Costume Designer Milena Canonero on Working with Kubrick and Inspirational Macaroons

Few costume designers have had as influential a career as Milena Canonero. Born in Turin Italy, her first major film work was with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange in 1971. Canonero went on to do the costumes for Chariots of Fire, The Cotton Club and Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, which garnered her an Oscar (she has three in total). She has also worked on productions at the Metropolitan Opera and the Vienna State Opera. 

We caught up with Canonero at the Persol Magnificent Obsessions: 30 Stories of Craftsmanship in Film exhibition, which includes a showcase of her work from Marie Antoinette. Canonero calls the exhibit, which made a stop in New York, and is now off to Paris and Milan "a soupçon -- a small taste of some of the details then went into the costumes. It’s like an apéritif.”
So how did Canonero conceptualize the costumes for Marie Antoinette? “Sophia [Coppola] gave me a box of macaroons from Ladurée. We looked at them and the beautiful colors and they became a guideline in a way. We didn’t do everything based off of them, but they were definitely an inspiration.”
Of the project, Canonero said: “I got to take this counter-age sort of story about a girl who is a fashion victim in a way. She starts out very young and innocent. But we get to watch her grow through the movie. I started by throwing pieces of material at Kirsten [Dunst] to see what colors suited her best. I hardly used wigs, because they weren’t right for her. We thought that maybe we could have gone more crazy, but there was just not time.”
As for what happened to that box of macaroons that initially served as inspiration? “Oh that box went very quickly. It was really large but we shared them, and kept eating them. I like the chocolate the best. I do have quite the sweet tooth. I also really like cupcakes. That could be the inspiration for my next movie.”
Canonero says of being a costume designer, “You're not like a fashion designer who is just free to design your collection. Sometimes the director wants to spend a lot of time with you. Sometimes you have more room. You work really closely with the hair and makeup team so you can put together a total look.”
Canonero points to working with Kubrick as a career highlight. “Obviously working with Stanley Kubrick was one of the greatest experiences of my career. It’s impossible to put into words what it was like. Kubrick gave me a lot of guidance. He took me along to check out sites and sent me to photograph certain things. He wanted me to understand what he was looking for. He told me that the head is the most visible part in film and I should start from there.”
“All of the projects that I have worked on have been very interesting," Canonera said. "I have been very lucky."
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