A version of this “Spencer” story first appeared in the Problem under the line from TheWrap Awards magazine.
Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer” is set at Christmas in 1991, when 30-year-old Princess Diana (played by Kristen Stewart, also 30 at the time of filming) grapples with the monarchical pomp that surrounds her. locked up. The film is deliberately romanticized – it opens with an epigraph that calls itself “a fable of a real tragedy” – and Diana’s wardrobe is also spinning, so to speak.
The film opens with a scene showing Diana dressed in a checkered blazer with brass buttons, a coat similar to the one the real princess once wore. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran was slightly skeptical when designing the piece, however. “I was worried this jacket wouldn’t quite work,” she said. “I thought maybe it was too square and too long. But I have to say, Kristen Stewart is amazing. She understands clothes so well that she can just wear things and find a way to make them work, at least beyond what I could have imagined.
The project involved photographic research, but Durran, who won Oscars for “Anna Karenina” and “Little Women,” wasn’t obsessed with reproduction. “Diana has been photographed so often that you can look online and see what she was wearing on almost any date,” Durran said. “But it seemed much more interesting to take elements of his style and mix them up and tell a new story, which wasn’t strictly factual. Although the film is set in 1991, Pablo pointed out that we are not talking about a specific moment in time.
In April 1989, for example, Diana wore a bright red suit with white trim (and a matching red hat) to the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. Durran took the look as inspiration. “But we changed the color to pale yellow because Pablo was very specific about the color sequence in the film,” she said. “Even though yellow is more of an Easter color than a Christmas color, he wanted it as part of his vision and I totally agreed. He also wanted to keep the hat, which looks like a hat Pablo loved it so we made it in yellow too.
Still, Durran was aware of the public’s familiarity with Diana’s style, and so she also included perfectly tailored clothes. “To destabilize the public by doing both things,” she said. These included a red and black bomber jacket that Durran bought as a detective on eBay. “It was made by Mondi, which is an almost forgotten brand now, but it was pretty big at the time. I was thrilled with it and Kristen was thrilled with it.
Stewart and Durran, who had never met before “Spencer,” spent an exhaustive nine-hour day fitting all of the film’s costumes. Since Stewart is a Chanel brand ambassador, the fashion house collaborated with the filmmakers, including on the film’s stunning central costume, a “stunning white evening gown with gold embroidery,” in Durran’s words. (He is also featured on the movie poster.)
“Chanel archivists provided this, based on a dress Diana was wearing, which they remade for Kristen,” she said. “And, oh, the way it fits very tight through the body and then comes out at the bottom, in this beautiful light color. When trying on with Pablo and Kristen, we just knew it was the one.
Durran explained that there is no magic formula for making an actor look taller via clothing. Stewart is five-foot-four, half a foot shorter than Diana, who is five-foot-ten.
“There is no single rule for fitting clothes that flatter your waistline. It’s a combination of Pablo’s camera angles and…” – Durran paused to emphasize the importance of what she was going to say next – “…the fact that Kristen Stewart is such an amazing actress. I have the impression that she is not yet sufficiently recognized for her talent and the bold choices she makes. (Durran’s point that Stewart wasn’t widely recognized was reinforced this week when the actress was snubbed for a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.)
But the costume designer is full of praise. “I can’t talk enough about Kristen. I want to use my voice to promote her as the truly great actress that she is. Don’t people realize that she is one of the great actresses? She is at the same level as the adults. She deeply understood the logic and inner philosophy of Diana’s style in order to make this film work.