The Movie: "M. Butterfly"
The Setup: David Cronenberg directs the screen version of hit Broadway play about a French diplomat, Rene Gallimard (Jeremy Irons), who conducts a long-term affair with a Chinese diva, Song Liling (John Lone, pictured), in 1960s Peking.
The Costume Designer: Denise Cronenberg (David's sister), whose credits include Cronenberg's films "The Fly," "Dead Ringers" and "Naked Lunch."
The Look: (Warning--Those who don't want to know the secret of "M. Butterfly" should stop reading here.) The essential costumes revolve around one character, Song, a man who impersonates a woman so successfully that he ensnares a man. Song is seen primarily in bedroomy silk shirts and pants based on traditional Chinese clothing.
As a mid-level bureaucrat, Gallimard wears a series of bland, dark suits and colorless ties that successfully thwart any hints of individuality or personality, making his gullibility all the more believable.
Hit: The designer wisely avoids squeezing Lone into dresses. Instead, she opts for an androgynous look based on the traditional Chinese sam , a loose shirt, and fu , loose pants. Shirts were fashioned with high Mandarin collars (to cover the Adam's apple) and cut longer (to hide the behind) and in a slight A-line (for an illusion of slimness).
Quoted: "I bought really expensive prosthetic bras in A, B and C cups. We tried each cup, but John always looked like he was in drag. I was horrified," Cronenberg said, explaining why Song goes bra-less.
Good Hair Day: Hairstylist Aldo Signoretti refrains from anything tortured and twisted for the diva, opting for a less-is-more wig that is simply long and wavy.
Cast of Thousands: Cronenberg counted 5,979 costumes, including platoons of Mao suits and army uniforms; a cast of Chinese opera singers, plus a theater full of elegant Parisian opera-goers, many clothed in vintage Dior.
Inspiration: Books on Chinese costume history and old National Geographic magazines. "I have a list a mile long of books. I engrossed myself in it all to get the general feel and mood of the people," Cronenberg said.
Sources: Most of the clothing was custom-made in the production's Toronto workshop. Chinese opera members dressed in costumes from the Peking Opera, while Parisian opera-goers wore vintage '60s clothing from Morris Angel in London.