Couture On Film: Costumes By Famous Fashion Designers

Film has long served as a platform for tastemakers, starting fashion trends that have worked their way onto red carpets and runways. There are those iconic films that celebrate couture with purpose—Clueless and the Sex And The City movies, for instance—and those featuring such unforgettable work by wardrobe departments that a new style subtly seeps its way into our closets. Who can forget, for instance, the 1998 Academy Awards, which featured a wave of luxurious gowns so clearly influenced by the cultural phenomenon that was Titanic?

Then, of course, there are those films for which famous fashion designers have stepped into the role of costume designer, creating unforgettable pieces that shape the films as much as the performances. Let’s take a look at some of the hidden—and not so hidden!—gems of fashion on film.

Hubert de Givenchy – Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)

For many of us, when we think of the little black dress, we think of Audrey Hepburn. This dress, worn in the opening scene, is certainly one of the most iconic outfits ever worn on film; in fact, Glamour magazine has hailed it as one of the most famous dresses of all time. Hubert de Givenchy was a close friend of Hepburn’s and worked with the actress and Paramount on the design concept. While the dresses used in the film no longer exist, Givenchy donated one of his original designs for a charity auction to help raise funds for the people of Calcutta. It sold for nearly one million dollars.

Jean Paul Gaultier – The Fifth Element (1997)

This science fiction action film might seem like an odd project for Gaultier, but his designs were an integral part of The Fifth Element. Not only did he create wardrobes for the main characters, he also personally designed all nine hundred costumes worn by the extras — and reportedly checked the costumes personally each morning. Susan Hayward, co-author of The Films Of Luc Besson: Master Of Spectacle, described the costumes as “intellectually transgressive” for their challenging of stereotypical gender norms. For his work on the film, Gaultier was nominated for both a Cesar Award and Saturn Award for Best Costume Design.

Muiccia Prada – The Great Gatsby (2013)

While Catherine Martin (wife to director Baz Luhrmann) was the main costume designer for the film, she enlisted the help of Muiccia Prada to create the iconic fashions worn by the A-list cast. Prada, the youngest granddaughter of the fashion label founder Mario Prada, looked to the archives of Prada and subsidiary Miu Miu (of which she herself is the founder) for inspiration. “When I read [the book], it was psychological. It was not about glamour for me. It was a real [study of] personality, very internalized,” she said in an interview with Vogue about dressing the character of Daisy Buchanan, played by Carrie Mulligan. “It was meant to be about light. It became about money, because Luhrmann wanted to show her as the most beautiful and rich woman on earth.”

Manolo Blahnik – Marie Antoinette (2007)

Costume designer Milena Canonero, who won her third Oscar for the film, enlisted Manolo Blahnik to design shoes fitting for the decadent life of the ill-fated queen. “When the producers called, I dropped everything,” he said in an interview with The Telegraph UK. “When I was a boy, my mother read a Marie- Antoinette biography, and I have read Antonia Fraser’s version…They said ‘make [the shoes] sexy’, but I wanted to do something very academic.” He went to the V&A Museum and studied original 18th-century shoes in Paris as research for the designs.

Yves St. Laurent – Belle Du Jour (1967)

Is there a greater model for the designs of Yves St. Laurent than Catherine Deneuve? Arguably not. St. Laurent and Denueve reportedly enjoyed a lengthy friendship; the actress was rumoured to be his muse. It was she who invited him to design her wardrobe for Belle Du Jour, and aside from providing his own couture for her character, he also offered guidance on the rest of her wardrobe. The result was an iconic combination of suppressed aristocracy and suggestive sexuality.

Meghan Greeley
Meghan Greeley is an actor and writer originally from Newfoundland. She has performed in films that have screened at festivals around the world, including Cannes, Karlovy Vary, the Utah Indie Film Festival, the Montreal World Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival. As a writer, her works have been published in The Stockholm Review, Metatron, Riddlefence, Nelson Publications, and the Breakwater Book of Contemporary Newfoundland Drama. She is a winner of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival’s Playwriting Contest and first place winner of the Sparks Literary Festival’s Poetry Competition. She currently resides in Toronto.