Denise Cronenberg on designing for A Dangerous Method
Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method. Image courtesy of eOne Films.
"In the film,
Spider, there is a line in which Ralph Fiennes says ‘Clothes make the man’. This is so true!" —Denise Cronenberg Denise Cronenberg, a veteran costume
designer and six-time Genie nominee, worked hand-in-hand with director (and brother!), David Cronenberg on the costumes for
A Dangerous Method, this spring’s critically acclaimed period drama about the relationship between psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Since
The Fly in 1986, Denise has handled costume duties for all her brother’s films, from
M. Butterfly to
Eastern Promises. For
A Dangerous Method, the siblings communicated via email about their design visions (Denise was in
London, while David was in Cologne, Germany). "He had no idea what I was thinking [for the costumes] until he received those emails," Denise explains, "Luckily, he loved them all." Denise talked to ELLE about her favourite on-set moments, how costumes can enhance character and the biggest challenges of designing for a period film.
1. How did you start the design process? "We did extensive research—after all. we were recreating a specific period [1904-1913] and the lives of real people. The research, and building off the costumes [from that], took 10 weeks in London and was ongoing in Cologne, since we hadn’t seen all of the actors yet."
2. What did you discover about that era? "Dress was very strict. The main
colour was white for women and black for men. We showed the progression of the clothing as it changed throughout these period. No one went out in relaxed clothing because there really wasn’t any. Even in our research of mental institutions, men wore suits and women wore Victorian high neck blouses, shawls and skirts. It was all very buttoned up!"
3. What challenges did you come across? "There was no maternity wear research in existence. We called the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and there was none there as well. Women were in confinement and only went out at night. There weren’t even any photos, so I had to design maternity wear and corsets for Sabina and Mrs. Jung [Sarah Gadon]."
4. What was the best part of the process? "I took some ideas from the original period costumes which are housed at Cos Prop in London. It was one of the most wonderful experiences I have had on a film. For me it was a dream come true. I had a wonderful time picking every button, Chantilly lace (we used some from the actual period that was still available in London) and silks—and watching my ideas being built into beautiful dresses, frock coats, waist coats and lounge suit hats."
5. What are the biggest misconceptions of costume design? "I don’t think people realize the importance of costume design. Maybe it is because everyone wears clothes and everyone has an opinion. Just changing one small item of clothing, like a tie, can change something about the character. It may be subtle, but it is true."
A Dangerous Method comes out on DVD on March 27, 2012.