The Corpse Bride

It's the last day of filming on the set of "Camille." As the skeleton crew readies for the final shot, Sienna Miller, who stars in the title role, sits thoroughly engrossed in the latest issue of Us Weekly, particularly the tabloid's Fashion Police...

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It’s the last day of filming on the set of “Camille.” As the skeleton crew readies for the final shot, Sienna Miller, who stars in the title role, sits thoroughly engrossed in the latest issue of Us Weekly, particularly the tabloid’s Fashion Police page. “Sienna’s Slip-ups” proclaims the headline, beneath which are four paparazzi shots of Miller midstride. Though Us Weekly is hardly considered the touchstone of style among fashion insiders, who regard Miller as a refreshing nonconformist amid Hollywood’s tired Rachel Zoe-bot types, Miller seems a little hurt, if mildly amused.

Still, she admits that one of the four pictured outfits is a mess: “Quite shocking,” she allows of the printed dress and clashing pink cowboy boots. But what the weekly fails to mention is that the photo was snapped during a break from filming “Camille,” and the outfit is actually a costume. In fact, Miller is wearing the same boots this very minute, only now with a wedding gown custom-designed by Giorgio Armani.

If Armani seems an odd choice for a trousseau involving cowboy boots, that’s only the beginning of the movie’s style anomalies. “Camille,” the as-yet-unscheduled feature debut of director-producer Gregory Mackenzie, is a love story about newlyweds from small-town Kentucky, where Armani gowns are undoubtedly in short supply. Miller plays the ill-fated yet incredibly optimistic bride who’s head-over-heels for James Franco’s Silas, the reluctant (also Armani-clad), ex-con groom. After a motorcycle accident en route to Niagara Falls — her dream honeymoon, his ploy to skip parole — Miller, whose character may be dead, spends the rest of the film gracefully decomposing in six versions of an increasingly distressed wedding gown that transitions from full-on fluffy meringue to sophisticated sheath. The idea is that, while Camille’s appearance changes, her feelings for Silas remain true. Meanwhile, at the end of the film, he, still clad in a relatively intact tux, realizes his love for her.

“It’s really interesting costume-wise, because we use the dress and tuxedo to contrast the characters of Camille and Silas,” says Alex Kavanagh, “Camille’s” costume designer, who has worked on several slasher films, including “Saw II” and “Saw III,” and who also created a wedding gown for a zombie bride in “Land of the Dead.” “And Sienna’s in the gown about 85 percent of the time.”

When Miller signed on to the project two years ago with a different cast and a much smaller budget (under $3 million), Armani costumes weren’t even a pipe dream. Along the way, Mackenzie went out on a limb and approached legendary producer Al Ruddy (“The Godfather,” “Million Dollar Baby”) for additional funding. He read the script, fell in love with it and offered to back the whole thing. Coincidently, Ruddy’s wife, Wanda McDaniel, is Armani’s executive vice president in charge of Hollywood communications. When she learned that Miller was attached to the project, the ever-savvy McDaniel realized “Camille’s” potential for a Hollywood-fashion marriage.

“What attracted me to this project was both the poignant story line and the actors chosen to portray it,” says Armani. “Sienna and James are two of the most captivating on-screen performers of their generation.” Still, a practical question remained: Since the film is very much about a sweet, but tackily turned out, bumpkin bride, could Armani, the master of high chic, push aside his elegant oeuvre and make something that would look believable as off the rack from Backwoods Bridal?

“To be honest,” says Miller, who had never met Armani before and hasn’t worn many of his designs, “Armani is so chic and so classic that I was concerned at first, because I thought there was no way he could make anything that wasn’t completely chic and gorgeous. I was thinking we should go to K-Mart and buy something really revolting.”

Instead, Miller and Kavanagh were off to Milan for a private fitting at atelier Armani, where they were met with a mock-up of the dress. “It was very sleek and chic,” says Kavanagh. “We thought, ‘How can we make this tacky?'”

“I was like, ‘More tulle! More tulle! More tulle!'” recalls Miller. “And he said, ‘Mamma mia, oh my God,’ like he couldn’t bear it.”

Ultimately, however, Armani came through. The overdone confection, which he likened to a wedding cake, has four tiers of frothy, pleated silk tulle over organza, complete with a lace bolero and an immense, Swarovski crystal-studded veil. Because the script called for the dress to decompose along with Camille herself, Armani made 12 frilly dresses. Kavanagh then used her zombie-flick skills to distress them to various degrees, gradually tearing off layers of tulle and assaulting them with fake blood and mud. “It was hard to do at first,” she acknowledges. “A custom gown by Armani, and here we are just ripping it apart.” By the end of the film, Miller appears as the picture of true Armani glamour in a simple, pared-down silk satin sheath. “We like to joke that it started out as a Cavalli dress and ended up as an Armani dress,” says Kavanagh.

“If I were to design a wedding dress for Sienna, rather than her character, it would be far removed from this one,” says Armani. “That said, I approached this as I always do when working with a film’s wardrobe designer, with the aim being to create costumes that are true to the characters and the script.”

Even so, he still had his limitations. During the fitting, Kavanagh proposed adding a peach trim — the epitome of wedding gauche — to match the bridesmaids’ overdone monstrosities. “He doesn’t speak English, so you have to talk through a translator,” she recalls. “I just saw his eyes go a little wide and this look of disgust and horror on his face and he just said, ‘No.'”
— Jessica Iredale

Armani in Film
Armani’s clean lines and sleek silhouettes have long been staples both on screen and off. From Richard Gere as a sharp-suited pretty boy in “American Gigolo” to Samuel L. Jackson in the title role of 2000’s “Shaft,” his designs have played a supporting role in dozens of films.

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