The story of Cyrano de Bergerac is a familiar one: A man known for his bravery and wit deems himself unworthy of love. It’s been reprised both on stage and on-screen several times. When Massimo Cantini Parrini was approached to design costumes for a new adaptation, he knew the project was going to be a special one.
Director Joe Wright’s vision for Cyrano, starring Peter Dinklage in the lead role, felt different. And Cantini Parrini "fell even more in love" with the story, interpreter Marina Spagnuolo translates from the costume designer’s Italian home. Now, he has received an Oscar nomination for his work, shared with two-time Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran, who designed the costumes for the female lead, Cyrano’s love interest, Roxanne (Haley Bennett).
Early discussions with Wright led to the approach of creating costumes that conveyed "the idea of lightness, of transparency," Cantini Parrini shares with A.frame. "We put it into practice in all of the costumes that we designed for all of the different social classes [represented] in the movie: the nobles, the soldiers, the bourgeoisie, and the nuns…" And, since it’s a musical, he had to account for a lot of dancing as well. This meant using linen fabrics for the soldiers and the bourgeoisie, and silks for the nobles and the nuns.
"For every project I work on, it's wonderful to be able to research and find new ways of making costumes. For this film, I really wanted to go to the essence of the historical period," Cantini Parrini says. "I stripped the 18th-century costumes of everything. I did not want any ornaments or embellishments so as to be able to grasp the audience’s attention."
For the film, Cantini Parrini’s team designed 700 costumes from scratch. "We wanted everything to be absolutely new and, of course, different vis-à-vis other versions of the story made for theater or for film," he says. "It is something unique and beautiful that will, I believe, enter in the history of costume design."
Cantini Parrini is not new to period costume. "My fascination with movies and fashion design comes from way back as a kid," he says. "My grandmother owned a high-end tailor shop in Florence and I used to go and visit her." Those formative visits sparked a passion for the world of fabrics, leading him to begin collecting antique, vintage, and period costumes. He then attended the University of Florence to receive formal training in the craft.
Collecting pieces proved to be a valuable complement to Cantini Parrini’s education. After studying at school, "I had the possibility of studying them at home, looking at them in detail." Period costume "is my daily bread," Cantini Parrini says. Still, his goal is to mix vintage with contemporary inspirations, as seen in Cyrano.
"My work is based on documentation and research. In this case, I studied 18th-century costume design, but I also looked at modern fashion," he says. A key example is the nuns’ costumes, which display a mix of '60s fashion and 18th-century wardrobes. "This is an idea that is highly compatible with costume designing, since fashion is a cycle that repeats itself over and over. You can use the subject matter to transform it every time."
This marks Cantini Parrini’s second Oscar nomination, following a nomination for his work on Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio just last year. In both instances, he got word of his nomination while at work. “I started receiving an explosion of messages of congratulations from my friends and collaborators. Everybody was calling me up.”
The first time, Cantini Parrini says, "My heart was beating with joy because it was wonderful that an Italian film had made it to the Oscars." Now, the thrill of being nominated is multiplied. "For an Italian costume designer to be nominated for two years running is something that is rare. Of course, I’m extremely happy. And, however it goes, it is a victory for me already."
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