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December 13, 2017
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Still from The Raven. Source: get film.co.uk.

Italy is counting down to the release of The Raven, a film that will come out in America a month later, on April 27. The dark thriller directed by James McTeigue is inspired by The Raven (1845), one of Edgar Allan Poe's most well-known poems, including the mysterious last five days of the writer's life. John Cusack plays the role of Poe, helping a detective (Luke Evans) hunt down a serial killer who appears to be using Poe's stories as guidance in a series of macabre murders. In his long, black wool overcoat and black cravat, his waistcoat and black leather gloves, Cusack stalks the streets of a gothic Baltimore during the late 19th century.

But who created Cusack's costumes that brought the legendary Poe to life? Tirelli Costumi atelier in Rome created clothes for the whole cast by faithfully reproducing the style of the late 19th century: a severe look for men in tailcoats, elegant coats decorated with capes and large gold buttons, beaver hats, gabardine raincoats, upright collar linen and cotton shirts, as well as breeches and trousers.

Still from The Raven.
Source: allmoviesphoto.com.

On the other hand, 19th century women's fashion was ruled by tight, low-necked corsets with short sleeves and large skirts sustained by crinoline (a petticoat made of horsehair woven with linen or silk). It was a rigid and wrinkle-free fabric introduced in 1840 by the Parisian manufacturer César-Luc-Louis Oudinot-Lutel.

While at the atelier, I had the chance to see how the actual costumes were made. Based on the movie script, The Raven's costume designer, Carlo Poggioli, drew drafts from which a team of five skilled tailors and freelance assistants created the masterpieces. The atelier is a sort of labyrinth with mannequins in every corner, celebrity photos covering every inch of the walls, drawers full of antique buttons from the 40's and 50's and hundreds of fabric rolls imported from the UK and Germany: chiffon, silk, organza and Mikado for ladies costumes; plain or striped wool and cashmere for men's.

"If popular fashion follows the seasons, the atelier follows periods, from the 16th century to the contemporary era, according to the script and the costume designer's ideas," says Laura Nobile, Coordinator of the atelier. A special section is dedicated to women's costumes and another for men. Roberto Misciali is the head of the men's department. In his career, Misciali earned the title of "Forbici D'oro" ("Golden Scissors") as the best Italian tailor in 1996, according to the Accademia Nazionale dei Sartori (National Academy of Tailors), and made costumes for many famous Italian and American actors. The Raven has been a new challenge for Misciali who liked adding his own creativity to the costume designer's drafts by hand-sewing a few decorations on Cusack's costumes.

If popular fashion follows the seasons, the atelier follows periods, from the 16th century to the contemporary era, according to the script and the costume designer's ideas.

There was a strong smell of chemical products while walking into the rooms downstairs. "That's because the fabric of some costumes usually need to be soaked in bleach for a couple of hours to have a particular tone, similar to beige, and in water to make them more elastic," Misciali explains. To reproduce the typical cravat from the 19th century for The Raven, the silk was stiffened for half a day. In fact, according to the trend introduced during the period of British Dandyism in 1800's by Lord George Bryan Brummel, only a stiffened soft silk cravat could be knotted in a special way to be up to the mandible for many hours as the fashion of those times required.

Attention to high quality and loyalty to authenticity are the main attributes of the Tirelli Costumi. Founded in 1964 by theatrical tailor Umberto Tirelli, nowadays the atelier counts 160,000 costumes in its new warehouse in Fornello near Rome. The costumes, which mirror clothes from the pre-Christian era to the 1970's/1980's, are made for cinema, theatre, Italian and American television shows and even opera at the Teatro Regio in Turin, La Scala in Milan and the Il Teatro dell'Opera in Rome.

The atelier is also home to Tirelli's private collection of original dresses: "He has been defined as the archeologist of fashion. Since he was young, he collected almost 15,000 authentic clothes from the 18th-19th century, which he bought at flea markets or was given as gifts by the Roman aristocracy," Nobile adds. "Tirelli used to dig into his noble friends' old trunks to find some precious antique dresses to bring or reproduce on stage. For example, in the award-winning 1963 film The Leopard, directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon and with the costumes designed by Piero Tosi, he used authentic livery from the late 1700's and the early 1800's, given [to him] by his friend, Princess Domietta del Drago."

Roberto Misciali at work at Tirelli Costumi.
Photograph courtesy of Tirelli Costumi.

Over the years, part of Tirelli's collection has been donated to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Tokyo Institute of Costume and Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Moreover, in 1986 one hundred and fifty authentic pieces and ninety five costumes went to the Gallery of Costume at Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

Thanks to the originality of the Italian tailoring, Tirelli's costumes won 14 Academy awards and had 24 nominations: in 1993, costume designer Gabriella Pescucci won for The Age of Innocence directed by Martin Scorsese and in 2006 it was Milena Canonero's turn for her work in Marie Antoinette directed by Sofia Coppola.

The atelier has also collaborated with Ann Roth, costume designer for The English Patient (1996) and Deborah Scott who won the Academy Award in 1997 for Titanic (1997). Even the costumes in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004) were custom-tailored by Tirelli Costumi atelier. The list is very long, not to forget Fellini's Casanova (1976), Amadeus (1984), The Name of the Rose (1986) and Moulin Rouge (2001).

When Umberto Tirelli passed away in 1990, Dino Trappetti became the President of Tirelli Costumi and created the Tirelli-Trappetti Foundation to preserve the historical costume collection as a point of reference for young students and tailors. "When we work on some projects, we are inspired by the original costumes, fabrics and accessories from Tirelli's private collection and we try to reproduce them in every detail to make them look as real as possible," Nobile concludes. "We have just made the costumes of the recent movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and we're about to finish those for The Best Offer that will be directed by Giuseppe Tornatore starring Geoffrey Rush." What's next? It's a mystery kept in the closet!

 

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