In a way, Oscar-winning costume designer Janty Yates really immersed herself into "House of Gucci" — in her work portraying Patrizia Gucci, née Reggiani (the Italian "Black Widow," as dubbed by the Italian press) and in her collaboration with the woman who would bring her to life on screen. I'm talking, of course, about Lady Gaga, who's been teasing us with climactic fashion drama on the red carpet promo tour for the film.
The film, based on the riveting book of the same name by Sara Gay Forden, chronicles the scandal, greed, revenge, improvised sex scene-filled saga of two generations losing control of the family business and culminating in the murder of Patrizia's ex-husband Maurizio (Adam Driver).
In an interview with Vogue UK, Gaga talked about how she embodied Patrizia for "a year and a half," complete with speaking in her much-analyzed Italian inflection for nine months. That included her three-hour long wardrobe prep Zoom meetings with Yates and the costume team. "We got so used to the accent," says director Ridley Scott's go-to designer. (She's currently working on the auteur's newly announced Napoleon and Josephine movie "Kitbag.")
Yates, who won her first Oscar for Scott's "Gladiator" and collaborated with Scott for the also-Adam Driver-starring "The Last Duel," seamlessly incorporated the method acting into her workroom.
"The thing is, with fitting Gaga, basically, you would have to live the scene — not the scene of the fitting, but the scene that she's thinking about," she says. "She would talk to you, and you would be Aldo (Al Pacino), or you would be Paulo (Jared Leto), or you would be Maurizio — and you'd have to give back as good as you could vaguely remember [the lines]. Her hair and makeup would be there, and she would be completely enacting the scene."
Scott acquired rights to Gay Forden's book in 2001, so the project has been gestating for years, with Yates along for the ride. In addition to months of prep and research, which involved visiting Florence's Gucci museum and copious virtual meetings with vintage archives, Yates held intense discussions with Scott and Gaga — whom Yates fondly calls "LG" — about crafting Patrizia through costume.
"Right at the beginning, when Ridley briefed me, he had said he didn't want me to go down the Joan Collins 'Dynasty' route, with the huge shoulder pads and the great big flowers and the lace and all of that," says Yates.
Instead, the director cited '60s bombshell film star Gina Lollobrigida for a "classic look," while Gaga expressed the desire to emulate her fashion-conscious mother, philanthropist Cynthia Germanotta, during the '70s and '80s. The Italian film siren influence comes through in Patrizia's pre-Gucci debut, when she strolls from her cherry red 1975 FIA sports car into the trucking company owned by her stepfather in a small town in Northern Italy; her hourglass-silhouette, knee-length "va-va-voom dress," as Yates calls it, pays homage to an Yves Saint Laurent original from the late '70s.
A famous '50s image of La Lolla also directly inspired the white lace strapless dress and bolero set (above) that Patrizia wears to uncle Aldo's 70th birthday party at his Lake Como house — "a '60s sort of mood, but in a late '70s design," says Yates about her interpretation of Lollobrigida's ensemble. Costume cutter Dominic Young built the look and painstakingly hand-applied each piece of lace to complete the near-3D design that jumps off the screen.
The appearance portends the newlywed Guccis' return to the family fold, after Maurizio's father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) rejected him for marrying below his social class. "It was just the perfect look because she was very young and new," Yates says. "It was classy without being terribly expensive. It just showed her in a beautiful light — a very innocent light."
Yates and Young also happened upon "the most amazing lace" to create Patrizia's wedding dress (above), which went viral in April thanks to the paparazzi. The sweetheart neckline and illusion long-sleeve confection was actually an alternate option to an interpretation of Reggiani's real-life 1973 gown — a clean, long-sleeve, high-neck silhouette, reportedly by Gucci. The costume team created both options for Scott and Gaga to make the final call on the day of the shoot.
"Frankly, [Gaga] put the [the version of the original] one on, then she put ours on, and it was like, 'Woo! This is fantastic!'" Yates says. "So we just took a bit of creative leeway."
Corrupted by power and money, the couple's marriage falls apart and Maurizio's eye wanders when he runs into childhood friend (and model) Paola Franchi (Camille Cottin) in posh St. Moritz. The divides between money-born Maurizio and striver Patrizia are further emphasized by the on-the-slopes and après-ski-wear.
Per Scott's brief, Maurizio and Paola coordinate in understated whites: his nubby cable-knit aran sweater (below) — which briefly broke Twitter — and the duo's minimally-chic ski suits when they first bump into each other on the slopes. "It would be, 'Ooh, you're wearing white. I'm wearing white. How extraordinary,'" says Yates. However, "nobody talked to me about LG or what what she was going to wear. I said, 'Really? I was thinking of red for her.'"
Patrizia threatens Paola, while aggressively sipping a cappuccino. She's clad in a body-con, bright red ski suit (below), accented with a designer belt and matching Christian Dior goggles that Yates found on eBay. All the ski suits were custom-made and based on vintage Passport-brand ones that Yates found in a costume house. "We made them a bit more '80s," she says, noting that the team adjusted the lines of the seams and added sleek decorative panels.
"I've had quite a few people commenting on that look, but I'm sure it's her — I don't think the clothes have anything to do with it. I think it's her amazing acting," she says, pausing before adding: "Okay, and her fur hat and her spoon action on her coffee cup."
While custom-building most of Patrizia's wardrobe — along with copious amounts of suiting for the Gucci men — Yates did mine a few vintage luxury archives for designer pieces, including Rome's period piece house Tirelli Costumi for Patrizia's pink and black polka dot Yves Saint Laurent dress (below), which she wears to meet and manipulate the eccentric (and very-Jared Leto-in-Alessandro-Michele-era Gucci) Paolo in his own atelier. The Lollobrigida-referential-via-the-'80s dress was also selected method-style for the scene, in which Gaga also ad-libs the now-famous line: "Father, son and house of Gucci."
"She just took it off the rail and just said, 'This is what I'm going to see Paolo in,'" says Yates, who accented it with a double-G logo belt.
Conveniently, avid collector and fashion provocateur Gaga also opened up her own archive — or archives — to the costume team. "She said, 'Take whatever you want,' or, 'Tell me what you like and just help yourself.' She could not have been more accommodating," says Yates. "And she has three sets of archives. As you can imagine, some of them are quite unsuitable; one has nothing but Versace in it."
Gaga's team reached out to other design houses, like Valentino, to loan vintage pieces, too. "We did use one beautiful Alaïa dress and an Alaïa coat for when Patrizia enters Maurizio's house [after his murder]. It was a shearling coat and a studded dress underneath. It was a turning into the '80s," says Yates.
Of course, the costume designer enjoyed access to the now-Kering-owned Gucci archives for research and inspiration as well — and selected two outfits for pivotal moments for Patrizia. (The Gucci family wasn't involved in making the film, and have been critical of it.)
When Maurizio takes a power position in the company's New York City headquarters — and the couple moves into luxe Fifth Avenue digs — Patrizia enjoys the prosperity and unlimited wardrobe budget. This time coincides with Aldo's forays into licensing and opening Gucci storefronts in malls, thus diluting the heritage house's prestige and luxury cachet; fakes were also prevalent, further diminishing the brand.
Clad in a '60s archival logo set and carrying a matching Jackie bag (below), Patrizia's aghast to discover that her housekeeper is carrying a Gucci bamboo handle knock-off. As Patrizia wanders from Olympic Tower (where, side note, Halston also established his atelier in 1978) down to Canal Street to see the dupes in person, her full-on logomania further enhances the disconnect, as well as the nearly indiscernible likeness between real and faux. (Or "replicas," as Aldo dismisses the issue.)
"Basically LG's philosophy — and I completely agreed with her — was that she should be wearing the original Gucci logo in order to show up the cheapness of the mugs, the ugliness of the belts," says Yates. "The whole thing was just a raw juxtaposition."
Later, a more decoratively patterned Gucci logo on a printed silk blouse, tucked into a paper-bag waistline leather skirt, helps augment Patrizia's outrage and power-play as she's served divorce papers from family advisor and lawyer Domenico De Sole (Jack Huston). You know, then-Gucci Group CEO and — real-life spoiler alert — Tom Ford's future business partner. (Interestingly, the movie's De Sole also emerges as the story's low-key villain, in my opinion, but that's beside the point.)
The nearly three-hour long movie covers over two decades, chronicling the peak and fall of the Gucci family's control over their namesake fashion house, while offering a contemporary fashion history primer. During that period, family-and designer-owned businesses lost influence and control to large conglomerates, like LVMH and Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (now Kering); the latter bought a controlling 42 percent stake in Gucci in 1999. (Sorry, spoiler again.)
But first, in the early '90s, Texan-born designer Tom Ford would revive Gucci from a house that no self-respecting creative director would attach their name to into a powerhouse whose influence remains strong to this day. So, an interpretation of Ford's game-changing Fall 1995 runway for Gucci (below) also makes a cameo.
While Yates and her team tried to source original vintage from that womenswear collection, only one blue jacket was to be found. (Gucci archival access only included pre-Ford collections.) So, associate costume designer Stefano DeNardis built highlights from it from scratch, along with an exact recreation of a glittering Versace 1984 show and a completely imagined Paolo Gucci one. ("It was supposed to be bad taste nice, but bad taste. And frankly, it was a lovely show," says Yates.) DeNardis's ghost-designs include replicas of Ford's iconic jewel-toned velvet suits and the then-jaw-dropping — but now back — double-G leather thong, which was actually from Spring/Summer 1997, but it's for storytelling, right?
"[DeNardis] took a little bit of liberty, but he did the whole thing from top to bottom. It was amazing," says Yates. "It will be interesting to see what Mr. Ford thinks."
Well, Reeve Carney, who plays the fashion designer in the film, attended the New York City premiere of "House of Gucci" in a full Tom Ford ensemble, from day suit jacket to tasseled loafers to the sunglasses. That feels like sartorial stamp of approval from Mr. Ford, himself.
'House of Gucci' premieres in theaters on Wednesday, Nov. 24.