The classic love story “Cyrano de Bergerac” has never looked more romantic, courtesy of director Joe Wright and costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini.
Wright’s musical film, adapted from a recent stage production of the 1897 play, stars Peter Dinklage in the titular role. While Dinklage has been lauded for his performance in the period film (and onstage; he originated the role in Erica Schmidt’s production), the costumes have emerged as a major star of the project. Parrini, and Italian costume designer, has received prestigious nods for his work on the film, in collaboration with Jacqueline Durran, and is in the running for a BAFTA and Academy Award this month.
Parrini was originally contacted by an Italian production company about Wright’s project, and was enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with Wright. The designer connected with Wright over Zoom shortly after that initial production meeting.
“Joe is an eclectic director full of great visual culture,” Parrini says. “Trying to understand his vision of the film and enter his world, through my help and my proposals, was a great collaboration that is rare to find.”
Every costume was crafted specifically for the film, and Parrini created more than 750 costume pieces from scratch to reflect France in the early 1700s. Parrini rooted his process in extensive research, which included museum visits. “The ideas and inspiration for each project I start comes exclusively from the past,” he says. “I draw inspiration from vintage images, watercolors, paintings and other artwork, as well as contemporary fashion. I also read several books about the historical period that is to be represented, and collect and document all of these materials.” Parrini also looked to the “immense” personal collection of period clothing that he has amassed throughout his career.
The designer was particularly inspired by 18th-century watercolors, as well as “extreme” contemporary fashion. “In my costumes, I find the need to insert modern elements to make the pieces truly unique,” he says. “It’s also to keep things interesting for myself as well as the audience, instead of doing a complete remake of clothing we’ve already seen.”
While he looked to the past for inspiration, the designer wasn’t influenced by the original text by Edmond Rostand, or the costumes from the stage production, which directed by Schmidt and preceded Wright’s film.
“I have deviated from everything, I always seek my vision and I always try to create uniqueness if I can. I never look at what has been done before, inevitably I would be influenced by it,” says Parrini, adding that his process was similar when working on Matteo Garron’s “Pinocchio,” which earned Parrini his first Oscar nomination for best costume design in 2021.
Parrini characterizes his approach to the costumes in “Cyrano” as one of “subtraction.”
“I deliberately removed all frivolity of which the 1700s is part, and I looked for the aesthetic solution in the forms, for all social classes: nobility, clergy, middle class, military and poor people,” he says. “I have deliberately moved away from the idea of loading characters and extras with too many things that could distract attention. I have not used printed fabrics, and there are no flowers, lines or designs in them. There is no lace on the sleeves and necklines, and there are no jewels.”
Instead, Parrini used color to distinguish different social classes and tiers of characters. Soldiers are outfitted in red, and the bourgeoisie in dusty pastels like light green, pink and blue.
“For Joe and me, this was very important, and together we matched colors and fabrics for each character and each single appearance. Rather than purchasing pre-colored fabric, we bought large quantities of white fabric, and custom dyed it for our costumes so we could get the exact colors we wanted,” Parrini says. In the case of Christian (who woos Roxanne through poetic letters secretly penned by Cyrano), Parrini turned to natural materials such as linen, cotton and leather to reflect his identity onscreen as a young peasant boy turned king’s soldier. Working with the show’s dance choreography and battle sequences in mind, Perrini leaned on light and transparent materials for ease of movement. “I wanted those watercolors that I had seen in museums to come to life through the costumes,” he adds.
Parrini was responsible for the design of every character with the exception of Roxanne, the female lead and central romantic interest played by Haley Bennett; those costumes were designed by Durran, who shares the Oscar nomination with Parrini.
“It was great to be able to collaborate with her even if for a short time, she has a lot of taste and it is always interesting to work with colleagues with whom you can have an exchange of ideas,” he says. “We talked a lot about the colors and fabrics to use, looking for harmony between the characters.”
Parrini credits collaboration across departments working on “Cyrano” — the “skill of the actors,” the “sublime music, beautiful lighting and perfect sets, makeup and hair, the tight assembly and so on” — for creating what he deems the “perfect film.”
“Which I have always compared to a sphere,” he describes. “Perfect from every angle you look.”