‘Spencer’ Costume Designer Raves About Kristen Stewart: ‘Do People Not Realize She’s One of the Great Actresses?’

·4-min read

A version of this story about “Spencer” first appeared in the Below-the-Line Issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer” takes place at Christmas in 1991, as the 30-year-old Princess Diana (played by Kristen Stewart, also 30 at the time of filming) is struggling with the monarchical pomp that has encaged her. The film is deliberately fictionalized – it opens with an epigraph calling itself “a fable from a true tragedy” – and Diana’s wardrobe spins a yarn, so to speak, as well.

The film opens with a scene showing Diana wardrobed in a plaid blazer with brass buttons, a coat similar to one that the real princess had once worn. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran was slightly skeptical, however, when designing the piece. “I was worried that this jacket wouldn’t quite work,” she said. “I thought perhaps it was too boxy and too long. But I have to say that Kristen Stewart is amazing. She understands clothes so well that she can just wear things and find a way to make them work, beyond what I could have imagined.”

The project involved photo research, yet Durran, who has won Oscars for “Anna Karenina” and “Little Women,” was not obsessed with replication. “Diana was photographed so often that you can look online and see what she was wearing on almost any date,” said Durran. “But it seemed much more interesting to take elements of her style and toss them together and to tell a new story, one which wasn’t tied strictly to the facts. Though the film is set in 1991, Pablo stressed that we weren’t speaking about a specific moment in time.”

In April of 1989, for example, Diana wore a sharp red suit with white trim (and a matching red hat) to the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. Durran seized on the look as inspiration. “But we changed the color to a pale yellow because Pablo was very specific about the sequence of colors in the film,” she said. “Even though yellow is more of an Easter color than a Christmas color, he wanted it as part of his vision and I totally agreed. He also wanted to keep the hat, which looks like a pirate’s hat. Pablo loved that and so we did it in yellow, too.”

Still, Durran was conscious of the public’s familiarity with Diana’s style and so she also included pieces of clothing that were precisely right. “To unsettle the audience by doing both things,” she said. Those included a red and black bomber jacket which Durran bought while sleuthing on eBay. “It was made by Mondi, which is an almost forgotten brand now, but it was sort of big at that moment. I was thrilled with it and Kristen was thrilled with it.”

Stewart and Durran, who had never met before “Spencer,” spent one exhaustive nine-hour day fitting all the costumes for the movie. Given that Stewart is a brand ambassador for Chanel, the fashion house collaborated with the filmmakers, including on the film’s stunning centerpiece costume, a “gorgeous white evening dress with gold embroidery,” in Durran’s words. (It’s also featured on the film’s poster.)

“Chanel’s archivists provided that, based on a dress Diana wore, which they remade for Kristen,” she said. “And, oh, the way it is very fitted through the body and then kicks out at the bottom, in that beautiful light color. At the fitting with Pablo and Kristen, we just knew it was the one.”

Durran explained that there is no magic formula for making an actor appear taller via clothing. Stewart is five-foot-four, a half-foot shorter than the five-foot-ten Diana.

“There isn’t any one rule in fitting clothes to enhance your height. It’s a combination of Pablo’s camera angles and…” – Durran paused to emphasize the importance of what she was about to say next – “…the fact that Kristen Stewart is such an amazing actress. I feel like she’s still not recognized enough for how great she is and what daring choices she makes.” (Durran’s point about Stewart not being widely acknowledged was bolstered this week when the actress was snubbed for a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.)

But the costume designer is effusive in her praise. “I can’t speak of Kristen highly enough. I want to use my voice to promote her as the truly great actress that she is. Do people not realize she’s one of the great actresses? She’s on the same level as the greats. She deeply understood the logic and inner philosophy of Diana’s style in order to make this film work.”

Read more from the Below-the-Line Issue here.

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Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap
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