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Costume Design: Dressing Eddie Redmayne as The Danish Girl #OSCARS2016

Here’s why Paco Delgado was nominated for an Oscar for The Danish Girl (originally posted 12/10/2015)

I shared my take on The Danish Girl starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander a few days back. It’s more of a personal response than a review, touching on my own experience with a man who enjoyed dressing in women’s clothing. 

Costume design is always a facet of film I find particularly fascinating (go ahead, say that three times, fast) but for The Danish Girl, costume designer Paco Delgado’s challenge was beyond the typical assignment as he needed to portray the transformation of Einar Weggener to Lili Elbe. His sketches, as seen in WWD, are mini works of art in themselves. 

I’ve flagrantly lifted info and quotes from Leigh Nordstrom’s  WWD piece, i.e., that Delagado thoroughly researched Twenties fashion, referencing:
Paul Poiret—“in a way, the first designer to liberate women from corsets”  
Lanvin—“did a lot that was fully theatrical, we thought it was very dressy” 
Chanel—“obviously because she was a pioneer of liberating women. She started doing clothes with jersey, which allowed women to have free movement.” 

“Before we meet Lili, and her free-moving dresses, we of course meet Einar. To carefully construct visually a person experiencing inner strain, Delgado dressed Einar in very constricting clothing. ‘The thing is you have to think that the first thing we thought always, is Lili was always there, Lili was trapped in a body that wasn’t her body,’  Delgado says. ‘She had to be put in a sort of cage. Lili was entrapped, that body had to be like a prison for her. And one of the ways we did this was by making a restrained, highly formal costume for Einar, almost an armor.’ His look included high stiff collars and rigid, heavy fabrics.

As the film progresses and Lili emerges, there is a move into warmer colors, ‘more sensual, liberating clothes,’ Delgado says. ‘The Twenties were a very good moment for that — there was a lot of movement and flexibility to clothes. The shape of the Twenties was very rectangular, almost geometrical, which is fantastic.’ 

Speaking of the first moment the audience sees a glimpse of Lili —when Einar, taking the place of a model who misses a sitting for his wife Gerda tries on a pair of stockings— Delagod says “The whole thing about the stockings was the element of a thing that really awakens something Lili had inside and had been suppressing for so long,” Delgado says. “The stockings are an amazing piece because first, they are very feminine, and second, very sensual.”

“Obviously if you’re a transgender person you’ve been brought up as a gender that doesn’t agree with you. We wanted to show how the whole experience and dressing in real life can be a problem. We wanted to show this exaggeration.” In the beginning Elbe wears coiffed hair and bold lipstick; as times passes and she becomes more “comfortable,” she adopts a look that “reflects modern women, who don’t overdo,” Delgado says. 

In Paris, a “more open, accepting society,” Delgado used brighter colors, more flowing fabrics. “When they were in Denmark, they were wearing highly structured clothes, lots of tailoring, blues, blacks and grays. Even Gerda was wearing restrictive clothes. Obviously Paris in the 1920s was the metropolis in the world; if you wanted to be somebody, you had to go to Paris. It was the mecca of everything.”

Paris is the place both characters are seen to be “freer to be themselves,” Delgado says. “The clothes reflect the happiness in their lives. We wanted to reflect the power of dressing.”

The clothing was amazing both for Einar/Lili and for Gerda. As award season marches on I’m thinking major Costume Design awards for Delgado, who worked with Hooper on Les Miserables, Production Design by Judy Becker for Carol, Best Adapted Screenplay by Nick Hornby for Brooklyn (book by Colm Toibin) and possibly cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant—which I haven’t even seen but my son and husband have and pronounced it dazzling.

Photos by Agatha A. Nitecka as seen in WWD