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Costume Designer's Rome Experience

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It was late and the sun was setting in Rome as I walked home from work. When I reached my street I realized the addresses of the buildings were not in numerical order, but in a circle. I was standing at buildings numbered 100 to my left and 42 on my right. Knowing my address was 91 was no help. I asked a local woman who smiled sympathetically and pointed me in the right direction.It was early August and my first day working on a commercial for Sky Italia, an Italian broadcaster that is launching a digital TV service with over 100 channels.The first part of the production was shot with PURE, a New York commercial production company, followed by a week in Rome with Cineroma Productions. In New York I had just finished the costumes for a commercial with various movie icons like glamorous star, Broadway showgirl, cowboys and a monster.The second part of the production was set in Rome in three different periods: the ’30s, the ’50s and the ’70s, with a backdrop of movie posters and passers-by of each decade. I had done a lot of research to become acquainted with Italian cinema and the various styles.My first step was to contact the different costume houses in Rome such as Tirelli. I printed out all my European size-charts for suits, hats, and shoes, and studied the city maps, public transportation routes and packed my metric tape measure. This prepro groundwork turned out to be invaluable.Normally the costume designer will make an appointment with a particular costume house, discuss the styles, sizes and colors needed, and then make an appointment to go to the warehouse. At Annamode Costumes they had tailors working and mannequins that matched each suit size—a great idea as it eliminates the need to measure a jacket at every angle.I also checked with Il Costume and met with company head Guiseppina Angotzi, who reassured me that they had a small warehouse 10 minutes away where I could pull all the clothes the next morning.Back at Cineroma I was informed that I would get a seamstress to help me with fittings and alterations; I also received all the cast information.In Rome, renting costumes for one day costs the same as renting them for 10 days, so it’s advantageous to book them for longer. The price is 100 to 150 euros per costume, but I soon realized that it does not include shoes, which are a separate item with a price range of 40 to 70 euros per pair, and only a small number of shoe rental places are open in August.The next morning I went to Il Costume warehouse and met my assistant/seamstress Gisa. We pulled clothes with two gentlemen, Tony and Alessio. I had memorized key Italian words and phrases for clothes, colors and sizes. Alessio also coordinated our appointment with our shoe connection, Arditi. After pulling all the clothes we went and had an espresso. In Rome, it’s common not to rush off but to chat a bit and catch up.Our next stop was Via Sannio, a big outdoor market, to look for the actress’ Capri pants, ’70s sandals, hats, scarves and sunglasses. Gisa offered me a ride on her Vespa, handing me her extra helmet.We found almost everything at the market except for gloves, so it was on to Arditi for shoes. That took a while as the shoe rental house had recently moved to north suburbs; we had to dig through the stacks and find sizes and styles appropriate to the time period.By then it was time to do the fitting with the eight actors at Il Costume offices. I brought my kit bag, which included items such as jewelry, scarves and gloves. We whizzed through each fitting, adding accessories that I had brought and photographing everyone so that director Micha Riss and producer Bill Denahy could see the looks. At the end of the day our rentals and market finds were a hit and we were all set to shoot the next day with no major alterations. Gisa gave me a big thumbs up.Our shoot was to take place in Piazza degli Zingari. We were not allowed to alter any exteriors, so the art department had to set up a wall on top of a wall. Gisa brought her own steam iron and sewing machine. Base camp was I Diavoletti, a restaurant overlooking the piazza. Both Stefania and Silvia, the make-up artist consulted me regarding the look of each character and I shared with them my research of faces and hairdos from each decade. They would ask me questions like whether I wanted a natural look, a bigger eyebrow, and what hairstyle would best compliment the clothing.The Italian actresses who played the ’70s girl loved the shoes so much that she bought them from the production. I helped wrap out the show at the end of the day and went over the returns to Il Costume and Arditi as well as packed up the rest of the purchases for PURE. It was a wonderful feeling to collaborate on a look, recreating moments of past films. All the elements came together. As for Rome, it is unlike any other city I have worked in; even walking in a circle is fun.

Written by Astrid Brucker

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