(Oh, how I wish I had better photographs of this!)
Back in April of last year I presented my Master's Thesis in Costume Design (I passed). It consisted of four designs for four different kinds of theatre; film, fight scenes, opera, and ballet. For the film section I recreated a scene from The Duchess, and we shot at Smithfield Plantation outside on a beautiful late-afternoon in Spring. The scene is the one where Georgiana meets her soon-to-be lover, Charles Grey, secretly in a park and they debate the nature of pretense before ending with a kiss. The original costume looked like this.
I only wish I had a screen shot of the actress in costume, unfortunately all I have is a fuzzy video of the scene as shown on a projector screen at my presentation, which was filmed from the back of the theatre in which it was given. Not good.
The original appears to be a soft pink Robe a l'Anglais with ruffles at the edges, in a very lightweight fabric, silk or cotton, with a hooded cloak complete with frill around the inside of the hood. We have a light romantic fabric covered by a dark and secretive one. I love it, and the single rose tucked into her hair is the perfect accountrement. I have only good things to say about the costumes for the film.
However I could not just do the same thing, and there is a pleasure in re-imagining costumes for a character or scene. Everytime I remount a show I've already done I get the chance to do this, and it's a lot of fun. I also had the challenge of saying everything about these characters and their story in a single scene, since we weren't filming any other scene from the movie.
I have no pictures of the actor who played Charles Grey, and his costume was thrown together much more quickly because it was not the focus of my presentation, but it consisted of an authentic suit of shirt, breeches, and leather shoes with buckles as borrowed from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. I provided a neck stock/cravat from the costume stock of my base theatre as well as a hat (which he ended up carrying rather than wearing), and bought stockings from the wonderful sutler Smoke and Fire, which I have previously reviewed.
I built his vest and coat. The vest was a cotton print with a woven design in brown/tan/chestnut with touches of blue in a sort of geometric floral pattern. Coupled with some very cool carved buttons it looked great on camera without costing an arm and a leg to make. This was good because his coat was in a storm-grey/purple/blue velvet, lined in teal faux-silk with pewter-silver cast buttons. I did this so that he was layered with a warm color (via the vest) high on the body and in a large enough print not to confuse the exposure on the camera. He's the romantic lead, and it's a scene in which he is trying to be reassuring and loving, in contrast to her husband, who is cold and formal, so a warm tone, especially layered under a cool one is appropriate to the situation.
His coat, while being in the storm colors previously mentioned had a hint of brightness in the lining that was brought out by the color in the vest both by contrasting orange tones with blue ones, but also because it popped the blue in the teal mix for the eye. Velvet is also a lovely, warm fabric that shows well on film because of it's deep pile, and can give a look of luxury while showing an approachable softness. The storm colors allude to the coming difficulties in their relationship, and also make sense given the unhappiness that drives her to seek their meeting in the first place.
For Georgiana I tried to simultaneously show her romantic side and how she belongs with Charles Grey, while also suggesting that it wasn't a perfect bond. In the original it's a very soft, romantic outfit with all of the ruffles and pinkish fabric, covered over by a dark, mysterious cloak which suggests her sorrow and fear and the need to be furtive. Not having the luxury of an entire film to tell the many sides of Georgiana I wanted to present her wealth and haughtiness as well as her fragility and desperate need to be loved.
The costume consisted of; hat, robe a l'anglais, matching petticoat, wig, padded petticoat, bum pad, stockings, shoes, neck ribbon, sash, gloves, corset, and chemise. The chemise, gloves, stockings and wig were from my personal collection. The shoes (just pumps really, you couldn't see them on film) were pulled from the theatre's stock. Everything else I made.
The padded petticoat was in yellow taffeta with added crinoline mesh for support, and featured a large ruffle at the bottom to kick out the skirt. The bum pad was in purple floral brocade (leftover from the hat fabric) on a burgundy velvet ribbon which tied around the waist.
The hat was the most interesting part. Buckram base, glued and stitched, wired brim to hold shape, and some stays from crown to brim to stabilize it. Burgundy corded piping was sandwiched around the top of the crown, and the whole was covered in purple monochromatic floral brocade. A band of wide, satin, burgundy ribbon was around the crown with a large bow, and four, giant, black, ostrich feathers wired to arch in specific directions. The hat was inspired by the famous portrait hat seen here in the original Gainsborough painting and its homage in the film.
The dress was in a soft, romantic lavendar shantung with the petticoat in the same fabric. It closed at the center front with hooks and eyes, and was trimmed in burgundy velvet ribbon with white lace at the square neck and cuffs. The waistline was pointed at the front, but the sash (wide burgundy ribbon) cut straight across the natural waist and tied at the back, like in the Hallett Couple portrait.
The whole outfit is relatively simple, which is meant to contrast with the ostentatiousness of her other costumes. This is simple, light, romantic, but with pops of strong color which deny the weakness suggested by the femine coloring and bows. The purple of her gown was originally intended to echo the color in Robert's coat, but the more mixed pink/purple/blue fabric that I originally chose turned out to be too stiff even after washing, so a softer lavendar shantung was substituted. Her costume is bright where his is dark and subdued, it suggests in color that they code together, but in tone it separates them.
One last thing, the portrait hat allowed for the same sense of masking that the hood of the cloak did, while being an iconic fashion statement of Georgiana's. It gave the opportunity for her to turn her head one way and hide, or provide a beautiful shot of her looking up from under the hat perched strikingly to one side.
I am a university professor and costume professional who calls Virginia home. Interested in costume history, and history in general, I endeavor constantly to better understand life through those who lived it.