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Glamour Through Green-Colored Glasses

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Movie: “Great Expectations”

The Setup: Dickens’ classic tale is retold by director Alfonso Cuaron on the Florida coastline and in New York’s contemporary art world where Finn (Ethan Hawke) pursues his passion for Estella (Gywneth Paltrow), who was raised by her crazy aunt, Miss Dinsmoor (Anne Bancroft).

The Costume Designer: Judianna Makovsky, whose credits include “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Reversal of Fortune,” “Big,” “Gardens of Stone” and Cuaron’s “A Little Princess.”

In Case You Didn’t Notice: Cuaron works strictly in a green palette, having been inspired, he says, by such directors as Ingmar Bergman (“He had an amazing way with reds and blacks”) and Michelangelo Antonioni (“He has different colors that convey different ideas”). For Cuaron, it means shades of green--icy greens, blue greens, brownish greens--appear in virtually every scene, in every set and, of course, throughout the costumes of every character. If you’re attuned to it, it’s an engrossing stylistic technique. Actually, Cuaron prefers that you aren’t. “People shouldn’t be aware. It should be an emotional thing,” he says.

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Quoted: “When I told Gwyneth all her costumes would be green, she said, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” recalls Cuaron. “Everyone is so afraid of green. They’re afraid it will make them look pale. But when she started wearing it, she was into it.”

The Method: Exceptions to the green rule had to be made so that the look didn’t come off as too unreal. Finn’s blue jeans are blue. Tuxedos and some suits are black. A prison uniform is orange. At the other end of the spectrum are the occasional cream color and Estella’s canary yellow diamond studs. Yellow was chosen because it works so well with Estella’s opal Donna Karan gown with the crossed-string back. On loan from Cartier, the earrings were valued at about $90,000.

Scene-Stealers: All of Estella’s extraordinary New York adult wardrobe came from Donna Karan, primarily the fall ’96 collection. When Makovsky saw a magazine photo of the strappy velvet gown in what she calls “bottom-of-the-duck-pond green,” she knew. “I said, ‘That’s the dress.’ ” It turned out that the rest of Karan’s collection that season was also made in shades of green and black. (Some dresses are from previous collections.) One dress that Makovsky wanted, a short sheath with spaghetti straps from Karan’s DKNY line, didn’t come in green, so Makovsky had it made in emerald silk Shantung.

Trivia: For Robert De Niro’s pivotal but brief appearance as Lusting, a mysterious figure in Finn’s life, the actor was particular. He felt the character should look humbly dressed, though his clothes needed to look new. And De Niro created different character “back stories” as he tried on each option. There were about 10 screen tests with various looks, and one or two tests off camera for each of those made on camera. “That’s De Niro’s process,” says Cuaron. “He tries every single thing--'Out. Out. No. No. Yes. Yes. This could be.’ ” Finally, a nondescript black suit was chosen from a New York discount house. Then came a decision about the eyeglasses--De Niro went with supermarket bifocals after sampling 100 styles. His watch, a flat square style, was plucked from just as many options. “Usually I’m the obsessive one,” says the director. “But I was saying, ‘Come on, Bobby. They look the same.’ ”


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