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Ten films with costumes by fashion’s best designers

From Coco Chanel to Raf Simons, Karl Lagerfeld to YSL

The fact that fashion designers draw inspiration from film is not news to anyone. Whether it is an overt homage – like Rodarte’s AW14 ode to Star Wars – or the nod Raf Simons recently directed towards David Lynch, the silver screen is a go-to for designers when it comes to laying the foundations of an upcoming collection. 

For some, that inherent love of cinema goes slightly further, as many switch the studio for the movie set – at least occasionally. Craig Green is one such designer. A self-confessed horror aficionado, the London-based wunderkind worked on the wardrobe of the recently released Alien: Covenant, creating a series of characteristically utilitarian looks worn by the crew throughout. 

As Craig sits down to add ‘costume designer’ to his already pretty impressive CV, we take a look at just a few of those whose creative talent has been immortalised in film; from Yves Saint Laurent, Miuccia Prada and Paco Rabanne, to Raf Simons, Jean Paul Gaultier and Coco Chanel.


It’s hard to believe Luc Besson’s avant-garde vision of the future The Fifth Element celebrated its twentieth birthday this year – just like Bruce Willis’ yellow taxi in the movie, time really does fly. The outlandish sci-fi thriller – set in the 23rd century – still looks as good as it did in 1997, thanks in no small part to fashion’s original enfant terrible Jean Paul Gaultier. No stranger to the wardrobe department (having worked with Spanish director Pedro Almodovar on a number of occasions), the French designer was appointed by Besson to create costumes for the lead protagonists; Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker and Gary Oldman.

Not one to do things by halves, Gaultier eventually created over 1000 costumes for the film, paying close attention not only to the stars of the show but the many extras that appear throughout too. And while the white bandage-style bodysuit – a unique riff on Gaultier’s signature underwear-as-outerwear aesthetic – Jovovich’s Leeloo appears in when we’re first introduced to her is the ensemble that stands out in everyone’s mind, for us it’s Chris Tucker’s all-leopard-everything that really steals the show. Prince who?


Directed by revered surrealist Luis Buñuel and one of the first mainstream films exploring the sexuality of women, Belle Du Jour tells the story of Séverine, a bored, masochistic housewife who spends her afternoons working at a high-class brothel to satiate her none-too-acceptable (at least, at the time) sexual desires. Starring Catherine Deneuve in perhaps her most iconic role, Yves Saint Laurent was enlisted to create the subtly subversive costumes the actress wears – and at times, just about doesn’t – throughout.

The clothes that Deneuve wears – boxy, cropped jackets, to-the-knee skirts, low, respectable court shoes and even the pristine white lace lingerie she is seen in when taking appointments with clients – are prim and neat and offer a stark contrast to the themes explored within the 1967 movie, rendering the story all the more explicit owing to that. The film marked the start of a lifelong friendship between Deneuve and Saint Laurent, with the French designer also creating costumes for La Sirène du Mississipi in 1969 and vampire movie The Hunger, which starred David Bowie.


Exploring many of the same themes as those addressed in Belle Du Jour - female sexuality, desire and repression - and with a similarly considered approach to costume, Tilda Swinton stars as protagonist Emma Recchi in Luca Guadagnino's 2009 film I Am Love. Married to a wealthy husband who – as is evident very early on – sees his wife as a belonging, Emma is passive and often uncommunicative – leaving it to the brilliant Raf Simons (during his tenure as creative director of Jil Sander) to hint at the emotions that lie beneath her cool exterior by way of the clothing she wears.

A profound understanding and expressive use of colour is something the Belgian designer is renowned for and something that is perhaps never quite as evident as it is in I Am Love; initially, Emma blends into the background in a selection of chic but unremarkable shift dresses and prim twinsets in muted colours, all accessorised with a classic Hermès Kelly. Things all change when she embarks on a passionate affair with young chef Antonio however. Raf presents her in a bold red dress – accessorised to perfection with a prawn cocktail the actress jokingly described as ‘prawnography’ – in a remarkable scene that marks the beginning of her re-awakening, followed by a series of more sartorially challenging ensembles that reflect her gradually breaking free from the shackles of her unhappily married life.


Upon its release, Barbarella was widely derided for its weak script, poor acting and exploitation of star Jane Fonda and women in general – fast forward to the present day, however, and the film enjoys a reputation as a cult feminist classic, ahead of its time in its portrayal of a strong woman and unashamed sexuality.

There’s also the small matter of the costumes worn by Barbarella herself that have contributed to its cult status. Created perhaps unsurprisingly by the pioneer of 1960s space-age fashion, Paco Rabanne, the futuristic costumes directly reflect two key moments in history; the peak of the space race and the feminist and free-love movement taking place across the world. Rabanne’s costumes for Barbarella have now reached icon status, with designers including Jean Paul Gaultier, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte and Nicolas Ghesquière referencing his futuristic bodysuits, chainmail minidresses and metallic boots in a number of their collections.


Though it’s been over twenty years since the fresh-faced Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio peered adoringly at each other through that enormous fish tank, Baz Luhrmann’s unique adaptation of Shakespearean classic Romeo + Juliet still feels as sartorially relevant as ever it was – just look to the catwalks of Valentino and Vetements this season to see floral bowling shirts and louche, boxy suit jackets reminiscent of the Montagues’ style, or to Dior Homme and the sharp tailoring that wouldn’t look out of place in the wardrobes of the Capulet boys (all Dolce & Gabanna, for the record).

Romeo and Juliet’s wardrobes, however, were a much more understated affair, with Miuccia Prada – who also worked on Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby – brought on board to create two stand-out ensembles worn by the star-crossed lovers; the (now-iconic) white dress and wings Danes’ wears to the costume party thrown by her parents, and the navy suit Romeo wears to wed his young bride. The costumes are in stark contrast to the events taking place around them; the clean lines, minimal detailing and understated colour palette elevate the pair above the chaos that transpires – though sadly, even a beautiful Prada outfit can’t save them from the tragedy that eventually befalls them.


Richard Gere’s portrayal of high-class escort Julian Kaye in Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo has come to define the idea of the narcissistic, image-obsessed yuppie of the 1980s. Though dismissed at the time as all style, no substance, the film has become a classic in the time since, with designers referencing the all-American aesthetic adopted by Julian time and time again. Featuring a wardrobe full of early Giorgio Armani pieces – the relaxed tailored suits, short-sleeved shirts and traditional Mackintosh-style overcoats that the brand is now synonymous with – Julian’s obsession with his looks and the clothing that he wears puts even Patrick Bateman after him to shame (well, just about).


As it was then, so it is now: the house of Balmain will forever be the spiritual home of femininity and outright sex appeal – be that under the direction of its original founder Pierre or current creative director Olivier Rousteing. Long before the Kardashians began wearing a succession of beaded-within-an-inch-of-their-life dresses at the hand of the latter, however, the French house was known for a more subtle sensuality, as demonstrated by Brigitte Bardot in Et Dieu…Crea La Femme (And God Created Woman). 

Bardot plays Juliete, a young woman whose independence and lack of inhibition stirs up a scandal when she arrives in the sleepy fishing village of St. Tropez, thanks in part to her wardrobe of hourglass dresses, cinched-at-the-waist skirts and oversized shirts teamed with not-much-else – like Bardot herself, Balmain’s costumes for the film were sensual but not overtly sexy, built upon an underlying sense of innocence.


Having spent the 1930s working alongside Samuel Goldwyn of Samuel Goldwyn Mayer in a million-dollar contract with the Hollywood studio – dressing the likes of Jean Harlow throughout cinema’s so-called ‘Golden Age’ – Coco Chanel made her return to the movie set in 1961, creating costumes for Alain Resnais’ dreamlike love story Last Year In Marienbad. Set against the backdrop of a dramatic, baroque hotel, ‘the woman’, played by Delphine Seyrig, wears a series of quintessentially Chanel pieces – simple, pared-back and, of course, impossibly chic – that contrast with the lavish interiors of the hotel and its impressive gardens.

Filmed in black and white, Chanel adds texture by way of the fabrics she chooses – a diaphanous chiffon dress that flows out behind the actress as she walks down the corridors and a boxy, brocade suit form two stand-out looks, while the little black dress the French designer is synonymous with also makes an appearance. Widely regarded as Resnais’ best and most original work, it has been referenced – particularly by the fashion industry – on a regular basis ever since; Chanel’s successor, Karl Lagerfeld, cited the film and its setting as his inspiration for the Chanel SS11 collection and Blur’s To The End video also pays homage to the surreal story and striking aesthetic.


Sparking controversy upon its release in 1975 for its graphic depiction of sadomasochism, Gerard Depardieu (looking fresh-faced in one of his earliest roles) plays a small-time criminal that sets out to burgle a seemingly empty Paris flat in Barbet Schroeder’s Maîtresse. Instead, he’s caught by the owner, Ariane (Bulle Ogier), a professional dominatrix, and the two embark on a tumultuous relationship made all the more difficult due to her chosen line of work.

Karl Lagerfeld (in his pre-Chanel Chloé years) was the man behind Ariane’s provocative ensembles, with her wardrobe marking the line between her two personas – bohemian, feminine daywear versus black leather and a purple silk cape. The actress wears a series of skin-tight leather trousers, corsets and elbow-length gloves throughout – all classic BDSM-related tropes – elevated to high-fashion standards at the hand of the legendary German designer.