Paolo Sorrentino‘s Youth tells the story of a vacationing retired orchestra conductor (Michael Caine) who receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform again. Costume designer Carlo Poggioli, who is known for his work on Cold Mountain (2003), Van Helsing (2004) and Divergent (2014) was excited at the opportunity to be a part of Youth, especially because he had always been a fan of Sorrentino’s. “Immediately I was very enthusiastic because I read the script and we talked about the actors. Usually, after the first discussion with the director, I like to immediately do drawings because I like to show the director my exact ideas for the actors,” said Poggioli. In this case, he was inspired by many famous conductors and composers and took some cues from the way they dressed. The costume designer and the director discussed these looks and the collaboration was off and running.
Poggioli considered the characters and began breaking down who they were. For Caine’s character, everything he wore was made specifically for him, down to the last tie. Everything he wore was something that he had in his wardrobe from years ago because he was a character who no longer thought about his clothes. “Because in the film, he doesn’t care anymore after his wife is going to die. He is not going to conduct anymore so everything I made for him was aged and well worn,” Poggioli explained. The English styled suits he wore were made by a tailor in Naples. “They’re very famous for their fabrics because they use wonderful tweeds, cashmere, very English stuff.”
Besides fabrics, colors were also used to express the character of the conductor. Cold colors were especially relevant. “We went to the green, the blue, the light blue and black of course…So the first time I went to the fitting with Michael, he never talked to me or to the tailor and I was very worried and I thought something’s very wrong here. At the end when we tried the last suit, at one point he said, after an hour, ‘Carlo, I love the fabrics. I love the colors and I understand I can play the character very well with these things.’ So I was very happy.”
The collaboration with Sorrentino was also an interesting one because the director was so precise. After the fittings with each actor, new ideas were generated from him. “The challenge was to go in the morning and [have Sorrentino] ask me for something new, and he was always right. I had the fortune to work with Fellini in his last movie before he died and Fellini was exactly the same. He would come in the evening and tell me ‘So tomorrow I would like to shoot this, so I would like 12 red dresses and also green dresses.’ And of course in the morning, he came to me and he said ‘But Carlo, we talked about the white dress.’ So [Sorrentino] reminded me a lot of Fellini. He had the same process of ideas.” The element of surprise in each day’s shoot made the project very interesting and fun for Poggioli as he embraced the process of collaborating with Sorrentino.