He might be one of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers, but his understanding of fashion’s storytelling potential is only now being fully explored.

By Balthazar Malevolent


Think of The Shining and what comes to mind are the cornflower blue clothes of the spectral twins hiding in the Overlook Hotel's hollow corridors; think of A Clockwork Orange and you imagine Malcolm McDowell and his droogs walking through brutalist London street in white boiler suits, jockstraps and bowler hats; think of Barry Lyndon and the opulent taffeta gowns and feathered caps, or the meticulously recreated military uniforms.

Stanley Kubrick is celebrated for his ability to reinvent himself endlessly, turning his hand to every genre from dystopian horror to war epic to political satire and each time delivering a masterpiece — often overlooked by the razor-sharp eye for costuming that enabled him to paint those vivid windows into other worlds.

We are interested in exploring the process, the development of how things have been done, to focus on the people with whom Kubrick collaborated, not just the film as a final product. Kubrick's relationships with the individuals who brought his vision for costumes to life have been discussed in unprecedented detail: in particular, his rich working relationship with costume designer Milena Canonero, who worked as costume designer on Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, working with the same unmatched versatility as the filmmaker himself.

Many people say Kubrick was involved with every step of the way and he was, but he always worked with the best people and he was able to give them plenty of space. There would be enormous amounts of research, but then someone like Milena could give it a twist of her own.

The unlikely relationship between Kubrick and the legendary Savile Row tailor Hardy Amies, who worked as a costume designer on 2001: A Space Odyssey, has been explored. The mod-inspired outfits worn by the crew of the film's Pan Am spaceship may carry echoes of André Courreges and Pierre Cardin's 60s space-age visions, but Amies was specifically hired for his rigorous and highly traditional training: to create something that would still feel futuristic for many decades. With 2001 Kubrick was in search of something that felt beyond time.

Maybe it also speaks of the masculine world of film geekery that up to now, Kubrick's relationship with fashion have been largely overlooked. After all, the vision of Kubrick was precise to the point of obsessive. This symmetrical obsession applied to every aspect of his productions, all micro-managed within one inch of their lives: whether it was the iconic 127 takes catching the terrified screams of Shelley Duvall while swinging a bat at Jack Nicholson in The Shining, or the meticulous work he undertook while planning for his never-completed epic on Napoleon's history. It also extended to his costumes: while working with Hardy Amies, he is said to be delighted to learn more about and fine-tuning even the tiniest details from the fabric swatches that accompanied the initial sketches to the final button placement.

And even though Napoleon biopic never came to fruition, the research behind it provided the backbone for his perhaps most extraordinary achievement in the costume world: Barry Lyndon of 1975. Based on William Makepeace Thackeray's obscure novella, the production brought Europe to life in unparalleled detail of the 18th century, with Marisa Berenson — herself once a fashion model — as the mannequin-like star in feathered hats and ruffled gowns. The exquisite dresses and frock coats made Milena Canonero win her first Oscar for costume design.

The whole archive of Kubrick is in London. The collection includes hundreds of boxes packed with pages ripped from art magazines, books on art history, everything that concerns the 18th century. It's not just about the dress, or cutting a coat, he was really going into the detail: for example, how they would shave. Going through those boxes you can really see what he was interested in and it's not just about what they've been wearing, but how it's connected to society's hierarchies.

It's really about the love and the attention he was putting into everything. Each aspect was regarded very carefully but also the people with whom he has chosen to work. It's not just like a costume designer doing something for a movie: they designed whole eras, in a way that felt so authentic.

2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Shining.Full Metal Jacket.Eyes Wide Shut.Barry Lyndon.Clockwork Orange.
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