Le Redoutable: In Conversation with Costume Designer Sabrina Riccardi

Adapted by Michel Hazanavicius from Anne Wiazemsky’s own memoirs, titled Un An Après (or One Year After), Le Redoutable tells the story of Anne’s life with Jean-Luc Godard, with Louis Garrel and Stacy Martin in the lead roles. Anne made her film debut with her role in Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) and went on to appear in several of Godard’s films, from La Chinoise (1967), to Week-End (1967) and One Plus One (1969). She was not only the muse of the renowned pioneer of the Nouvelle Vague, but also Godard’s wife for 12 years, from 1967 to 1979.
Interview Le Redoutable 
Brimming with pastiche, Le Redoutable elegantly employs some of Godard’s most famous filming style techniques (the use of primary colours to depict Godard’s apartment, the voiceovers, the breaking of the fourth wall, the back and forth camera tracking), in order to tell its own story with wit and humour. It’s exactly the humour that I loved the most about it. It is not a shining homage to Godard, but rather a sharp portrait that does not however fail to pay Godard credit where he’s due. But it is not about simplifying the French New Wave talent so much as bringing him down to earth, and that’s where the film’s originality and strength come from.

Le Redoutable is structured around Wiazemsky and Godard’s marriage, but set largely in 1968, on the background of the developing insurgency that lead to the May ’68 protests, its subject is also about Godard’s life as an artist and the way his relationship with cinema got turned on its head during that crucial period, when he was trapped between his ideological convictions and his reputation as a revolutionary filmmaker, foreshadowing his politically committed period during which he seemed determined to alienate anyone who’d ever loved his early work.

The film beautifully captures the love story of two different artists trying to discover or rediscover themselves. The costumes play an important role in telling the story and rendering the evolution of the characters. In our interview, costume designer Sabrina Riccardi talks about the challenge of her first period film, about the asset of working with a director who understands clothes and about how she created all the costumes for the lead roles from scratch.

“Cinema fascinates me and clothes inspire me.”

Le Redoutable is not only based on real characters and events, but also on the renowned pioneer of Nouvelle Vague and one of the most important figures of the world cinema, Jean-Luc Godard. Was it intimidating in any way working on the film?

Not at all, I was very proud and excited to take this challenge.

What was the most inspiring part about working on this project?

The challenge! It is my first period film. Then, the script, written with Michel’s finesse and humour. And this love story between Jean-Luc Godard and Anne Wiazemsky in the climate of the Parisian revolution of May 1968.
Costumes in Le Redoutable 
Where do you start and where do you look for inspiration for period films inspired by real life characters and events, in this case the late 1960s-the 1970s? What were your references for the wardrobes?

First, I read Anne Wiazemsky’s novels, Une année studieuse, about her meeting with Godard, and Un an après, which recounts the story of her life with Godard. Then I searched a lot of archives from that time, photos, ads, magazines, movies by Godard, Truffaut, interviews of Godard. I documented myself on the Nouvelle Vague movement. With all of this in mind, I made a costume moodboard that served as a guideline, which I showed to Michel. We discussed it, changed and rebounded and the different styles quickly took shape in our heads. For the extras, I got my inspiration from William Klein’s 1968 documentary Grands Soirs et Petits Matins. It’s a day to day testimony from the Paris of May ’68, shot during the events. There are testimonies of waiters, workers, students, unionists, pensioners, housewives, tourists. It was a huge source of information.

You have partly answered my next question, as I wanted to ask you whether Anne’s revealing memoirs or director Michel Hazanavicius played a part in the costume process.

Yes. Michel is a real aesthete. He is very sensitive to fabrics, clothes. So it is a real pleasure for a costume designer to work with such a director. He carefully pays attention to details. Michel is a director who always takes you higher.

A costume designer’s job is to reinforce the story and help the actor form an identity of his/her character. But what exactly goes into the work of a costume designer today? How much off the rack shopping, how much vintage and how much making did the costumes in Le Redoutable involve?

Most of the costumes for the main characters are creations that were inspired by archive materials that I had selected for the moodboard. For the extras, the costumes are real clothing from the period that were rented from French renters like Les Mauvais Garçons, Euro Costumes, La Compagnie du Costume, Aram. For Le Redoutable, I hired a tailor as leader of a workshop, with his two assistants and a sewer, to make all the costumes for the lead roles. He had my moodboard as a visual support and did an amazing job. He instantly understood what I wanted. I had the chance to work in a very big space so that my whole team was concentrated in the same place, which was a huge asset to me. I was able to be available to everyone and therefore anticipate as much as possible.

I noticed a great attention to details regarding the film sets as well, and especially the way the use of primary colours in Godard’s apartment and Anne’s clothes seemed to work as a whole. The film has a distinctive look, aesthetic.

We did a colorimetry work with Michel, meaning we made a stock of clothing that were blue, grey, beige and brown. Then I used primary colors – red, blue and yellow – on all the roles and extras by inserting them piece by piece in every plan, as in Godard or Truffaut’s movies of that period, which gives quite a strong visuel! They did the same with the decor.
Le Redoutable costume design

Interview with costume designer Sabrina Riccardi

Interview costume design Le Redoutable 
Let’s talk a little about the character of Anne Wiazemsky played by Stacy Martin. How would you describe her style? What did you want the clothes to convey about the character?

Anne’s character wears a mix of manufactured clothes, vintage and contemporary pieces, from MiuMiu for example. Anne is a young woman in a restrainted love with Godard, fascinated by him. She is still a student. In the beginning, I played with the twin set + pleated skirt + pea jacket combo to mark the difference between Anne and Godard’s universes, in shades of blue and yellow. The more the story goes forward, the more her emancipation and distance from Godard are shown by the changes of color in her wardrobe, by adding the red. She becomes free of his influence.
Interview costume designer Le Redoutable

Interview costume design Le Redoutable

Le Redoutable interview costume designer Sabrina Riccardi 
How about Louis Garrel’s wardrobe? His clothes reflect the transformation of the character as well.

The wardrobe for Godard’s character was entirely manufactured, made to measure. I needed suits and shirts in triplicates for the falls. I got my inspiration from period vintage suits that I changed a little in the shapes. I used vintage and contemporary fabrics. The suits are all woolen, as they were back then. It had to be perfect on Louis and he had to feel at ease in his costumes. Likewise for the glasses, we started from a vintage model that we manufactured to his measures in six copies. In the beginning of the movie, Godard’s suits are rigid, steady, he wears a tie, his shirts are impeccably white. He is the fascinating worldwide admired Godard! He is the Nouvelle Vague! The more we go on, the more we see his decline, see how he rejects Godard, his wardrobe gets crumpled and worn out, floppy. He barely changes his clothes, unshaven, he looks paler. Godard is not Godard anymore.
Godard costumes Le Redoutable

Louis Garrel costumes Le Redoutable 
Bérénice Bejo plays Michèle Lazareff Rosier in the film. Rosier was a journalist and fashion designer who founded the brand V de V in the early 1960s, and in 1968 she was considered, alongside Emmanuelle Khanh and Christiane Bailly, one of the innovative and exciting young French designers. What was the inspiration Bérénice’s costumes? Did Rosier’s designs play any role in it?

I created her wardrobe myself. It was my own vision. I was not influenced by the real Michèle Rosier at all, quite the contrary, I dressed Bérénice modernly for those times, I made her wear trousers all the time to suggest her avantgarde. Bérénice’s Michele Rosier is a woman of strong character, she is the only one who stands up to Godard in the film. She is a modern, well-rounded woman, comfortable in her own mind and skin. It is Rosier who inspires Anne in the film to become an independent woman. In general, I am not really inspired by real life characters. We created them according to our vision and desire and we wanted this to show. In this regard, I have also added elements of contemporary design to the costumes.

What inspired you to become a costume designer?

I’ve always wanted to do that since I was a little girl. Cinema fascinates me and clothes inspire me. What could be more beautiful than having the chance to be part of the creation of a story? I began working in the movie industry as an assistant costume designer and, after some time, directors, actors and actresses asked for me on their projects and I became a costume designer.
Le redoutable costume design
photos: courtesy of Sabrina Riccardi | Les Compagnons du Cinéma

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