When I read that Pedro Almodóvar personally takes care of the decor in his films, I knew why his movies remind me so much of Alfred Hitchock’s: he too oversaw every aspect of his films, from drawing every single scene before the shooting began, to choosing the clothes for his characters. And just like Hitch, Almodóvar plans his each film to the tiniest detail. No dress, no painting on the wall, no colour is randomly chosen. Every element is a piece of the puzzle. His films communicate visually as much as they do verbally. He has created his own universe, a craftsmanship of his profession.
It’s not hard to guess that today I’m going to talk about fashion as narrative medium. Due to space considerations I’ve chosen only two of his films, his latest two. The first one is the unsettling psychological thriller, The Skin I Live In, and the other one is Broken Embraces.
The beautiful Dolce & Gabbana dress that plays a symbolic role in La piel que habito. “What I like about the dress is the 1950s touch. It’s also quite appropriate because there’s a lot about this film that is very film noir, and the golden age of the film noir was of course the 1950s.” said Pedro Almodóvar in an interview for Harper’s Bazaar. The director wanted to have “a dress that should be the essence of femininity”, recalls costume designer Paco Delgado. “This dress had it all. It created a very feminine silhouette and embodied an idea of a woman newly reborn.”
Although in The Skin I Live In the director used Chanel only in make-up (in a very unconventional way, for the female protagonist played by Elena Anaya to write on the walls), he and Karl Lagerfeld worked together for two other films: High Heels and Broken Embraces. Both men think very highly of each other and of their respective works.
The minimalist bodysuits, which had to give the impression of second skin, were designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, another fashion designer with whom Almodóvar has had a very good professional relationship, having worked together for Kika and Bad Education, and whom the director greatly appreciates: “His talent is alive and versatile, he can receive his inspiration from such different sources as the trash, the streetwear or the classic French designers such as Yves Saint Laurent or Patou.”
“The stitches and paddings in certain areas suggest Vera’s own scars. At the same time, when presenting Vera’s character in a general shot, I wanted to create the impression that she was naked, but also that her skin had a particular kind of glow, somehow artificial. Jean-Paul’s bodysuit manages to transmit all that.” It combines very well the concepts of nakedness and identity.
Antonio Banderas’ costumes, on the other hand, are as formal as possible: dark coloured suits, trench coats, cardigans and polo t-shirts, nothing to attract the attention to his psychopath character.
In one of her most demanding roles, Penélope Cruz plays Lena in Broken Embraces. Almodóvar brings out the best in her. Her character goes through several transformations which require a great emotional strain from Penélope. Clothes help tell that story. “Her character had to be beautiful, without us forgetting that elegance can be a direct route to sadness”, costume designer Sonia Grande told Elle.
Penélope wears a simple, grey Alaïa suit from the late ’80s in the first scene she appears in. A suggestive means of telling us that she is a working woman and to delineate the difference between her character in this stage of her life and the life she will soon after start.
A Chanel dress introduces us to the new Magdalena. The opulent black dress with golden chains suggests the character’s new social and wealth status. The Chanel Museum of Paris supplied a few other pieces from their collection, including a classic black and white suit.
Colour, fashion and decor have their own language: Almodóvar is a great story teller. “I was a story teller before I was a filmmaker” is one of Harry Caine’s lines in the movie. I think the director is referring to himself.
Lena goes through one more transformation and her wardrobe once again reflects that: the carefree clothes she’s wearing evoke that she’s in love and that she’s found her freedom. “The beautiful flowered Loewe scarf reminded us of an antique embroidered Spanish shawl—which made me think of Carmen.” It’s interesting that the costume designer mentions Carmen, because it would be fascinating to see an opera directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Fashion-wise speaking, it would give him the chance to work with haute couture, which he takes so much interest in. “Couture is a great show. It’s the perfect artifice. It’s got nothing to do with a woman’s ordinary life. Those shows are just pure daydreams.” Imagine all the theatricality and drama of haute couture combined with his own artistic vision. He even has two names in mind: John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier.