Janty Yates won an Academy Award in 2001 for her costumes for Ridley Scott’s film, “Gladiator,” which takes place in 180 A.D., so she was something of an obvious choice to work on the director’s latest film, “Kingdom of Heaven,” which takes place only a thousand years later, during the Third Crusade.
“There was very little armor in 1186 A.D.,” explains Yates of the major difference between the eras. “It was all chain mail.” Though “Gladiator” played a little more with the period, especially helmet shapes, “Kingdom of Heaven,” she says, is more authentic because it’s situated in a finite time and place. “One hundred years after ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ ends, armor comes back. Plus, there were a lot of crusades.”
Yates’ research involved pulling “acres” of books as well as visiting the Museum of Crusades in Versailles and the Museum of Armor in Leeds, England. “You just go everywhere,” she says. “You sink yourself in it.” Having worked on the huge endeavor that was “Gladiator,” dressing 300,000 Saracens for “Kingdom of Heaven” was manageable, although not exactly a walk in the park, for the veteran costumer. (She also made costumes for “De-Lovely,” though Giorgio Armani gets much of the credit; “Enemy at the Gates”; “Charlotte Gray,” and “Hannibal,” also directed by Scott.)
“We made nearly everything,” Yates continues. “We had leather makers, chain mail cutters and a huge setup for aging, dyeing and distressing costumes.”
One of the only female characters in the film, which also stars Liam Neeson and Orlando Bloom, is Eva Green’s Sibylla, the sister of the King of Jerusalem, who is unhappily married to a power-hungry French noble who wants to take over the monarchy. Yates played with Green’s wardrobe to make it an East-meets-West sort of aesthetic. The styles skip the chain mail in favor of big cloaks, riding boots and high collars.
But Yates has already left the Middle Ages behind and leaped back into modern times. She’s currently in Miami working on the big-screen version of “Miami Vice,” directed by the television show’s creator, Michael Mann. How to reimagine the iconic looks of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas (think of that white suit and all those pastels) is proving to be another uphill battle.
This story first appeared in the April 28, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“It’s a tough act to follow,” Yates says. “Everybody’s going to be looking at the costumes.”