“De-Lovely” helmer and producer Irwin Winkler, production designer Eve Stewart and costume designer Janty Yates re-created legendary composer Cole Porter’s lavish life in just 12 weeks on a budget of $15 million.
“I had about a month to do quite a lot of research before I had to actually start drawing stuff up,” Stewart recalls. “Then we had a little under three (weeks) to (create) everything. It was a really, really fast process.”
Stewart helped to craft the opulent environment surrounding Porter and wife Linda, and she re-created Paris, Hollywood and Venice on stages in London and Luxembourg.
“I was just trying not to overburden (the pic) with design but to illustrate the story really quickly and efficiently because it kind of darted about. The main thing was to make sure the audience kept up visually and didn’t get lost,” she says.
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But it was Porter’s home in Massachusetts that gave Stewart reason for concern. “The Williamstown house was quite hard to re-create, especially since it had been so well documented in many contemporary periodicals,” Stewart relays in the pic’s production notes.
Yates, on the other hand, found the well-known fashion trends helpful when designing the pic’s costumes, such as the distinct beaded work of the 1920s, the stunning silks and satins seen in the 1930s and the postwar softness used in the 1950s.
“History was my inspiration,” Yates says. “The whole cast had to live through five decades so everyone had a huge wardrobe. Nearly all of the costumes for Ashley (Judd as Linda Porter) were made. Giorgio Armani was very involved and made a lot of (Kevin Kline’s) suits. I was quite blessed while working on this film — I had totally free reign of Armani’s archives and warehouses.”
Besides referencing past fashion fads, Yates used her subject’s personal accessories. “This stunning black sequin dress from Giorgio Armani’s archives needed very little alteration and was accessorized with an original vintage black-and-white marabou capelet, original Verdura jewelry (Porter’s favorite), and an original Van Cleef & Arpels evening bag,” Yates says in production notes.
Armani points to a tux as his favorite among the many suits he designed for Kline. “Cole Porter’s wedding attire defined the sartorial look of that time,” Armani says in production notes. “(The tux) and the wedding dress are my two favorite looks in the movie, as they are both retro and modern at the same time. Both looks belong to the past, present and future.”
Allotted a time span of just two weeks to do the pic’s numerous stage-based shots kept Yates and Stewart on their toes. “Four sets had to fit into the same theater and change from one to another very quickly. We had to make all the sets fit like a puzzle and fly in and out and revolve into view,” Stewart recounts in the production notes.
“We all had to work together especially during those (stage) scenes,” Yates adds. “We had palette meetings to choose colors because it was very important for the various (stars) like Alanis Morissette to stand out during her scene. So I had the dancers in black and white, while Alanis was in (a red and white polka dot dress).”
Creative collaboration, Stewart explains, was a necessity. “I am really, really strict about making sure that we all stick together and that the colors all work together. If you are designing all of the world that these people are meant to live in and then you get somebody that looks like they are from a completely different planet wandering in it just spoils or breaks the bubble of imagination. You don’t want to spoil it for the audience.”