Directors Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski both brought their previous costume design collaborators to the massive undertaking of Cloud Atlas. For Tykwer, the segments he directed were designed by Pierre-Yves Gayraud. For the Wachowski siblings, it was costume designer Kym Barrett.
Gayraud approached his work with a motley of research and photographs. “I prepared a large mood board, which covered the three segments I was in charge of designing – the 1930s Frobisher, the 1970s Luisa Rey, and the 2012s Cavendish. It was filled with photographs of iconic pictures of the different periods like a collage. The photographers August Sander, Richard Avedon and Martin Parr gave the basis of my research additional fashion details, and samples of fabrics pins topped [the collage] to complete the atmosphere of the different periods,” said Gayraud.
Connection is the theme of the film so Gayraud kept this in mind when he began playing with his collage. He was careful to keep the stories as linked as possible in every subtle way. “I organized this look book with bridges between the segments, playing with the colors, details and shape. One element from the 1930s could become a vintage piece in the 1970s to create an echo,” he explained. Connecting so many actors, stories and time periods wasn’t always a simple task. “The challenge was to keep the idea that at the end it would be one movie and not six different ones. Barrett and I tried to connect everything together.”
Cloud Atlas was an extraordinary experience for Gayraud. “This type of movie is a gift. We had a strong story, an amazing cast and three directors directing the whole orchestra. It was also very unusual to share with another costume designer a big adventure, especially when you have to cover so many different periods, countries and stories.” But the experience of sharing the same cast in all the different stories with Barrett was also a fun one for Gayraud. He recalled his favorite memory: “When Halle Berry arrived on the sage in the Jocasta character, in a 1930s silhouette, with blonde hair, green eyes, very pale skin, it was really magic for her and I was very impressed like everybody else.”
For Barrett, the collaborative process was a highlight too, not just with the crew but also with the other artists she encountered. “Oftentimes, working in the other countries I endeavored to design around the talents of the craftspeople around me. I enjoyed the process of collaborating with interesting artists to create something unusual and interesting that served the story we were telling,” said Barrett.
Barrett got crafty in her designs and the way they could be realized with the constraints of the budget. “The most interesting sequence for me was the 2321 Zachery sequence. I researched about nomadic peoples and how they carried their decorative art history with them. I came up with macramé and woven clothes and homeware designs together with a wonderful group of German and Italian craft ladies found on internet circles. Some had never even met before and were only friends on social media.” Connecting a group of people and a story that would seem otherwise unconnected was what Cloud Atlas was all about. And that’s what Gayraud and Barrett sought to do in more ways than one.