begun making short films under the company name Zolascope. Our first, Impasse, is currently in post-production, and last week, we shot our second, Albert.

Since everyone knows me as a fashion-wallah, I get to do the costumes and makeup for the movies. It’s great fun doing costumes because you’re telling a silent story, but of course there’s no budget, so I have to scrounge what I can out of my wardrobe and everyone else’s. 

There were only two characters for Albert (other than an out-of-focus ‘visitor’ at the very end), so costuming was easier than for Impasse

The Woman
Minnie Lott, who played The Woman, is a vivacious and stylish lady in real life, given to elegant shift dresses and pretty shoes, so my main task was to make her look dowdy. After discussion, we had decided that the character was a ‘good woman’, possibly Christian, tending to her brother out of duty rather than love, and that she was probably a widow, which meant Minnie could keep her ring on.

We therefore dressed her as a woman who had basically given up trying: frumpy and shapeless.

Minnie’s wardrobe proved  unsuitable for this – even the clothes she’d bought specially for gardening were too elegant – but in my wardrobe we found a rather battered Aran cardigan made for me by my late mother in law and a 1960s tweed skirt that I bought many years ago to make a cushion cover and never got round to cutting up. The fabric is beautiful but makes a very stiff garment.

Minnie found an olive green blouse, a cross and chain, thick brown tights and Ugg-style boots so that she could clump around the place.

We also decided that the character should wear a coat and once again my wardrobe came to the rescue with a vintage Burberry raincoat in navy nylon – beautifully made but hopelessly frumpy. We also added a fleece gilet underneath to layer up Minnie’s naturally slim figure.

Albert-32-woman-watchingThe pièce de résistance, however, was a hat – Minnie has her hair cut in a sleek grey bob that looked healthy and swingy no matter what we did with it, so we had to cover it up entirely. Some years ago I commissioned a number of beanies from a local knitter. We tried several Aran and cableknit versions of these in shades of grey, but they created a strobe effect under lighting, so we settled on a beige chenille one that had a flatter finish. It’s meant to be worn with a rolled brim, and looks quite cute this way, but pulled well down over Minnie’s ears, and with her hair tucked up and out of the way, it suddenly aged her 20 years, much to her chagrin and our amusement. "You’re mean," she said. "You’re enjoying this!"

IMG_0107Next came the makeup. In colour tests we tried a white-faced makeup but it was too noticeable in close-up, so we went in the other direction and made Minnie’s complexion blotchy by dotting scarlet lipstick onto her cheeks and blending it in slightly.

I used a pink lipliner as kohl on her lower inner eyelids, to give her red-rimmed eyes, after which Minnie looked in the mirror and exclaimed in dismay: "You’ve turned me into my mother!!" I also brushed her eyebrows downwards – the exact opposite of what you’d do normally, and added a few downward-pointing hairs.

I then covered Minnie’s lip-line with foundation to disappear her lips and make them look smaller and  asked her to apply a slightly ‘wrong’ orangey and out-of-date lipstick without looking in the mirror, so the line would be a bit haphazard.

As a face powder, to create a slightly chalky, unhealthy effect, I used a lilac powder from Shu Uemura, which is applied with a brush. We also used this as a top-up powder during the shoot to prevent shine under the lights.

The Woman would probably only wear lipstick and powder, being a lady of a certain age, but we still used mascara for the shoot because – as Michael Caine once said in a masterclass – if you don’t wear mascara in a movie, you might as well be in a radio play.

After all this treatment, Minnie not only looked like her mother, she looked startlingly like mine, who was given to kilts and corduroy jackets on a ‘smart’ day.  It’s interesting to note that Minnie did feel at the end of a day of all this dowdiness that it affected her sense of herself and made her feel older. "It does make you feel differently about yourself," she said. 

IMG_0081The costume for John Hallam, who plays Brian had to indicate a man who might be ill with a disease such as Alzheimer’s. John himself, however, like Minnie, is very elegant, usually dressing in fine quality knitwear and scarves and carrying beautiful soft leather accessories. He therefore didn’t own a jumper or cardigan that were baggy and disreputable enough, but Clare, the director, pinched one off her husband and John teamed this with multiple layers of t-shirts (to be honest, they were a bit pristine, but it was too late to do anything about that). John pulled the cardigan forward over one shoulder, giving himself a hunch.

IMG_0097John also provided black pyjama trousers (we had decided that Brian would be only half-dressed, with his cardi over his nightwear) and he also hit on the idea of white long-johns underneath, with the long-johns showing on one leg. This was a brilliant idea, though it did cause some continuity problems as the pyjamas refused to stay put and had to be constantly tucked back in and checked. As footwear, we used a pair of thick sheepskin slippers that John could shuffle about in.

We used no makeup on John other than lilac powder on his face and head to prevent shine under the lights, which had to be reapplied frequently.

The Visitor
Albert-44-visitorThe final character – The Visitor – was a last-minute decision and I stepped into fill the role. We shot it once and then realised that the dark cardigan I was wearing made the teapot in the final shot less noticeable, so I changed the cardigan for a light-coloured jacket that we’d brought as a prop and didn’t use. It’s actually a man’s jacket and is huge, but since the whole thing is out of focus anyway, the shape and fit were unimportant, and also no makeup was required.






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