An interview with costume designer Antonella Cannarozzi

Still of Tilda Swinton in 'I Am Love' (2009)
Still of Tilda Swinton in ‘I Am Love’ (2009)

Contemporaneity is definitely the word to better explain Antonella Cannarozzi’s approach to her profession. In Antonella’s work as a costume designer, focus is given to the essence of the present moment rather than to decor or embellishments. This places her in a very peculiar position in relation to most of her colleagues who reached popularity by dressing historical dramas or fantasy films. “As a costume designer I think that one of the problems of our present is it’s inability to recount itself. My profession is stereotypically associated with movies containing flamboyant costumes, this aspect though, is none of my interest.” She must be doing something right though, considering that this reasoning led her to be nominated for the Academy Awards in 2011 for the film ‘I Am Love‘ where she dressed actors like Tilda Swinton and Marisa Berenson.

Antonella is a rebellious artist. For her, in order to create beautiful costumes one must avoid thinking in terms of beauty. Costumes have to be “suitable” rather than flattering. “They have to be evocative of a state of mind, an idea. Neither flamboyant, nor clich of a certain era: they need to represent an idea, a moment, a mood…” as if they were chosen by the character. They have to epitomise their time, rather than trying to be iconic at all costs. Cannarozzi explains this with one of her anecdotes. “The night of the Oscars I met Bernardo Bertolucci and he started talking about the costumes of The Last Emperor, but all I wanted to know about was Last Tango In Paris! The image of Marlon Brando wrapped in his coat was embedded forever in my memory, as a woman and a costume designer, and I told him too.”

Costume designer Antonella Cannarozzi
Costume designer Antonella Cannarozzi

If creating iconic costumes is a serious matter what about dressing actors that are already icons in their own right? “I understand actors, they are vulnerable because of their over-exposure. Someone tells them how to wear make-up, how to act, how to dress. No matter how important an actor is, you must build a mutual understanding with them, and try not to impose your choices upon them. The first step when building a character starts with the actor. For instance, I couldn’t dress Monica Bellucci with flat shoes, I had to find clothes that were right for her as a person and right for her character. The same happened with Isabella Rossellini. At some point I had two good possible choices for a scene, Isabella asked me to choose the one that better complimented her figure, and I did!” Isabella Rossellini, Monica Bellucci and Marisa Berenson are three actresses that started their career as models. The case of Tilda Swinton is the opposite. She started as a talented actor, then became a muse for several designers including Karl Largerfeld.

“She is a different story” says Antonella, “A costume designer can mould her into any shape. She can be a woman, a man, a boy, and I dressed her as a woman of absolute femininity.” To create Swinton’s wardrobe Antonella worked with the fashion house Jil Sander and it’s previous creative director Raf Simons. “Working with him has been amazing. Our challenge was to create a timeless femininity starting with an extremely contemporary concept. Raf was very surprised to see how his clothes were having a life that was so different from the catwalk. They were starting to live with the film! I am sure that the work we did in ‘I Am Love’ influenced both the maison’s future collections and Raf Simon’s work.”

Tilda Swinton in 'I Am Love' (2009)
Tilda Swinton in ‘I Am Love’ (2009)

And what about Raf Simons as couturier at Dior? “Well Raf started as a menswear designer” says Antonella, “Fluidity and femininity were not precisely his tools, but then he decided to confront himself with them, and now he works with the most feminine of all the maisons, Dior, which is the opposite of Jil Sander and I think that this fusion produced some of the most interesting collections of today.” For Antonella, representing the present through clothing is always something that stems from the heritage of fashion. Knowing the past, for her, is vital. “My passion for fashion comes even before my love of movies. My father was a tailor so I have been fed with milk and fashion. My first memories are in my father’s atelier. The fabric became the material for my doll’s clothes. Later on my father opened a boutique and my favourite game became opening the new arrivals and wearing all the clothes. So I became my dolls! It was the golden age of Walter Albini, early Versace, Armani and Moschino…”

What does Antonella think about today’s fashion? “The present is not as flattering. I just see it as an immense archive. I watch the streets, and catwalks, and I collect thousands of magazines in order to draw my next characters. But the fascination that I had as a child faded with my childhood. Today’s editorials are often boring, sometimes even depressing and I hardly find class, fun or emotion within them. It just looks like marketing to me.”

This post was written by a RWL Guest BloggerGiuppy d’Aura has a BA in film studies, an MA in History of Cinema and has recently completed a second MA in History and Culture of Fashion, at LCF. Writing about fashion, cinema, sex and lifestyle is what he really enjoys the most. He considers himself a provocative, feminist and queer thinker (or terrorist, if you prefer). Hates politically correctness and prefers to go wrong rather than embracing a weak opinion. Giuppy writes for several online platforms, including Against and [In]Tangible.

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