Not just a garb

Amrita Prasad
Wednesday, 23 January 2019

During the session ‘Costume is a Vision’, Italian costume designer Daniela Ciancio, one of the jury members at PIFF 2019, discussed the importance of costume design in films, the relationship between a costume designer and a director, and how the art goes beyond what we see the actors wearing

Daniela Ciancio has designed costumes for films, operas, ballets, theatre and TV. Born in Naples, the designer, who was also one of the jury members of the 17th Pune International Film Festival, demonstrated ‘Costume is a Vision’ at PIFF forum. She focussed on the significance of costume in storytelling in films, theatre and various other mediums. 

The 54-year-old won the David di Donatello Award for Best Costumes in 2005 for her work on the Antonietta De Lillo film Il resto di niente. She was the costume supervisor for Mission Impossible 3  and also designed the costumes for the 2013 film La grande bellezza. Her futuristic costumes for National Geographic Channel’s Mars were appreciated globally. 

Speaking on the role costumes play in films, she said that costumes give the audience a peek into the character even before the character speaks. “With costume, you can show the soul of the character. It says a lot about the character’s nature, background etc, just like it does in real life — clothes reflect a lot about the personality of a human.”

A costume designer, said Ciancio, works in sync with the director and helps him/her create a unified fictional space. “The costume must look creditable but not necessarily authentic and smaller details like pockets, buttons, etc have a lot of importance. As costume designers, we need to be curious about people — what they think, how they move, etc. The designer’s work is to create the spirit of the character and for that s/he needs to know the character’s background, the culture they come from, education, profession, what do they think about the world and so on,” added  Ciancio. 

While the designer’s repertoire includes famous Italian and Hollywood films, she has also been the member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Member of the European Film Academy and Member of the David by Donatello Awards. And she feels very happy whenever she gets a chance to visit India because she finds Indian people, culture and cinema fascinating. “The first time I visited India, it was in May last year.  I was invited by Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a part of the Ambassadors of Italian Cinema. India is incredible! I see a lot of similarities between the costumes in Indian and Italian films which is so amazing!”, exclaimed Ciancio who started off her career in the ’80s when there was only theatre and not much of cinema. 

She studied set designing and costume designing was a part of her course. 

People often club costume and fashion and even get confused between them. But Ciancio says it is important to draw a line between the two. “Costume and fashion are close but not the same. There are two purposes of the costume — one is to support the story by creating an authentic character and the second is the artistic composition or providing balance within the frame by using colour and texture. We as costume designers, work on the colour and shape of the characters, showing a deformity in their body, if needed. And we can even change the shape of the actors with costume. Sometimes the script requires that the actors look dirty, poor or even physically challenged and we help the script take shape through costume,” she pointed out.  

In Italian cinema, said Ciancio, the job of a costume designer also involves designing makeup and hair for the characters, unlike American cinema.  

The designer further emphasised that a costume designer’s relationship with the director while creating the fictional place also involves being in sync with the budget of the film. 

“The idea is to make everything look real. For example, if a character is wearing a wig, it should look as if it is his/her real hair and for that, we also consider the comfort of the actor because a costume should help the actor enhance their performance. So we need to work together. We have to make them comfortable so that they can play the part well. We also closely work with the set designer and art director so that we are on the same page when it comes to the palette and colour schemes used. We need to have a good relation with the DOP as well. So all of us really need to work together to make the film good,” she added.  

For Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, in which a lot of high society party scenes are shown, Ciancio took inspiration from real life people and attended a lot parties to find out how people dressed up for such events. “I did a lot of research — looked at  paintings, books, movies, Pinterest and took a lot of pictures of real people. You have to create an image like a painter after seeking inspiration from people and things you see and observe,” she added.  

For National Geographic Channel’s Mars, a documentary and science fiction television series, Ciancio needed an approval from NASA for the costumes of the astronauts shown in the series. “I worked around the shape of their bodies and made them look like heroes by using the right type of fabric on the right part of the body,” she concluded.

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