You may be familiar with the work of acclaimed costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini from his designs for the 2019 film, Pinocchio, which was nominated for the Academy Award of Best Costume Design in 2021. Now, just a year later, he has been nominated a second time. This time alongside the esteemed Jacqueline Durran, for their work on the movie musical, Cyrano. If you haven’t seen it yet, get yourself to the theater because it is absolutely ethereal! And it may also make you cry… but I am most certainly not speaking from experience…
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Massimo about his experience working on Cyrano, and what it was like working with such a renowned director as Joe Wright. His account of his time on the film is below, and it is genuinely remarkable.
Emily: Welcome Massimo! Thank you so much for being here today. Honestly, it’s truly an honor. Let’s get started!
In 2021, your costumes for Pinocchio were nominated for an Oscar as well, how does it feel to be nominated again, especially so soon?
Massimo: Yes! In fact, especially because it has been my second nomination and second year running, this makes me even happier, thrilled, and proud because my work has received attention from the other side of the ocean and it’s extremely rare for an Italian costume designer to enter this realm. And however it goes, I am really living in the moment, enjoying it fully. If I do not win, it will be a great victory for me all the same.
Emily: Absolutely. I mean, even being nominated is such a feat in itself. You’re obviously deserving of it, I saw the movie, it was beautiful! Now, something that’s very apparent when you watch Cyrano is how beautifully the colors within the costumes and the set complement one another. From Sister Claire and the nuns, and the bakery scene being almost angelic in white, to the blending of colors in that first opening theatre scene, can you explain to us how you went about choosing your color palette for the film, and how you collaborated with set design to create such a cohesive end result?
Massimo: Yes! When I started the collaboration on the movie, Joe showed me all of the locations before even starting on the design of costumes. I had been to Noto previously in Sicily for the holidays by myself a couple of years earlier, and I was in love with the colors of the town and, of course, with the colors of the region of Sicily. These colors really have been an inspiration for my job. This is, in fact, where we drew inspiration for the color palette of the movies.
Moreover, while visiting a couple of museums in Rome and London, I had seen some watercolors of the 18th century. That is also another aspect that inspired me as well, which helped me out in my work. This is something that truly stands out, how important it was for both Joe and me to work together, so as to achieve this color palette. And again, the whole collaboration with the set designer as well, was very cohesive because Joe loves the costumes to really match the environment and the location, the walls where the various scenes are set, and again, collaboration even with the lighting department was incredibly important because we were all very consistent with Joe’s vision.
Emily: Yeah, it truly showed. The result was, in some scenes, ethereal in its beauty. The fabrics, the colors, the movement, it was impeccably done.
Now, there were quite a few large ensemble scenes, from that opening theatre scene and the war scenes and everything in between. How did the design process for those larger scenes differ from one another?
Massimo: Yes. You see, the opening scene was particularly challenging because, as you say, it is an ensemble scene. All of the different social classes that play in the movie are present in that scene. This is something that Joe wanted. He wanted all these social classes to be present in that first scene. So all of them, except for the nuns, are portrayed in the scene. Therefore I had to prepare 700 costumes from scratch for that opening scene, it was incredible. It was an incredible theatre and extremely beautiful in the end. You see, this was my first important collaboration with an international production and, moreover, I do have to say that working on a film set and shooting during COVID times was not the easiest task.
As far as the battle scenes on Mount Aetna with the soldiers, I designed 250 new costumes. So that’s what the army soldiers were going to wear, as to convey the initial part of the battle. Then I had to design 150 other costumes from scratch, which had to be tattered and aged because every soldier had a duplicate in their wardrobe. They had the new uniform and the aged uniform that they were going to wear, of course, during the last scenes, which portray the final parts of the battle. I had to work on these extra 150 costumes and age them and tatter them. And they were going to use both of these duplicates in the shoots, either way. Even the social class of the countryside, the peasants, were going to participate in the battle. And again, those costumes had to be destroyed, tattered, and aged to convey the highly dramatic tempo of the scene.
Emily: That is… That just gave me chills. *laughs* So, you created over 750 costumes just for that first scene, brand new? And then you created 250 and then another 150. So that’s over 1100 costumes that you created from scratch?
Massimo: In the end, the costumes that were designed were 750. Of the 750, 250 were brand new uniforms and 150 were tattered uniforms. Since all of the participants play in the first scene, they’re all present in the first scene, but on the whole, they’re not 1100, but 750.
Emily: That is incredible. What did your design timeline look like for a film of such a massive scale?
Massimo: Working on this film was quite a feat because I only had 26 preparation days before shooting since the green light for the film arrived quite late. When the schedule finally arrived, what happened was that, after these 26 days of preparation, once on set in Noto in Sicily, I and my team never ever stopped sewing, from day one until the last day on set. I had to open a workshop, a tailor’s shop in Sicily, where I had this wonderful group of seamstresses and tailors who worked side by side with me, day and night. It was really an incredibly beautiful experience. To design and create all of these costumes from scratch was extremely beautiful because it was a rare opportunity that had been offered to me, to make these costumes for this film. I will always be grateful to Joe. Thank you very much, Joe.
Emily: Obviously this film is filled with stunning costumes from start to finish. However, there were a few costumes in that opening theatre scene that really caught my eye, and those were the sheep. *laughs* I just loved watching them and how they moved. So I wanted to ask, can you tell us where the idea for them came from and how you brought them to life?
Massimo: The main themes that run through the movie are, of course, lightness, movement, and transparency. These were the keywords. And in the first scene, we have Montfleury, this very Baroque, flamboyant character who, in Joe’s idea, was going to be onstage surrounded by an animated wood. Where of course there would’ve been actors dressed up as trees with the leaves, et cetera, et cetera.
But then he changed his mind and he said well, why don’t we transform these creatures that play on stage with Montfleury to animals? We had the idea for the sheep and transformed everything with these animals that were going to be on stage. The costumes for the sheep, since the sheep are quite chubby animals with all the wool that covers their hides, I made them with plenty of tulle fabric to convey this idea of lightness and roundness. Since they were also dancing on stage, I wanted them to look like dancing clouds on the stage.
Moreover, I thought of paying homage to the UK since the director is English, therefore I made the sheep with black feet, as to pay homage to the UK. I am extremely proud of the attention that these sheep costumes have garnered. And I’m often asked to send out photographs of them. I’m extremely happy about that because I’ve loved designing them.
Emily: Yes, they’re just so fun to watch! The movement, as you said, is perfect. And you just know those actors had so much fun in those costumes as well! *laughs*
We are coming up on the end of our time together. Before you go, did you have any final comments that you wanted to add?
Massimo: I can say that it was really, an extremely beautiful experience for me to have. And I fell in love with Joe. He is extremely knowledgeable in terms of his visual culture and I fell in love with his idea of filmmaking.
I should also add that, initially, I was a little bit scared of collaborating with such a renowned film director. But then, when I got to know him and entered his vision of the world, which is so similar to mine, to the cinematic world, of course it was incredible, because he is a director who loves costumes and loves costume design. So, bottom line, It was a rare beautiful experience. It rarely happens to have such a beautiful experience.
Emily: Yes. It is rare, and it really shows how much you enjoyed the process because it turned out beautifully as well! Thank you so much for being here. It was an honor. And good luck next week! I wish you all the best.
Massimo: Thank you so much! Ciao Emily!