The classic love story “Cyrano de Bergerac” has never been so romantic, thanks to director Joe Wright and costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini.
Wright’s musical film, adapted from a recent staging of the 1897 play, stars Peter Dinklage in the lead role. While Dinklage won acclaim for his performance in the period film (and on stage; he originated the role in Erica Schmidt’s production), the costumes became a major star of the project. Parrini, and Italian costume designer, received high-profile accolades for his work on the film, working with Jacqueline Durran, and is up for a BAFTA and an Academy Award this month.
Parrini was initially contacted by an Italian production company about Wright’s project and was enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with Wright. The designer contacted Wright via Zoom shortly after that first production meeting.
“Joe is an eclectic director full of great visual culture,” says Parrini. “Trying to understand his vision of the film and to enter his universe, through my help and my proposals, was a great collaboration that is rare to find.”
Each costume was specially designed for the film, and Parrini created over 750 costume pieces from scratch to reflect early 1700s France. Parrini rooted his process in extensive research, which included museum visits. “Ideas and inspiration for every project I start come exclusively from the past,” he says. “I am inspired by vintage images, watercolours, paintings and other works of art, as well as contemporary fashion. I have also read several books about the historical period that is to be represented, and I have collected and documented all these materials. Parrini also delved into the “huge” personal collection of period clothing he amassed throughout his career.
The designer was particularly inspired by watercolors from the 18th century, 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 the clothes we’ve already seen.”
If he was inspired by the past, the creator was not influenced by the original text by Edmond Rostand, nor by the costumes of the staging directed by Schmidt and which preceded Wright’s film.
“I’ve deviated from everything, I’m still looking for my vision and I’m still trying to create uniqueness if I can. I never look at what’s been done before, inevitably I’ll 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 of 2021.
Parrini characterizes his approach to costumes in “Cyrano” as a “subtraction” approach.
“I deliberately removed all frivolity of which the 1700s are a part, and sought the aesthetic solution in forms, for all social classes: nobility, clergy, bourgeois, military and poor,” he says. “I deliberately walked away from the idea of loading characters and extras with too many things that might distract. I didn’t use printed fabrics and there are no flowers, lines or There is no lace on the sleeves and necklines, and there is no jewelry.
Instead, Parrini used color to distinguish between different social classes and character levels. The soldiers are dressed in red and the bourgeois in dusty pastels such as light green, pink and blue.
“For Joe and I, this was very important, and together we matched the colors and fabrics for each character and each appearance. Rather than buying pre-colored fabric, we bought large quantities of white fabric and custom-dyed it for our suits so we could get the exact colors we wanted,” Parrini explains. In the case of Christian (who woos Roxanne through poetic letters secretly penned by Cyrano), Parrini turned to towards natural materials such as linen, cotton and leather to reflect his on-screen identity as a young peasant turned soldier of the king. Working with the show’s dance choreography and combat sequences in mind, Perrini relied on lightweight, transparent materials to facilitate movement.“I wanted those watercolors that I had seen in museums to come to life through the costumes,” he adds.
Parrini was responsible for designing every character except for Roxanne, the female lead and central romantic interest played by Haley Bennett; these 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 period, she has great taste and it’s always interesting to work with colleagues with whom you can exchange ideas,” he says. “We talked a lot about the colors and fabrics to use, seeking harmony between the characters.”
Parrini credits the collaboration between the departments working on “Cyrano” — the “skill of the actors,” the “sublime music, beautiful lighting and perfect sets, makeup and hair styling, tight assembly, etc.” — for creating what he considers the “perfect movie.”
“What I’ve always compared to a sphere,” he describes. “Perfect from every angle.”