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A sense of history combined with the influence of global cultures are among the key factors that create the inspiration for the costume designers behind a new breed of TV shows such as “The Borgias,” “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire.”
Here, a chat with the designers about the devotion required to perfect the look and mood of characters in these popular period dramas, historical fiction and fantasy venues.
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The costume designer for Showtime’s dynasty drama, “The Borgias,” has also costumed a number of period drama films including “Once Upon a Time in America,” “The Age of Innocence” and “The Scarlet Letter.”
Pescucci discusses the historical backdrop of “The Borgias.”
“The time line is during Pope Alexander IV’s papacy, from 1490 to 1510. During this time, art and creativity reach one of the highest peaks of the Renaissance, all of which is tempered by wars and corruption. This sets the scenario for the Borgia family to make their connections that will lead them to the power of the papacy,” said Pescucci.
“There are painters like [Agnolo] Bronzino, [Sandro] Botticelli, [Domenico] Ghirlandaio, [Bernardino di Betto] Pinturicchio, Raffaello [Sanzio da Urbino], [Vittore] Carpaccio and [Pietro] Perugino, all of whose portraits feature noblemen with their ladies and the lifestyle of that world. That became for me the main inspiration for ‘The Borgias.’ Paintings are very important during any [historical] research process for me to get inspiration of any kind. But it’s more difficult getting the fabrics and the colors of that period because they are no longer made in the same way.…That usually pushes me to search and choose materials to see what they will look like after the aging and dyeing process that is needed to create the look and taste of the period I am aiming to re-create. And as a result, I am constantly guessing the final result,” explained Pescucci.
Regarding the undergarments worn in the series, Pescucci said, “The corsets are made from scratch.…Double canvas stitched together first, then steamed to shape them up to be finally hard-sticked (boned) in order to softly push the breasts up and frame the bosom within a gentle roundness, or sometimes, for a more squared-neck line....I understand [from the actresses] that it feels like torture, but the warmth of the body helps make it more bearable — the actresses can confirm that, but of course, it will never feel like a soft sweater.”
Pescucci added that no bras are worn with the gowns.
“Instead, the boning is sewn in to curve gently to provide room for the breasts,” she said. “Necklines are usually garnished in matching style with the skirt and the sleeves, and colored strings such as soutage with golden tips are used to tighten up the sleeves at the cuffs....Shirts [undergarment shirts for men and women] are rendered in very fine linen, all the way down to the floor, often with golden embroideries that puff out of the dress sleeves and are layered with petticoats that shape up the skirts....Nightgowns are usually made of a very delicate silky organza patterned with flowers from India that are often expensive.”
As for the men’s costumes, Pescucci described the looks as “quite sexy.”
Key pieces include “velvety tights with a co-piece — commonly known as a braghe during the Middle Ages — as well as tight leather boots and short corsets that are worn as jackets.
“The corsets shaped the men in a very sexy way,” she joked.