We often are not aware of the power that costumes have toward the success of a film. Costumes are usually only noticed during a period drama – but literally help create the characters that play on the screen and bring to life a story as an integral part of creating the elusive movie magic in every film that graces the screen. Paco Delgado is a two-time Oscar nominated costume designer that just recently earned his second nomination for the film, “The Danish Girl.” The film stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander.
In this exclusive and private interview conducted pool side after the Oscar nominees luncheon earlier this month, Delgado describes the realities of costume design in the 21st century and the all-important fête of helping to tell a dignified and emotional portrait of a woman trapped within the body of a man, played deftly by Eddie Redmayne.
Oscar watchers know that the difference between good costumes and great costumes is how well the costumes help to tell the overall story. “The Danish Girl’s,” costume designer Paco Delgado definitely earned his Oscar nomination for the film. But the designer has been surprised by the compliments he has received just by illustrating his brilliance with his craft, “I never realized that the costumes were much more important than any other production. For me, costumes are always very important. The reason they are important is because we do not run onto the streets naked. I think that costumes should always help to tell the story.
“But also, I was not as aware that it was such an important part while doing it. In fact, one of the things that director Tom Hooper told me in the beginning of the production was that the costumes were not to steal the show.”
“Obviously in the story, costumes are important and maybe more relevant because gender is displayed visually and externally to other people through the type of clothes your wear. For example, one of the truly brave moments for Lili (Eddie Redmayne) was the first time she decided to go in women’s clothes on the street. Obviously, that put the clothes into a sympathetic position. Clothes have a magic element to them and perhaps even more here, because they are defining what gender is.”
Delgado was not shy to talk about the difficulties that modern day costume designers face compared to the golden age of Hollywood, when movie studios provided costume departments to support the work of their costume designers, “I was recently watching a documentary about the golden period and there was an amazing costume designer named Travilla (known mostly for creating some of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic looks). Travilla said in the film, ‘I’m so sorry the designers that have come after us. They don’t have the resources, the time or the power we had.’
“They understood the power of costumes and the power that glamour adds to costumes. Today we don’t have the time for anything. I had eight weeks for pre-production (for the ‘Danish Girl’), when I really needed more time.”
With complexities of such a delicate story, Delgado was able to meet with various times with Eddie Redmayne even before pre-production time. This allowed Delgado and Redmayne to work out how to dress Redmayne as his female character Lili, “Eddie is a tall man and this film was really out of his comfort zone. We know each other well (both Delgado and Redmayne worked on the epic ‘Les Mésirables’) and we spent six to eight months together to see how he was going to look as a woman.
“Then when we got to pre-production time, we could use those eight weeks fully. By then we knew what fabrics, colors and shapes we needed to make him look like a woman.”
Speaking to today’s reality of being a costume designer, Delgado remarked, “Lack of time and lack of money makes your brain work.”
Delgado describes his biggest challenge in the film was to create a story that was the most faithful way without copying reality, “Copying reality never works in cinema. I had to create a new reality. I took inspiration from Lily and Gerda (Alicia Vikander), but we had to change everything. We had to change everything in order for everything to remain the same.”
Each year, a selection of the Oscar nominated costumes are put on display at the FIDM Museum in downtown Los Angeles. It is a free exhibit that allows anyone to view the masterpieces up close and person – a moment to see the incredible details that may be missed while watching the films.
It was surprising when Delgado told that he had absolute no say as to what items from the collection are shown, “When we finish a movie we have no rights to what we have designed. They don’t belong to us. It’s up to the production company or distribution company as to what costumes they want to display. It’s quite strange that they don’t even ask the costume designers for their opinion.”
Come Oscar time, Delgado will not have a speech in hand, “I’m terribly superstitious. I think if you foresee something, you won’t get it. I also think it’s much better to up there and speak from the heart.”
It is obvious to the movie going public that Paco Delgado does his work from the heart. The passion he has for creating characters and story through his costume designs are evident and we that get to swim in the beauty of his work know who to thank.
“The Danish Girl,” is rated R for some sexuality and full nudity and has a run-time of 119 minutes.