Paco Delgado is a celebrated costume designer who has worked with Pedro Almodavar and Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables. He reunited with Hooper for The Danish Girl, which tells the true story of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo transgender surgery.
Delgado received his second nomination for Best Costume design. I spoke to Delgado about the challenges of having to dress Eddie Redmanye both as a male and as a female, and discussed how he created the look of Lili and his partner Gerda.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on your second nomination. How does it feel to have your work celebrated like this?
Paco Delgado: I’m very very happy. It’s always a surprise because you never know what’s going to happen and you don’t expect it to happen. It was a very nice surprise and it’s fantastic.
AD: How do approach a character as complex as Lili?
PD: The first thing Tom Hooper told me was, he wanted me to think that Lili was a person trapped in a body that didn’t belong to her. Therefore the body was like a prison for her, on one side she was trapped, on the other, she was protected from the outside because to be transgender in that time would have been such a shock to society. So, that was the first point of departure.
I think that was the point that made me create her world. We also had to do fine research on Denmark, the period and the life of both Gerda and Lili because we can’t forget that they are real people, and we had a lot of material already with pictures and the paintings that they did of each other. Especially Gerda’s paintings of Lili, and that was more or less what we tried to do.
The most important thing was we had to portray this special character with a lot of respect, to make the woman that she was believable and not like a caricature or anything like that.
AD: You mentioned the paintings. How much of that was a reference point for you?
PD: We didn’t really copy anything 100% except the dress that Gerda is painting at the beginning of the movie of her friend with a dress for the ballet. That was it, a reproduction. The rest was more trying to get the feeling of their relationship.
We didn’t really copy much 100%. What was more important was creating dresses that were suitable for Eddie (Redmayne) to look good as a woman. From very early on, we were playing with Eddie to see what was more suitable for him in terms of what areas of the body we had to hide, what areas of the body we had to show. Most of the Lili paintings were really revealing and that wouldn’t have worked with Eddie. He has male bone structure. I was worried about his shoulders.
AD: Was the scarf used to hide Eddie’s Adam’s apple or was there more to it?
PD: The scarf was in the script as a metaphor of Gerda and Lili’s relationship. If you see in the movie, it goes from one hand to another, and by the end it floats in the air as if Lili’s soul is free. It was a big help as well for hiding Eddie’s Adam’s apple too.
When we were doing our research, there wasn’t much surgery to change your body in the ways we have available today. There wasn’t hormone therapy that exists today. We asked ourselves, how would Lili hide the Adam’s apple? That was the clue as to how we worked with Eddie.
AD: What other challenges did you have when have to go through dressing a character who was going through a transition in 1926?
PD: First you have to do the research to find the tools that Lili had. They didn’t have the surgery such as breast implants, all they had were corsets. So, we used that to create a waisted figure for Eddie. They didn’t have the hormone therapy to start injecting or taking to change your gender. We tried to follow the lines of what Lili could do. That was really how we did it.
Eddie is really tall. I don’t think Lili was that tall. We had to do things like put Eddie in really low heels, and Alicia as the partner Gerda in higher heels to create a better balance.
The camera had to be at a certain angle to hide the fact that Eddie was a tall man and he was playing a woman who wasn’t meant to be that tall.
The other thing is we had to work with and find shapes to make Eddie as realistic as possible. What colors made for softer shoulders and would soften the silhouette as Eddie is much more angular than a woman should be. We found that pastels were much better for him.
The Adam’s apple as we discussed, which I had to hide with a scarf because we didn’t want high collars all the time. We used high collars at the beginning of the movie when he was Einar. We wanted to see more flesh when he was Lili.
We followed our instincts and went with what worked.
AD: Talk to me about dressing Alicia Vikander’s character Gerda
PD: Alicia’s character is dressed really well. She’s dressed as well as Einar, in tailored suits, woolen fabrics that were stiff and restrained. When Lili gets liberated, Alicia gets liberated too. It’s a journey of two people, it’s not just Lili liberating herself, but also Gerda is liberating herself with her. I don’t think Lili would have been capable of doing what she didn’t have Gerda by her side, as a help and support. We always thought that the two characters have to go hand in hand and have the same journey. It’s not just because you get freer that the people around you don’t. It’s quite the opposite. If Lili gets freer, so does Gerda. We have to remember that another theme is the amazing love story. That someone, out of love, that Gerda does, gives herself up for the other person to become the person she wants to be. Lili has to break her mold but Gerda too, she has to break her own too, to go against something she didn’t want to happen.
AD: So, how much of the wardrobe did you create and how much was bought?
PD: For Eddie, as we’ve been saying, is really tall. It was impossible to find things for him. We created a lot for him. I think about 80% of his outfits were made. We sourced a lot of old dresses, took them apart and made new dresses with the fabric. It’s hard to create those 20’s dresses with the fabrics we have nowadays because they were different. The chiffons and silks are different now to what they were so we did a lot of recycling.
For Gerda, that was different, because Alicia is not very tall. She’s average in height. We could fit her in more existing costumes.
AD: Do you have a favorite costume?
PD: I love the cream suit that Eddie wears in the park when he’s beaten up by the two Parisian rogue boys. I love it. It represents the road of no return for Lili, it’s when she decides to become who she thinks she is.
AD: You’ve worked with Almodovar, who’s considered one of the greatest film makers in Spanish history. What was that like?
PD: It’s amazing. He’s a guy who loves the visual aspects of movies. He has a particular way. He creates such a world that we now have Almodovarian. When we want to say something looks like the world of Almodovar, he’s already an adjective existing. I’ve been very lucky to work with amazing directors.