‘Anna Karenina’ Costume Designer Talks Denim Dresses, Keira Knightley, And Chanel Jewelry [Interview]

Keira Knightley as ’Anna Karenina’
Photo: Laurie Sparham/ Focus Features

Fashion and movies go together like Mary-Kate and Ashley, Rita Ora and her sneaks, and sample sales and long lines,. In other words, PERFECTLY. And it’s tough to find a film that epitomizes this closerthanclose connection between the two than Joe Wright’s big screen adaption of Anna Karenina, which opens this weekend. The Hollywood version of Leo Tolstoy’s classic 1877 novel intertwines all the drama of the original (love, gossip, betrayal? Consider us sold.) with thoroughly modern touches like a seriously theatrical overtone and a glamorous sheen that’s evident from the intricate hats all the way down to the floor-skimming skirts. But while it’s all predictably gorgeous on the outside, we wanted to get the FULL story behind Keira Knightley and co.’s movie outfits. So we hopped on the phone with the film’s costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, who called in from L.A. to give us all the answers…

MTV STYLE: When you find out that you’re doing the costumes for a film like Anna Karenina, what is your first step? It’s such a huge undertaking!
JACQUELINE DURRAN: It is! Well, because this is now my fourth film with [director] Joe Wright, I knew that he was going to come to it with an angle— he won’t take the straightforward natural route. So obviously I read the novel, and then I went to meet with Joe. He told me he wanted to stylize the story, to reduce and pare the costumes down to their exact essence.

How did you aim to do that?
We started by looking at 1950s couture. It might sound odd since the story takes place in 1870s, but that same architectural simplicity of the ’50s would be the representation. We wanted to take that same purity of the line and apply it— strip away the frills, the lace, the surface detail, and be left with a really strong silhouette.

What was your time frame on this process?
I had about ten weeks to do it all, but the thing is, you’re not just dressing one person. For instance, we had a scene when all these people in a field about halfway through shooting, and we had to have 30 costumes ready to go. It’s not a huge fashion moment, but you have to get it right all the same. We had a very tight schedule with a small crew and a lot of costumes to make!

Along with Joe Wright, you’ve worked with Keira Knightley before…how was that?
It’s always so nice to get back with the group. It’s quite liberating, because it gives you the chance to experiment with things and be bolder than you would be otherwise. You all know each other and you don’t have to worry about people misunderstanding. You have a mandate to experiment, which is such a great thing.

What was the boldest costume choice you made?
One of the things I would normally never dare to suggest is making one of Keira’s dresses out of denim! The dark blue dress she wears in the race scene is actually made of denim, and it looks quite nice!

The jewelry in this movie is also pretty insane…
[Laughing] It’s quite nice. We thought way back in the beginning that the idea of having real jewels would be great for Anna. She’s all about that kind of luxury, and to an extent, vanity. So given the fact that we wanted to have real diamonds, we approached chanel and they were willing to help. I went to Paris and chose all the jewels- we got lots of pearls, meters and meters- and lots of diamonds… about $2 million worth! Each morning we would ask Keira what kind of diamonds she’d want for the day, and she would choose.

Besides Keira, which other young actresses are you working with in the future?
I just finished working with Mia Wasikowska and she was abslutely wonderful. She has one very simple dress in the film I worked on [The Double]. I wouldn’t be good dressing someone for the red carpet- what’s interesting to me is taking the director’s vision and working with the actor to achieve it visually. It’s fun to watch fashion come and go, but that’s really most important to me is trying to make the actor feel like they’re dressed in a costume that will help them act.

Anna Karenina opens in theaters today.

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