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After boffo box office and Oscar accolades, BLACK SWAN is a film that’s not only on every horror fan’s radar, but on the rest of the film fan public as well. Darren Aronofsky’s critically acclaimed psychological thriller (arriving on DVD and Blu-ray from Fox Home Entertainment this Tuesday, March 29), with its erotic yet frightening subject matter, follows young Nina (Best Actress winner Natalie Portman) as she seeks to reach the pinnacle of the ballet world who ultimately descends into madness.
Helping to convey some of that insanity and striking beauty on screen are fashion designers Rodarte, who are famous in their own right for beautiful and bold designs seen on such high wattage stars as Cate Blanchett, Keira Knightley, Reese Witherspoon and Portman herself. Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the brains behind the Rodarte name, are not just your average high fashion designers, either. They are huge horror movie buffs and even claim to have been swayed by the dark side of the genre on more than one occasion throughout their designing careers. FANGORIA recently got a chance to discuss these dark influences with the Mulleavy sisters (who talk as one) and gained some intriguing insight on the hit film as well.
FANGORIA: How did you become involved with BLACK SWAN?
KATE & LAURA MULLEAVY: We met with Darren Aronofsky in Brooklyn after Natalie Portman suggested that we would be a good fit for designing costumes for the film. We prepared for weeks before our first meeting, researching the ins and outs of the ballet world, and the history of its participation in the discussion of voyeurism.
FANG: Is this your first venture into movies?
KATE & LAURA: BLACK SWAN is the first feature film that we have worked on. Darren had an amazing vision for the film and asked us to custom design a modern-era SWAN LAKE ballet and specific pieces that would be integral to building the aesthetic for the film. It was an intense and incredible undertaking.
FANG: What did working on this film mean to you?
KATE & LAURA: We loved being able to build costumes for this film. Working with Darren was so rewarding; his stylization and understanding of the ballet’s underbelly gave life to the work that we made. Natalie Portman is a brilliant actress whose dedication to her performance as a ballerina in BLACK SWAN is going be a part of film history.
FANG: With that in mind, are there any directors you’d specifically like to design the costumes for their films? A dream job, perhaps?
KATE & LAURA: THE LOST BOYS would have been our dream job, but the costumes in that film are already perfect.
FANG: Many of the themes for BLACK SWAN are dark. What did you draw upon for inspiration for the designs?
KATE & LAURA: No matter what beauty the audience longs to see, there is still the brutal training, body disfiguration and backstage reality that makes ballet so complex. The story of SWAN LAKE unfolds as a tale of the transformation of the maiden into a swan and then mutates again into a tale of mistaken identity. The dark and extremely beautiful transformation in SWAN LAKE mirrors the physical transformation that the ballerina undergoes in order to perform. We were inspired by the idea of transformation, specifically the dichotomy between perfection and decay. For the Black and White Swan tutus and the romantic Maiden tutu, we used fabrications such as embroidered vinyl, layers of hand applied feather and Swarovski crystals, silk chiffon, silk nets and woven organzas, in order to make the costumes look perfect and yet ruined. The Maiden and White Swan tutus were designed to look delicate and downy. They represent the gossamer, ethereal swan. The Black Swan tutu is more menacing and linked to Von Rothbart. We imagined that these characters would be similar and visually connected to each other, we envisioned them as broken mechanical birds that are in disguise. Von Rothbart developed into a completely black creature and Odile’s face, we hid under black net. The shredded cape of Von Rothbart was made from pulled wool and covered in layers of green and black iridescent feather. His breast was padded out and his shoulders enlarged. We built the Black Swan crown and Von Rothbart demon horns from burnt copper.
For the day wear, we really incorporated the look of Degas’ Bronzes. The gray practice tutu, which is the prize possession of a prima ballerina, is the first object that Nina is shown coveting in the film. Yet, when you see it, it is just a dirty old tutu that is passed down from lead dancer to dancer. We covered it in shredded cheesecloth and paired it with a hand knit gray leotard that looks torn and made of spider webs. Knitwear is so important to dance, and we were able to make pieces to layer and play with like leg and arm warmers and even the swan scarf, which became Nina’s signature scarf.
FANG: It’s hard to imagine you delving into horror at all in your day-to-day lives and chosen careers. Was it an interesting diversion working on this film?
KATE & LAURA: Our fall 2008 collection was actually inspired by horror films and ballet, so it has always been subject matter that we have been interested in.
FANG: How long did it take you from conceptual beginnings to finished product?
KATE & LAURA: While we knew about the idea and began development in August, the official process took from the beginning of October to the end of January. The process was always evolving, with ideas constantly developing into more elaborate designs.
FANG: Was there anything especially challenging about working on costumes for a psychological thriller as bizarre and disturbing as BLACK SWAN?
KATE & LAURA: The most difficult part was designing tutus that were functioning and were to be shot up close, while still maintaining the beauty of a distant view. Every costume had a special nuance, for example, Nina’s gown had to be specially designed to cover and unveil her scarring.
FANG: What was your favorite part of working on BLACK SWAN?
KATE & LAURA: It was definitely seeing the film in its final state. It is a powerful film and seeing Natalie transform into the role of Nina was an incredible artistic process to have witnessed. We also loved building the demon form of Von Rothbart. Seeing him in the opening sequence with Benjamin Millepied’s groundbreaking choreography will be something we always remember.
FANG: So, word has it the two of you are big horror fangirls. What are some of your favorite?
KATE & LAURA: Where do we begin? WHO COULD KILL A CHILD?, FRANKENSTEIN, THE BEYOND, HALLOWEEN, BLOOD FEAST, SUSPIRIA, VAMPYR, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, DAY OF THE DEAD, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, DRACULA, OPERA, THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, THE INNOCENTS, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, AUDITION, WHITE ZOMBIE, NEAR DARK, BLACK SUNDAY, BAY OF BLOOD, EYES WITHOUT A FACE, BLACK SABBATH, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, PROFONDO ROSSO and HORROR OF DRACULA.
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