Director Tom Hooper‘s The Danish Girl tells the story of artist Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and his journey as a transgender pioneer in the early 1920s. Costume designer Paco Delgado, known for his work on Biutiful (2010), The Skin I Live In (2011) and Les Misérables (2012), the latter for which he received an Academy Award nomination, was very happy to be a part of the project. Delgado also worked with Hooper on Les Misérables, an experience he enjoyed immensely and was excited to collaborate with the director again for this film. Working with Redmayne, who also starred in Les Misérables was another draw. “I have really really wonderful memories of our collaboration,” Delgado said.
He began his design process by looking into the mechanics of the script. He asked many questions: who are the characters, what kind of environments do they live in, how does it affect them and how does it affect the clothes. Then images from the period filled in more blanks.
“For this period, photography already existed so you look at the photography and for this instance this was the life of a person who was real and lived in the 1920s and you try to find those photographs,” Delgado explained. He also lucked out because this project has been in development for years so there was already a lot of research found by the time he joined the team. Next, he and his team traveled to Copenhagen and studied Elbe’s world and the lighting of the city. All this served to establish a foundation to Delgado’s work. “With all these ideas and all these images, you start designing and creating the ideas for the clothes,” he said.
From the beginning, the goal was to create the character of Einar Wegener as though Lili Elbe was in him the whole time. One of the challenges Delgado faced was doing a work that was faithful to the character. The brilliant use of color helped him accomplish this goal. “With everything that happens in Copenhagen, we used blues, greys and blacks and then when they move to Paris it was a more modern, avant-garde and fashion-conscious city and we started moving into warmer colors like greens, oranges and reds. For us, it was trying to depict this new freedom, this much more emotionally positive place.”
Delgado created many memorable looks in The Danish Girl and one stands out to him especially because of the emotional response it caused. For better or for worse, clothes can make people feel intensely and seeing this in effect was rather fascinating to him. “It was an outfit worn by Redmayne and it was for me a very transitional point in the movie. It’s a suit that still has aspects of masculinity but at the same time is very feminine…and it happens when he is wearing this outfit, rough men in the park attacked his character. It shows you how sometimes people can get offended by clothes, even to the point of having really violent emotions,” the costume designer said.