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How the Uniforms in ‘Cyrano’ Help Get to the Heart of the Story

Cyrano Movie Costumes
Sketch: Massimo Cantini Parrini/Photoshop by Elena Pavinato/MGM

Joe Wright’s “Cyrano,” currently in theaters for an Oscar-qualifying run before opening wide Jan. 21, stays true to the Edmond Rostand play, beginning with a grand theatrical scene. Wright wanted to introduce all the social classes of the film in this scene, where nobles, bourgeoisie, peasants, militia and clergy mix in perfect harmony. It’s also where audiences are first introduced to Peter Dinklage’s Cyrano — a different interpretation of the usual giants schnozzed image of the character, and one that emulates the theatrical production Wright had seen in Connecticut starring Dinklage and Haley Bennett.

“The idea,” says the director, “was that the nose would distract from the reality that we can all share — which is that we all feel, at certain points, if not continuously, unworthy of love.”

Costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini and Wright say they both wanted to present the character as a member of the military. Parrini explains, “Cyrano is a noncommissioned officer of a certain rank, and with Joe, we agreed that he was not going to ever change his costume until the end of the film when he becomes a poor man.”

While the costume never changed, Parrini still had to find ways to alter the military uniform throughout the story. The answer? Placing buttons along the seam lines, not just in Cyrano’s costume but in that of every soldier. That discovery allowed him to vary the look of the uniform and adapt it to the scene or situation. “You can take sleeves off the jackets, turning them into waistcoats; button up the tails to restrain the skirt; attach jacket sleeves to gilets [vests]; take the whole skirt off to shorten it,” Parrini says of the possibilities.

All uniforms were made entirely of linen. To get the color he wanted, Parrini dyed many samples. “I tried to find a shade of red that changed according to the light. It was a true challenge finding the right fabric and the right dyeing procedure, as we made all 300 uniforms that you see on the screen from scratch. We are talking about kilometers of the same fabric that had to be dyed to be all of the same color.” Additionally, the costumes needed to be aged to look as if they had been through months of suffering on the battlefield.

Parrini spent time researching 18th-century watercolors at museums in London and Rome. “I understood that it was possible to re-create the emotional transparency given by layers of thin color through the costumes,” he says, using pastel colors for nobles, earthy tones for the bourgeoisie and peasants, ivory for the clergy and the sandy tones of raw linen for the militia. Lightness and sheerness were the key ideas behind these costumes, with pastel shades used to denote nobility.

He captured the essence of the 18th century by getting rid of all jewelry and ornamentation — no prints, stripes, brocades or lace.

In all, Parrini built more than 700 costumes from scratch rather than use costume houses. “I wanted to create a completely new world and a unique film,” he explains, “and this would have been hard to achieve using hired material.”