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In New Anna Karenina Film, Dior Couture for the 1870s

Photo: Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

Having worked with Keira Knightley and director Joe Wright on Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, the costume designer Jacqueline Durran has become known for her conceptual take on period clothes. And her latest with the team, Anna Karenina, has an impressive wardrobe based around the idea of mixing chic 1950s couture with traditional styles from the 1870s, the time period in which the story is set. To achieve this, she turned to the houses of Balenciaga and Dior, combining their nipped-in bodices with the typically full, floor-length skirts of the nineteenth century. “I’m not trying to do accurate period costume but some kind of hybrid, something new,” she explained to the Cut. This worked especially well for a film that’s intentionally (and overly) theatrical. Throughout, Knightley is often draped in vintage furs, plus diamonds and strands of pearls by Chanel, worth up to $2 million apiece. Click through to learn more from the costume designer, whose film opens November 16.

You designed the costumes for Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, both of which starred Keira Knightley. What is your relationship like with her?
“She is a great collaborator and we both take our visual lead from Joe [Wright, director] who has a strong visual sense of what he wants his films to look like. In the eight year span, she has become much more conscious of costume and the way that things fit and what she likes and doesn’t like. She never lets what she personally likes take precedent over what would be right for the movie. She’s not at all vain about anything that she wears.”

How did you research the costumes for Anna Karenina?
“I looked at lots of fifties couture, and I looked at photographs and drawings of 1870s costumes and came up with a hybrid of the two. It was really about getting the shape of the 1870s and taking away all of the trimmings and laying really recognizable fifties details on top, which I hope made it clear that I’m not trying to do accurate period costumes.”

Anna Karenina wears some serious jewelry in the film. At one point she’s wearing $2 million worth of diamonds by Chanel, right?
“All of the diamonds, all of the pearls, everything that Anna wears is from Chanel. There’s one or two vintage pieces that aren’t. But every pearl, every diamond is real and from Chanel fine jewelry. It was about finding the most flattering and interesting way of always adding diamonds to her costume, because it was part of the idea of Anna that she would always have diamonds around her. If she wasn’t wearing diamonds, she’d be wearing ropes and ropes of real pearls. There was always an air of opulence and extravagance, and that’s one of the things we did to emphasize those traits of character.”

What was the trickiest costume that Knightley had to wear?
“The most challenging thing for her was the dance, because it was very physically strenuous to do those dances at the ball all day for days on end — really exhausting. We had to try and make the dresses as lightweight as possible so there was a minimum amount for her to carry in addition to the exertion of the dance.”

Anna Karenina wears a lot of black, white, and red. How is that significant?
“It was about how the color works in each scene, rather than an overall span. It is true that, in some ways, white comes in more at the end of the film, because it was summer [in those scenes] and she was wearing white for summer. In other instances, there is a significance of the white in her dress. It’s a mirroring of a triumph she had in the black dress to the humiliation she has in the white dress. Once she reaches the hotel in Moscow, everything’s unraveling. She’s no longer wearing frilly, complete outfits: She’s wearing parts of things. One thing I really like is that she’s wearing her white, short dress with bare feet. You never really see that in period films. I liked that, the unraveling of everything.”

In Anna Karenina, Dior Couture for the 1870s