This story about the “Cyrano” costume design first appeared in the Below-the-Line Issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
The real Cyrano de Bergerac lived in France in the 17th century, and the Edmond Rostand play that immortalized him begins in 1640. But director Joe Wright made a conscious decision to move the action up a century for his new musical “Cyrano,” which stars Peter Dinklage as the poetic swashbuckler.
“The idea was to re-create Cyrano around the mid-1700s to give the idea of lightness through the costumes,” costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini said. “The 1600s, while a beautiful period to represent, is very set and rigid. Setting a musical in the 1700s allowed us to make everything light and airy at the same time.”
Parrini achieved that lightness by using delicate and transparent fabrics inspired by watercolors from the 1700s that he’d seen in a museum in Rome. “The colors were so watery and ethereal that I wanted to re-create them through the costumes, using more fabrics one on top of the other, with different colors,” he said.
He worked with natural fibers such as silk and linen, along with fabrics like organza that are “delicate but full-bodied at the same time.” He added, “For me, it is very important to maintain the criteria of the costume itself while capturing the essence of the historical period that I have to represent.”
But Parrini occasionally used costumes that weren’t strictly accurate to the period. “Bringing modernity to a historical language is very important for understanding the costumes,” he said. “It is important for me that the costume is understood even by an audience that knows nothing of the past.”
He also needed to pay attention to the requirement that costumes would need to move with actors who suddenly turned into dancers. “I enjoyed using materials that aided me in creating movement,” he said. “For example, it was wonderful to see the soldiers in their rigid uniforms suddenly become light as air during the dance sequences.”
His favorite articles of clothing, though, were the ones he designed for Ben Mendelsohn’s villain, De Guiche, while the most challenging designs were for the nuns in a convent where Cyrano’s longtime secret love, Roxanne, lives after her husband is killed in battle. (Costumes for Roxanne, played by Haley Bennett, were designed by Jacqueline Durran.)
“The nuns’ costumes were very difficult because I was looking for modernity and antiquity at the same time—they caused me a great deal of suffering!” he said. “The result is beautiful, though, because the nuns are ‘aliens’ of the 1700s, maintaining an authority that the clergy requires.”