William Makepeace Thackeray’s writing was said, “to catch visually and actually life as it passes in fragments before us.” Costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor captures the soul of the author’s work with her inspired and fanciful costume design for director Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair. The timeless classic follows the life and loves of Becky Sharpe (Reese Witherspoon), a girl from a lower station in life who succeeds in Regency society, only to be cast out when her ambition takes her too far.Known for her work on contemporary films, Pasztor had never done a period movie. But Nair, who didn’t want a typical “frock” movie, was drawn to her by her work on Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King.“My big criterion was always to not work with people who had made English period films,” says Pasztor. “They enter an auto-pilot zone. Mira had a very strong and unique artistic vision to paint her film. We worked together closely to take all of these challenges into the design elements to complete her vision.”Pasztor created ingenious and original designs. For insight she went to Thackeray himself, who penned the fashions of the period in sumptuous detail. Building costumes from his guidelines, Pasztor added new textures with unconventional materials such as feathers, rope and frayed fabric. Nair compliments Pasztor, “In her hands, everything was fashion. I wanted her to be correct for the time, and create clothing that we would all lust for.”The costuming was all handmade with the ruffled seams, silhouettes and shapes typical of the Regency era; the color palette was informed by the vibrant colors of India. Use of unusual elements came from contemporary designers like Jean Paul Gaultier. “My inspiration came from a wide range of different cultures at different times,” says Pasztor. “It was important to combine the English traditional and cultural references with other European influences and also mix it with the influence of India that was a big part of the trading culture during that time.”Pasztor created layers of tight-fitting, lived-in clothing, “to help all the characters understand the emotional layers in that society so they could slowly peel off all the layers to find their own existence though the drama.” She did this for over 67 speaking roles and numerous extras, producing hundreds of costumes, with abundant layers. Because it was impossible to make costumes for everybody, Pasztor re-used underneath layers for different characters and discovered some incredible pieces at a costume house in Paris. Her inventiveness changed the daunting task into a creative bonanza.
Written by Mary Ann Skweres