(PCM) We recently had a chance to catch up with Oscar nominated costume designer Paco Delgado to discuss bringing the story of Lili Elbe to life through costuming in the film “The Danish Girl”. His work on “The Danish Girl” marks the second Academy Award nomination for Paco Delgado, as he was previously nominated for his phenomenal work on the film “Les Miserables” .
Q: What did you enjoy the most about working on the “Danish Girl”?
PACO DELGADO: The most amazing thing is to be able to work on a project that is relevant for people. I hope that this movie can be able to help people see transgender issues and gain a better understanding.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in dressing Lily through the entire transformation?
PD: Well, I think the whole thing itself because if you imagine when I got this script and from the very beginning Tom Hooper told me this character was going to be played by Eddie [Redmanye] and I know Eddie from other jobs in the past and the challenge was how to make this man look like a woman, a real woman, a believable one and in tune with all the respect that we have to do to portray this singular and amazing person.
We were very lucky because the level of respect and trust that we had between me and Eddie and Tom and Jan Sewell, the make-up artist, was really, really high and we worked together in a certain way with trying and failing and then trying and succeeding. We found how to make Eddie look like a fantastic woman.
Q: Everyone did such a tremendous job with the film. Were there any additional challenges based upon the fact that Lili was actually a real person, from a research perspective?
PD: The difficult thing is Eddie is a tall man and he has a man’s bone structure, as he has the body of a man without the curve or shape of a woman. He also has an Adam’s Apple, so all these little things caused us to start working with fabric, to think which fabric worked better for him. There were certain fabrics that cling to his body or were cloaking on his body and didn’t show his shape.
We also looked at which colors were more softening to his angles, because he is a man with angles with a very powerful bone structure in his shoulders, so we had to look at what colors were making him softer and in this movie a lot of it is using a scarf going around his neck. It’s just because he had an Adam’s Apple and we had to hide it somehow.
Obviously, if you know the 20’s, you don’t see a lot of open chest and the neck, but we have the scarf to hide that. We just put ourselves in the situation, if we were Lili, what would you do? Because at that point there wasn’t a cosmetic surgery as we know it today. Now you can do surgery on your Adam’s Apple, but you couldn’t at the time. If she had an Adam’s Apple she had to live with it and she had to find out how to hide it on a daily basis. This is the way we work really.
Q: Can you talk about more of the symbolism behind the scarf other than to just mask the Adam’s Apple?
PD: The scarf has two different properties in this film. One was to hide the masculinity that Lily had and the other one was like a symbolic in place for Lili’s soul and of Lili and Gerda’s bonding because this scarf goes from one to the other through the whole movie. It represented and was a metaphor of their ties together.
We also have to remember that this movie is about Lili’s journey into become a woman but also it’s a love story basically. There is an amazing love story between two people who are capable of giving up themselves in order to become freer somehow.
Gerda’s love for Lily is so high that she is really capable of helping Lili find life but sacrificing her relationship, which was the dearest thing she had. That scarf represented, in a way, this bonding but also this symbolic part at the end where she leaves the scarf to be freer and expose the soul of Lili.
Q: Can you talk a bit about the power of costumes in general , including the ones we wear in our daily lives?
PD: I am real advocate of costumes and clothes and I think we have to be aware of how important clothes are because while they have a functional side, obviously they are good for us when we are cold or they are good for us when we need to be protected, but also clothes reflect our psychology, our state-of-mind, and our social status.
In this special story, costumes provide a visual side to the world if you want to change your gender because also costumes are attached to gender and you can see how the costumes can have different reactions from people. In this movie we have this moment where Eddie is wearing this suit that is a suit made in a fabric that flows much the same way as a woman fabric and he becomes a very ambiguous shape in this particular outfit.
We have to remember that sometimes clothes can draw reaction from people, for instance if you are very well dressed people can say ‘Oh, you look wonderful’ but also, if you are offended by someone’s outfit you can get aggressive and that shows you how important costumes are. They are a very, very important part of our society and us as human beings.