In Conversation With: 'Spencer' Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran
Jacqueline Durran is more than experienced with bringing a period to life via the medium of costume—she won an Oscar for Little Women last year. Her latest project, Spencer, is a fashion lover's dream—from the attention to detail that went into recreating memorable outfits the Princess Diana wore, to the refreshed take on these looks so they weren’t simply a copy. We spoke with the costume designer to learn more about the process.
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What was the starting point of your collaboration with Pablo Larrain and how did it go through the whole project?
Pablo and I met in London and I brought boards of pictures of Diana that I had selected from the period 1988-92. I tried to show the different styles and colours that she was using in that period so I could get an idea of what Pablo was looking for in his interpretation. I used his feedback from that meeting as the starting point for the clothes that I prepared for the first fitting with Kristen Stewart.
Can you tell us about the process of working on this film? How did you choose all the Chanel pieces?
I have worked with Chanel on movies over the last 15 years and have always really enjoyed the process and of course the wonderful opportunity to use beautiful things! I looked back through pictures of Diana for images of her wearing Chanel. Most that I found were later than 1992, but there was one significant Chanel outfit that she wore when visiting Paris in 1988—the red coat that she wore on arrival in Paris. This became the red coat worn in the Christmas church scene. The blue cardigan/jacket fit very well with the style that she was wearing in our period, so I felt that it would fit in seamlessly. The Chanel costume jewellery we used was also perfect for our date, and for Diana’s style.
Which one was the most iconic according to you?
The most iconic has to be the Haute Couture dress. We had the asked if we could try some ’80s evening dresses from the Archive—mainly with the idea of using them for incidental scenes and for a scene where Diana was trying on different dresses changing her mind about what to wear.
There was also the main scene of Christmas evening where we needed an amazing dress. I had asked if there was a light coloured dress with a mermaid shape (volume at the hem), as I was already thinking of how it would look with a coat over the top, but significantly I thought that it should have sleeves.
So, all these amazing dresses arrived in London for Kristen’s first fitting. It was quite overwhelming, as most of them were dark, but amongst them was the original version of the beige dress. It was beautiful on the hanger, but once Kristen put it on, we all knew it had to have a big role in the movie!
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But it didn’t end there… The dress was an original dress designed by Karl in the 1980s and was too precious to be worn repeatedly, for all the days needed for shooting including exterior night shoots—there was too great a danger of damage.
For a moment we thought we wouldn’t be able to use it, but incredibly, Chanel offered to remake the dress in the Couture workrooms—an exact replica, which meant recreating the embroidery and beading of the original. The skill of the artisans working at Chanel is incredible, and when the dress arrived it was a perfect copy. None of the beauty had been lost—we were thrilled beyond words.
How important is the costume for an actor to get into character?
I think that costume is always important for an actor creating a character, but sometimes more than others, and I think this was the kind of job where it was important for Kristen and Pablo to recognise the character from the outside and to see our interpretation of Diana come to life.
How did Kristen Stewart respond to the Chanel looks?
Kristen really loved the Chanel looks—she could see how the archive styles really fitted into the story we were telling.
Why was Chanel so important to tell this story?
Spencer was a small film, but we wanted to establish a world that in many ways was the dream world of a princess. The luxury that Chanel represents was very much part of the story we were telling—we wanted the audience to understand the privilege of the world that Princess Diana was part of, and the Chanel brand was a great way of communicating that.
What was the most memorable moment on set with Kristen in one of the CHANEL looks?
For me, although the haute couture dress is the most iconic, the red coat was the first costume we found that really created Diana for our movie. In our second fitting with Kristen in London, we put together the original red coat from the Chanel archive and the hat made for the movie by a London milliner, and suddenly there we had found the look.
It was not an exact replication of one of Diana’s Sandringham looks, but it was directly inspired and made up from different elements that worked on Kristen. This was the method throughout—we wanted to capture the spirit of Princess Diana’s style, but not slavishly copy, and the red coat was our starting point!
How would you describe Kristen’s performance as Diana?
I absolutely love Kristen's performance as Diana—it is mesmerising. I think that it is a work of art, and she technically nailed the essentials—the accent and certain movements that we recognise as Diana’s, but her performance is so much more than an impression.
For me, she has created a fully rounded character that allows us to examine an idea of Diana. The film is a proposition—what if this was Diana’s reality? Kristen has brought this to life in an amazing performance.