W.E. Interview: "No One Understands The Power Of Costumes Like Madonna"

17/01/2012 20:44 | Updated 22 May 2015

Oscar-nominated costume designer Arianne Phillips is no stranger to working with Madonna. With 14 years of creative collaborations under their belt, it was only natural that Phillips would lend her expertise to Madonna's most ambitious movie project to date - W.E. The story itself revolves around modern day socialite Wally's obsession with Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII's love affair and Wally's own quest for 'perfect' love but it's the costume design which we fell in love with.

Read on to find out more about Arianne's gorgeous clothes, what it was like to work with Madonna, and why Cartier will be destroying their movie jewellery plus take a look through the costumes themselves with our gallery:

Interview: Arianne Phillips, costume designer

What made you decide to work on W.E.?

I've been working with Madonna for 14 years as her stylist on all her own projects and for many years I've been talking to her about directing a film. She told me about [W.E.] when she started writing with Alek Keshishian a couple of years before we shot. It was obviously a very interesting story and super exciting for costumes.

It's a huge project costume-wise given all the different eras, social classes, and types of character - where do you start on such a big task?

You always start with the script - it's your template. You break everything down. And [you have] a series of meeting with the director - in this case, Madonna - and you figure out the tone and the point of view of the story you want to tell. There's a practical side to a script breakdown when you figure out how many people are in the story and how many changes they have.

How hands-on was Madonna with the costume side of the film?

She's like any director would be - working in film is 100% collaborative and the great thing about working with Madonna is she really allows people to do their job. She was very hands-on because she was interested. No one understand the function and the power of costumes like she does, having worn them for 25 yrs as an entertainer and an actress. She was hands-on in terms of being interested but she certainly didn't micromanage.

Did you have to make a lot of the clothing or were there a lot of vintage pieces?

It depends on the character but around a third of the costumes were made [by us], a third were rented from costume shops and a third we bought from vintage dealers. We didn't have any original clothes owned by the Duke and Duchess - those belong to museums.

Were there any iconic looks you were absolutely determined to recreate?

We recreated some Elsa Schiaparelli looks - she's a famous couturier from the 30s - and we worked with the fashion house Vionnet which existed in the 30s. We had Christian Dior recreate four looks for us and Cartier recreate some jewellery. It was very important we had that authenticity. When you're doing a movie based on real people and events it's very important you do the research but at a certain point you have to figure out what's going to be the most cinematically compelling.

What happens to the costumes now? We were reading that the Cartier jewellery has to be destroyed...

The jewellery that Cartier created are copies of original pieces that are privately owned. Just like a great painting, if there are reproductions out there it devalues the original so they protect their work and their art very closely. Once the film is finally released all over the world it's true, Cartier will destroy the ten pieces they recreated for the film. It's very sad for us but we understand. It's to protect the integrity of the originals.

Was fashion more important than usual to this story?

I think the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were so known for their style - their look and how they dressed - that it was a very important part of telling this story.

How different was it working with Madonna on the film to, say, a concert tour?

Well, I wasn't dressing Madonna, I was dressing the actors so that was different. Everything else wasn't that different. We have a creative language - an aesthetic understanding - and we kind of have a short hand. She's the ideas person behind all her performances so she's been giving direction for years. She's a natural director and she's really good at it - better than most film directors I've worked with.

Is there anyone else on your costume design wishlist?

There are a lot of people whose work I admire but it really always comes down to the story. It doesn't matter how great the actor or the director. I really have to connect with the story.

W.E. is in cinemas from 20 January


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