A honeymoon party for the super-rich takes a dark turn in Death on the Nile, a new adaptation of Agatha Christie‘s classic 1937 mystery. Directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh, who also stars as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, the film co-stars Gal Gadot, Emma Mackey, Annette Bening, Armie Hammer, and Sophie Okonedo.
Gadot stars as heiress Linette Ridgeway, who has stolen the dashing Simon Doyle (Hammer) from her best friend, Jacqueline (Mackey), and promptly takes over Aswan’s posh Cataract Hotel to celebrate her honeymoon. Later, she and her wedding party journey on the Nile to the famous temple at Abu Simbel.
For Costume Designer Paco Delgado, it was crucial that the wealthy characters in Death on the Nile were “fashion aware.”
“We wanted to have costumes that reflected the joy of being on holidays. Also I wanted to create costumes that reflected some of the Hollywood glamour of the period,” said Delgado.
When he started working with Gadot, Delgado said he found inspiration in silver screen legend Carole Lombard.
“I [told] her I was thinking about Lombard for her character, even though she was blonde and Gal is a brunette. She told me that she met once with Francis Ford Coppola, and that’s what he said to her, that she reminded him of Lombard. So I thought, ‘bingo, we have to go that way.'”
Delgado was also reminded of Jackie Onassis, who often dressed in pale, cream colors on yachts. Because they stained easily, light-colored clothes would be a sign of wealth in Depression-era Egypt. The characters in Death on the Nile have enough money to change their elaborate outfits frequently throughout the day. Thanks to Delgado’s subtle touches, the cut of a suit or dress can indicate a character’s social standing.
Take, for example, Poirot and the bespoke suits he wears — clearly the work of a Saville Row tailor. The detective starts the movie in three-piece linen suits in bright colors and plaids, and as the story progresses, his palette becomes darker, more sober, just as the circumstances around him become more troubling.
“Kenneth told me that Poirot is a little bit of a control freak. He has to control every aspect of his life, down to his clothes. So we dressed him in proper suits at first. But at the same time, we wanted to show he is in a kind of disguise, that he is pretending in a way that he is on holiday,” explained Delgado.
Delgado led a team of 65, who created 150 costumes in total. Lead actors could have as many as 10 costumes. He and his team dressed Bening in masculine outfits that were quite daring for their time since she’s playing a bohemian artist — someone who didn’t much care what others thought of her.
“She’s rich. She’s one of the few characters who doesn’t depend on someone else’s money,” says Delgado. “She’s a one-woman show, an artist at a time when it was hard for women. She’s avant-garde, which is why I thought she had to wear trousers. Of all the fashions in the movie, she is wearing the most cutting-edge costumes, very sculptural, architectural clothes. She’s got the social status to wear and do anything she wants.”
In addition to consulting with the performers, Delgado said he always tries to work closely with other departments.
“If a movie works well, it means we are all working together,” he explains. “Apart from the conversations I have with the director and actors, I always try to work really closely with the production designer [Jim Clay]. He or she is the person who helps dictate what the look and feeling of the movie will be.”
Delgado points out that movies in general, and Death on the Nile in particular, rely heavily on close-ups. With tight compositions, hair and makeup can have a greater impact than costumes.
“You have to be a little cunning,” he joked. “Put some interesting things around the shoulders because that is what the viewers will see the most.”
As an example, Delgado points to the pleated shoulder flounces on a red gown that Jacqueline (Mackey) wears in a nightclub scene.
“I wanted to give the idea of red carnations,” he says. “She is a very, very passionate character. That’s her driving force — passion and betrayal. So I thought we should show her in really strong colors, mainly reds and maroons.”
Delgado’s next project is John Wick 4, which offers “a very different feel,” he admits. “Every movie has its own demands. [Whether it’s] a period movie, a contemporary movie, [or an action movie — you just try to be as creative as you can.
“To have this amazing cast, this ensemble, for Death on the Nile was just overwhelming,” Delgado continues. “But let me tell you an anecdote: When we were doing prep in offices in London, I saw designs for the sets. But I didn’t see the real builds until later into the movie. I was really shocked by the dimensions of the yacht. Also the temple at Abu Simbel. I thought they were only going to build the sculptures to the knees and do the rest in post, but they kept building up and up. It was really massive.”
For a film that proves to be a fairly intimate murder mystery, the scope and scale of Death on the Nile are both undeniable and impressive, and the stunning costumes complement the fun of this whodunit-at-sea.
Death on the Nile is currently playing in theaters nationwide.