The story of Beauty and the Beast, as they say in the 1991 Disney film, is a tale as old as time. But that’s not to say the classic story has lost its magic over the years. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Take, for example, director Christophe Gans’s current retelling of the same name starring French beauty Léa Seydoux. The film, in select theaters today, tells the perennial love story through a unique opposition of 19th-century France and the Renaissance period. The result: a truly captivating narrative accompanied by some of the most beautiful costumes we’ve ever seen.
Pierre-Yves Gayraud is the man responsible for the latter. Having worked on films like Cloud Atlas and Three Musketeers, Gayraud is certainly no stranger to extravagance, but it was Beauty and the Beast director Gans who really allowed him to flex his costume design muscles. “Gans wanted a fashion approach for the costumes, so I welcomed some of the best partners I’ve ever had around me,” Gayraud told us of the experience. From the ivory brocade dinner dress to the breathtaking crimson finale number, each of Belle’s costumes seemed to top the last. We spoke with Gayraud to learn more about the incredible designs, so keep reading for our exclusive interview.
WHO WHAT WEAR: This retelling of Beauty and the Beast is a little different. How did that influence the overall costume design?
PIERRE-YVES GAYRAUD: When I arrived on the project, Christophe Gans had already established that the world of Belle would be during the beginning of the 19th century (1805–1810), and for the Beast’s world it was set up during the Renaissance. So basically he wanted a clear opposition between the pure silhouettes of the French first empire and the possibilities of extravagance of the 16th century. The spectrum for costumes was wide and of course very exciting. The challenge was to offer to the audience something different than what they could have in memory from other versions of the tale.
WWW: What were some of the major reference points for the film’s costumes?
PYG: When I started to work on the costumes, having read the script, I always prepare a concept booklet, a large mood board or sort of scrapbook mixing a lot of references—period ones, but also some from fashion. I will say it was a cross between the Elizabethan paintings, the Japanese world of origami, and the technicolor palette of The Red Shoes and Amber. Some fashion designers from the ’90s were also an inspiration for details and tailoring. For Christophe Gans, who is an amazing movie fan, the movies of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger could meet the universe of Hayao Miyazaki. That’s what we tried to make.
WWW: Each of Belle’s gowns was more beautiful and extravagant than the last, and I found it really exciting to see what she would wear next. Was there a certain theme you carried out with all the looks?
PYG: Yes, it was planned like fireworks with a crescendo. But first these dresses needed to reflect the feeling of the Beast who offers them to Belle, but also the feeling of Belle who wears the dresses.
For the first dinner, Belle wears an ivory silver dress. She arrived in the dinner room like a virgin, a Madonna, but this dress is also like a delicate armor to protect her. She is prepared also like a geisha exposed to the goodwill of the Beast. She is like a diamond in a precious setting. We wanted a metallic look with a touch of crystal, so we used a silver gold brocade and opaline laces. The skirt and sleeves were designed with smokes.
When Belle discovers the landscape around the castle and the huge kingdom of the Beast and finally enters the sanctuary of the rose garden, she is dressed in an emerald-green velvet we first dyed in our workshop and then embossed to give to it some texture. Origami influences complete the design on the skirt and sleeves too. This dress makes Belle part of the universe she finds. She is in communion with nature.
For the ballroom, and after for the hit-and-run on the frozen lake, Belle wears a plain silk blue dress with a sophisticated origami fold like a rose. When the Beast dances with her, she is like a live sculpture. Embroidery of dark blue stones reflects some light on the silk. Lace in the same tone of the dress covers her corset.
For the final [look], when the passion wins the part, of course a red dress. It’s an organza coral and flamboyant carmine. A textile artist named Tzuri Gueta created silicone embroideries mixed with gold laces and branches of coral. It was the most delicate dress Léa had to wear, and [she] had a lot of action scenes to deal with. I have to thank the fantastic dressers I had on set to manage such a complex dress.
WWW: Belle’s jewelry and headpieces were definitely standouts. Did you source these pieces, or were they made specifically for the film?
PYG: All the headpieces and jewelry were created for the show. Lorenzo Mancianti was in charge of the costume props. We have worked together for a long time, and his creativity is always stunning. Michel Carel created the tiara for the ivory dress and also the wings for the Beast. He is known to be a master of metal pieces. Gans wanted a fashion approach for costumes, so I welcomed some of the best partners I’ve ever had around me. I always consider the creation like a teamwork, and in this case I was very lucky.
WWW: Can you tell me about Beast’s costume? His cape reminded me of a rosebush.
PYG: For Beast, the concept was to create an armor in velvet and leather with all the magnificence of the Renaissance. In his past, Beast was a prince and a hunter, and he was always with his friends in the forest, but he was also an attractive figure in his castle. So these two parts of himself needed to share one costume for any occasion. It’s why we cut this armor with precious fabrics and delicate leather. When the prince is transformed into Beast, his costume also undergoes this evolution. It’s a sort of morphing of his silhouette. The costume was an articulated shell. The version for Beast is more organic, but the fabrics stay the same with the metal wings cut in a floral design. The bush is also a part of his costume. The fabric we used has a pattern of roses and thorns. The Beast can’t escape from his spell and trauma, so he carries on his shoulders the secret of his life and destiny. He is a prisoner of himself and of his original sin. His costume is his signature.
WWW: Which is your favorite costume from the film?
PYG: I have a particular affection for the ivory one because it looks simple but in reality was extremely sophisticated and a challenge to make possible. I’ve worked with Anne Versel and Daniel Bihin, the head key tailors for women and men, for many years. With talent, they never refuse any crazy request from me. These costumes would never have existed without them and the great team we had.
WWW: Which costume was the most labor-intensive? What went into the making of the piece?
PYG: All of them in a different way, but the most complex thing was to duplicate these costumes for action scenes. We developed them in haute couture style, and we spent long hours in the workshop. But the coral one was certainly the most complicated.
Beauty and the Beast opens in select theaters today.
Opening Image: Shout! Factory Films