Anna Karenina: Jacqueline Durran Talks Jewellery & Costume

Jacqueline Durran is celebrated for her costumes having been three times nominated for the Best Costume Design Academy Award; first in 2005 for Pride and Prejudice, again in 2007 for Atonement, and now 2013 for Anna Karenina in which she is both Oscar and BAFTA nominated. Starring Keira Knightley, who wore Durran’s emerald green 30’s-style dress to widespread acclaim in Atonement, Durran’s face-framing furs, extravagantly veiled hats and watered silk gowns beautifully accentuate Knightley’s tragic Anna. Clothes on Film contributor Karin E. Baker spoke to Durran about gathering the many details that went into creating the opulent look for this latest interpretation of Tolstoy’s novel.

The $2 million worth of Chanel jewellery in the film is breathtaking. The use of jewels that scream Chanel in a 19th century film may seem anachronistic but as Durran explained, director Joe Wright isn’t interested in fastidious historical exactness: ‘Joe had a vision of his film not being an accurate 1870s picture, but something which was very stylized and in which he wanted to pare down all of the detail on the costumes, almost back down to a silhouette, which is where the influence of 50s couture came in’.

Of all the Chanel pieces Knightley wears in the film, most notable is a triple-tiered diamond necklace featuring one of Chanel’s longtime signature motifs, the camellia: ‘We thought that it would be good for the characterization of Anna for all the jewellery that she wore to be real because she lives in this rarefied world of late-19th century Russia where there is just an extraordinary amount of wealth. It seemed to play into the setting of her world and also the kind of vanity of Anna as a character to have a wide range of jewellery, and to wear it extensively. Once we decided that she was going to be wearing diamond and pearls a lot, we approached Chanel, with whom Joe and Keira have a relationship, and they were more than willing to help us. We went to Paris and they really gave us free rein to choose any pieces that we wanted.

So from the contemporary collection, I chose all of the pieces that I thought avoided being modern and had a more baroque or a more period or a more feminine look to them, so that the camellia necklace that is the standout piece that she wears to the ball with Vrosnky, and to the opera, is modern but very feminine and to me, very kind of luxurious and exotic. Some of the other earrings I thought were really great for period, the ones where they had the kind of filigree of diamonds with the pearl at the bottom, I thought fitted really well into the Anna Karenina style. In the morning, Keira would be presented with a tray of diamonds from which to choose what to wear for the day. That exact excitement about luxury and kind of glamour feeds into the idea of Anna for me, and I think it was useful, and I love watching the jewels onscreen. To me they really add something, and I don’t know if anything aside from diamonds really glitters like that. I think they’re kind of amazing’.

London milliner Sean Barrett made the extravagant hats worn by Anna: ‘You can’t really see it in the movie, but when she goes to the first opera and goes on to Princess Betsy’s party, her headdress, her feather headdress that she’s wearing, is red feathers, but the feathers go at the front into a bird’s head which is a 19th century hat trim. And in the bird’s head, in the beak, there’s a diamond but all that is kind of lost. I don’t know if you can really pick it up in the movie. Milliners are a great source of those kinds of thing that have long since disappeared’.

Barrett helped Durran source the gorgeous, intricate veils Knightley’s Anna frequently wears in the film: ‘Joe and I thought the movie was an opportunity to use veils, because there’s something so magical and gorgeous about veiled faces and we don’t really get a chance to experiment with it very often because it’s not something we use in our modern life much. We were committed to the idea of having veils and at the beginning we met with a milliner and discussed different weights of veils and which patterns of veils we would go for. The veil is an astounding one, where she’s sitting, having come back from visiting her son, and missing him so much, and she sits in the apartment and she never lifts the veil, and she sits and she’s crying in her room, and I thought that was just so extraordinarily beautiful, but I had no idea that Joe would play the scene with the veil down. So, to an extent, you create the possibility of something happening but you don’t know exactly how it will play out. We chose the veils because they were so beautiful on Keira but not particularly knowing how they’d be used’.

Though Durran intentionally did not create a strict 1870s look, she naturally desired to see examples of Russian clothing of the period, an aim that proved enormously challenging: ‘I looked at a lot of paintings and photographs. I didn’t get to see any 1870s actual garments because the large museum in London, the V&A costume collection, was shut for two years, but I tried to get as much visual reference as I could. Some of the costume houses have collections where they hold original garments, so you get to see the way that particularly corsets and crinolines are constructed. We were sent to Russia for a few days to look at the museums in Moscow. Russian paintings were very interesting to me because they were something that was new to me’.

As an upper-class woman in St. Petersburg, Anna’s outerwear is trimmed in luxurious fur: ‘It was all real fur, unfortunately. We couldn’t find substitutes that looked in any way as good as the fur that we needed for the collars. We tried where possible to use vintage fur. The costumes houses have quite a lot of fur that they’ve accumulated over the years from different productions but in the few cases that we couldn’t find something we would have to buy something from a furrier. I don’t like fur myself. (laughs) Unfortunately, when you do 19th century Russia, you kind of have to’.

By Karin E. Baker. Karin is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle and cultural events writer. She blogs for Tee Many Martoonies, Moderne Madcap Musings, and the Huffington Post, and is Deputy Editor of Flavorpill Los Angeles.

With thanks to Jacqueline Durran.

You can watch Keira Knightley in Atonement at LOVEFiLM.com.

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