From Rags to Riches

The Movie: "Les Miserables"

The Setup: Inspired by Victor Hugo's epic novel, filmmaker Claude Lelouch follows two French families through years of oppression, from the early 20th Century through Nazi occupation.

The Costume Designer: French designer Dominique Borg, whose credits include the movies "Camille Claudel" and "Tolerance," and productions for the Comedie Francais and National Theater in France.

The Look: The 3,000 costume designs range from the radiant (gowns and feather-sprigged hairdos at a turn-of-the-century New Year's ball) to the meager (anything worn by the destitute and persecuted). In between the extremes is a beautiful ballet costume worn onstage by Madame Ziman (Alessandra Martines, pictured)--a wispy, fairy-tale version of a ragged dress in violet and blue silk and chiffon.

Quoted: "It was harder to do the poor costumes than the rich costumes," Borg says. For the simple wardrobe of Henri Fortin (Jean-Paul Belmondo)--plaid shirt, rough wool vest, leather jacket--she started with old clothing because she felt it "contained a past," then tinted it with dyes ("I work like a painter") and "distressed" it to make it appear even older. "I would stand all day near Lelouch and, one hour before shooting, he often asked me to spoil the clothes more or to change a color."

Trivia: Borg's many designs for the sweeping black princess coat worn by Madame Ziman as her family flees Paris did not seem to satisfy the director. Finally, when Borg wore her own coat, which she had designed, on the set, Lelouch said, "Oh, your coat is beautiful." The search was over.

You Should Know: The costumes are loaded with symbolism, particularly those of the wealthy Ziman family. For starters, note that daughter Salome (played by the actress Salome) and the rest of the girls in the convent wear the same cotton bonnet as Madame Ziman does while playing Cosette in the ballet. ("I want to express that these little girls are miserables like Cosette," Borg says.)

Sources: Principal costumes were made at Atelier du Costumes in Paris. Others were rented at costume houses throughout Europe.

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