Though it opened to mixed reviews over Thanksgiving weekend, few could argue that Ridley Scott’s fashion intrigue drama House of Gucci did give its all in the below-the-line department. In our own take, we noted that the Janty Yates costumes were outstanding, for instance.
Accolades are also in order for the makeup and hairstyling teams that collaborated on the pictured, tasked with giving distinctive looks to a bevy of somewhat outlandish characters. There was Jeremy Irons as patriarch Rodolfo Gucci, who is aged and is showing aging and ill, with jaunty makeup in the film. There was also Al Pacino as his brother Aldo Gucci, who had a distinctive, overly tanned pallor to his skin. There was Adam Driver as a more sophisticated and quieter Gucci, Maurizio, and his cousin Paolo (Jared Leto), whose prosthetics merit a whole separate discussion. And there was, of course, the star at the center of it all, Lady Gaga as the indomitable Patrizia Reggiani, who goes from lower middle-class worker to a high priestess of glamour and beauty.
Recently, we sat down with Sarah Tanno, Lady Gaga’s longtime personal makeup artist; Frederic Aspiras, her longtime personal hairstylist; and Makeup Department Head Jana Carboni (Prometheus) for the picture, to discuss all of the above work and more.
Below The Line: Congrats on the gorgeous makeup and hair that really stands out in House of Gucci. It cannot be easy to prepare the looks of people with such distinctive looks. How did you go about working on that for this project?
Frederic Aspiras: The good thing is that there are photos out there with Patrizia Reggiani, at least later in her life. So we started there, at least from her wedding onwards. But we had to do an investigation of her whole life, and how she was before that. She is obviously portraying an ambitious woman. And back then in Italy, the hairstyling even for a younger woman made her look older. So we started with a forensic analysis. How to fill in that gap of pictures? We started investigating: what are the stars that a young woman in Italy would be looking at in the early 1970s, what things would be available to someone of her social class to do her hair? What was the look at the time that girls of her age preferred? Obviously, Sophia Loren was an inspiration for young women back then. But we had to adapt it to Gaga’s body type and skin color.
Sarah Tanno: Right, essentially the challenge for Gaga was to develop her youth. There were no pictures before her wedding. We actually landed on a famous Italian actress called Gina Lollobrigida for Gaga’s look. We figured Patrizia was most likely to try to emulate what Gina looked like in the 1970s and if you see pictures of her, that is the basis for the hair and makeup on Gaga. This is how we were able to show the growth of the character over the 30 years of the story.
To be honest, it was a master class in accuracy. You can see her baby face and young when she works for her dad in the trailer, and all the way she looks unhinged towards the end.
Jana Carboni: I have been working with Ridley Scott for several years and he contacted me for the movie and then the lockdown happened. I started working in January of this year and it was a lot to work from the 1970s to the 1990s. As you know, the makeup and hair evolved in very different ways throughout those years. The fashion magazines of the time were my bible, and the documents about the Gucci family. We prepared boards for the looks of each character. Ridley is very much involved so a lot of conversations took place.
BTL: Sarah and Freddy, tell us more about how it is that you came to be such close collaborators with such a megastar like Lady Gaga?
Tanno: I started with Gaga in 2009, before her first theater tour. I met her through one of her old day-to-day managers from previous work. I worked with her for a little while but I was not fully ready at the time to be her own makeup artist. So, I worked with her dancers for a few years. After working in fashion for a few years and growing as an artist, I came on board and became her full-time personal makeup artist in 2014. Since then, Freddy and I have been collaborating on everything for her, from music videos to red carpets, interviews, movies, everything you can think of.
Aspiras: Magazine covers! I also started in 2009 with her, she was about to embark on her theater tour and she was looking for someone who could create wigs for her show. I have been working with Gaga almost every day since 2009. We started our relationship then and have not stopped since.
BTL: What is it like to do the makeup and hairstyling for such a well-known person?
Tanno: She is inspiring because she is such a chameleon. So, she always challenges us and pushes us to be better, to think outside of the box. She encourages both of us to take a very artistic approach to everything. She supports the art. It is collaborative, and we feel very included and part of everything. That feels really special for me.
Aspiras: It really is an honor to work for her. To have the trust from her and the ability to rely on our art and create for her, without judgment. She not only allows me to create freely, but in terms of me as a human being, no one is kinder to people than she is. She helps me mentor other people and guide other people in their careers. I am so inspired by her heart and by how kind she is. I would not be able to do that without her support.
Tanno: She supports us in giving back to people who like doing what we are doing.
Aspiras: We are grateful to be able to showcase what we do in House of Gucci. We started in a time without Instagram and social media and we had to earn our position.
BTL: Tell us about the eye makeup on Gaga—what technique did you use and what are you going for there?
Tanno: I started with basically nothing and then used different shapes. I rounded her eyebrows, which are not Gaga’s brows in real life. This is one of the most photographed women in the world, and the challenge is to take the Gaga out. We actually all consulted, because Frederic is an encyclopedia when it comes to old Hollywood movies. And it went back to Gina—we wanted to make it very Italian. The technique was using a powder and making the liner straight instead of winged up. That was very Italian and, in Italy back then, they were behind the States, they were following trends from the 1960s in the mid to late 1970s. For the 80s, we rounded her eye shape, it became smudged as she gained power. It was still about rounding her faceup to make her less Gaga.
The other thing was her lips. Patrizia in her life wore this sort of disgusting lip liner, and it was important to Gaga to have that to make it authentic. That was another signature thing that I do not think Gaga had ever done before.
BTL: I could definitely see some of the old movie influences in how she acted, too. Are there any movies that inspired you for the hair or makeup for House of Gucci?
Aspiras: One movie we watched a lot was Houseboat with Sophia Loren. She is playing an Italian American. Beyond that, we did not want a lot of references because we were depicting a real person, so we focused more on the kind of person that Patrizia actually was. Just replicating Loren would destroy the authenticity.
Tanno: Gaga was gracious enough to invite us over to her house when she was with the acting coach and we see how she was emoting. We took notes to prepare the hair and makeup and the idea was to add to the scene, not distract from it. It was never about the makeup or costume or jewelry. It was to help guide her, to create a tool to become the character.
Aspiras: I colored her platinum blonde hair brown and she lived in it for months. And Sarah treated her brows off. She became the character every day of her life.
BTL: So what was the hair—wigs, perms, extensions?
Aspiras: All of the above! It is a long period of time. In the 80s, the hair was over the top, a lot of perms and hairspray. We created 10 lace wigs that were custom made for her, for each year, for each decade. There were over 50 hairstyles that we created on those wigs. And I had to keep the authenticity of the hairstyling technique from the decade. We did under drying, spiral perm rods, all the stuff they used in the 1980s. Mousse and water and no other products.
Carboni: It was like a science lab, mad scientist in the trailers.
Aspiras: One of my assistants was a hairstylist from Naples. I had her ask her mom what she did in the 1970s. When she went to New York, she went to Vidal Sassoon, so we asked them.
BTL: Was it one color or did you change the shade?
Aspiras: When she was young, she had no money to go to a salon, so if she colored her hair, she did it at home. It had to look much plainer. As she became richer it looks more elegant and more done. And then as she got older, the texture got frizzier, the color more saturated. Then it becomes to look darker jet black hair, which contributes to her villainess. The darker hair made her look harder.
BTL: Jana, tell us about the looks of some of the other characters. What did you do for the men?
Carboni: For Adam, it was all about being subtle. So, it was about skin color and texture, a light touch on that. And then a wig for his hair. I am a strong believer that you have to feel makeup, but not necessarily see it. We used little touches on him, little tricks on the edges. We gave him some base and cover some parts to make him seem just a little bit younger, and then adding some touches later to make him seem older. It was actually similar for Al. He is an icon and for him, it was important to find the right balance. He wanted to look like the alpha man, very Italian. He wanted to look tan, groomed, and polished. And then, we did the transition of the jail, and you can use the makeup to make him older, looking grayer, like he has lost everything. It was very subtle and if people can see my makeup, I am not doing my job properly.
I was lucky to have Goran Lundström to do the Jared piece though—but that is a separate conversation!
House of Gucci is still playing in theaters. All images courtesy MGM/UA Releasing, except where noted.