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Costume Designer Colleen Atwood's "Nine" Lives

Costume designer Colleen Atwood discusses working on the new film "Nine," Rob Marshall’s adaptation of Federico Fellini’s 1963 “8½.”

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Colleen Atwood working on “Nine”

All blonde mane and flirtation, Vogue staffer Stephanie (Kate Hudson) sidles up to director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) at a hotel bar. “You care as much about the suit as the man wearing it,” she purrs. “You have such style. That’s another thing I love about your movies. Every frame is like a postcard.”

Rob Marshall’s much-hyped “Nine,” which has its New York premiere tonight, radiates the same postcard perfection Stephanie sees in the work of Contini, the film’s protagonist, a famous director who, days away from shooting his ninth flick, has no script and no idea what to do. Marshall’s is a visual feast of the slick, glossy sort, Contini’s inner musings allowing for unbridled flamboyance delivered in striking cinematography, splashy dance sequences and, yes, sumptuous fashion.

Case in point: Hudson’s over-the-top “Cinema Italiano” number, for which she’s decked out in a Swinging Sixties fringe getup complete with silver go-go boots. “I love the glamorously Latin world that only Guido can portray,” she belts out on a mock fashion runway, surrounded by a coterie of pretty boys in snappy Belstaff suits, skinny ties and Persol shades. This is Mod, Italian-style, and just one of several highly stylized mid-Sixties looks that costume designer Colleen Atwood delivers brilliantly for “Nine,” her third film with Marshall. The others, “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Chicago,” garnered her Oscars.

The movie is Marshall’s adaptation of Federico Fellini’s 1963 “8½” and the subsequent Broadway musical “Nine.” Yet, while Atwood admits to rewatching the former as well as a Lincoln Center Library tape of the latter, she says neither served as her primary inspiration. “This is a blur of films from that era in Italy,” she explains. “The idea wasn’t to copy. We weren’t remaking a movie; we’re making a different one. It’s a totally different animal.” Atwood rattles off a laundry list of other key influences, from Luchino Visconti’s 1960 flick “Rocco and His Brothers” to photographs by Louise Dahl-Wolfe. If there were a Fellini film she referenced, it was a different Fellini classic, “La Dolce Vita.” “Rob and I knew we wanted the glamorous world of early-Sixties Italy — that lushness and elegance of design in general,” Atwood remarks. “And because this is a musical, it has to have a whole different feeling and energy to it.”

Nor did the designer concern herself with the specters of Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée and Sandra Milo, who played the characters of Claudia, Luisa and Carla to near-icon status in “8½.” “No, no, no,” Atwood says with a laugh. “I had so much on my plate without thinking of these women. You know, I had my own group of stars to think about.”

Contini is indeed surrounded by a constellation of women, each with a distinct personality and style. Marion Cotillard plays his long-suffering wife, Luisa, a broken Audrey Hepburn type in demure black sheaths and Fifties-era ensembles. (“That was an homage to ‘Roman Holiday,’” says Atwood of a polka-dotted frock.) Penélope Cruz is his tarty mistress, Carla, complete with a flashy wardrobe and brilliantly tacky highlights, and Nicole Kidman, his muse and leading lady Claudia, uberglam in Dior-esque gowns. Rounding out the sultry set are Sophia Loren as his mother; Stacy Ferguson (aka Fergie) as the prostitute Saraghina; Judi Dench as costume designer Lilli (coincidentally, Dench got her start as an actress while training to be a costume designer for the theater), and Hudson as the fashion-forward Stephanie.

Aside from an item or two, including a vintage Courrèges coat on Hudson, Atwood and her team custom-made the costumes for the principal players; Atwood even delved into her own archive of vintage textiles on occasion, as she did for Cruz’s two curvy sheath dresses — one blood red, the other powder blue and embroidered with blooms. “Thankfully, Penélope’s really small, so there was, within the skin of my teeth, just enough fabric to make those costumes,” she says.

She also outsourced certain items. Her go-to fur guy: Dennis Basso, who made Kidman’s lush blond mink coat as well as Cruz’s crimson mink stole. “Colleen gave me some early Sixties tear sheets as inspiration,” Basso notes. Chopard contributed the jewelry, while Crystallized-Swarovski Elements provided Atwood with more than a million crystals in 31 variations of cut and size and 22 colors, including roughly 1,640 feet of crystal mesh. As for the footwear, aside from a few Christian Louboutin heels on Cruz, everything was made by New York-based dance shoe specialist Phil LaDuca of LaDuca Shoes. “The shoes had to be danceable,” Atwood emphasizes. “It’s its own movie, really, to shoot dance shoes in a film.” Cruz’s kinky “A Call From the Vatican” sequence required three variations of the same shoe. “I had one heel for the main part of the dance,” Atwood explains. “When she’s coming down hard on the ground, that’s a lower heel. But in the beginning, when Penélope sticks her foot up, that has a soft arch instead of a steel arch [like the others.] It was very difficult work.”

But of all the retro-glam fashion items, it’s the underpinnings that speak the loudest. Nearly all of the actresses flaunt lavish lingerie in one form or another, whether spangly burlesque getups, skimpy slips or gravity-defying corsetry. “These are intimate moments for the characters with Guido and, of course, they couldn’t be naked,” explains Atwood. “I wanted to honor the period, too. Women [back] then didn’t just wear a bra and panties; they wore girdles, corsets and all that stuff.” And so the actresses could comfortably hoof it in those looks, Atwood made sure to include stretch fabrics and to double-sew all the seams.

Still, the lingerie didn’t come without its perils. “Fergie’s dance was all about keeping Fergie in the corset,” Atwood recalls. “It was a really tiny corset and didn’t have straps. We had to add them in the end because, with all that dancing, she was just flying out of it.”

 

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