Crafting Lady Gaga’s ‘House of Gucci’ Rise and Fall Through Costumes
Curated by the IndieWire Crafts team, Craft Considerations is a platform for filmmakers to talk about recent work we believe is worthy of awards consideration. In partnership with United Artists Releasing, for this edition we look at how “House of Gucci” costume designer Janty Yates tackled the behind the scenes world of one of the biggest brands in fashion.
Costume designer Janty Yates has been one of director Ridley Scott’s most trusted collaborators for over 20 years — they’ve done 14 films together since Yates’ Oscar-winning work on “Gladiator” in 2000 — but Yates never takes the partnership for granted. “I’m always so incredibly grateful to be asked,” Yates told IndieWire in a recent interview. “I never, ever assume that I’m going to do the next one.” Yates and Scott’s most recent project, “House of Gucci,” had been on Yates’ radar for decades thanks to her close relationship with Scott and his wife Giannina Facio, who produced the film. “Giannina had it for 20 years and I’d hear them talking about it,” Yates recalled. “It went to Wong Kar-Wai at one point, and it went to Jordan, Ridley’s daughter…I would always put my hand up and say, ‘Don’t forget about me,” and then it would go away.”
When Scott finally decided to direct “House of Gucci” himself, Yates was the obvious choice for a pop epic set in the world of fashion, and she had what she described as her usual reaction to being approached. “I’m always thrilled and I’m always terrified,” she said, adding that one source of terror was the prospect of working with Lady Gaga, a fashion icon who she feared would react negatively to Scott’s conception of her character. “Ridley came in and said he wanted Lady Gaga to be quite conservative,” Yates remembered. “He didn’t use the word conservative, but he didn’t want her to be like Joan Collins or wearing a meat dress or anything like that.” Luckily, on their first Zoom meeting Yates discovered that Gaga’s vision of the character was in sync with Scott’s. “She said she wanted to dress like her mother, and her mother is 100 percent Italian and a woman of a certain age, so it was wonderful — I wouldn’t have to talk her out of any crazy things.”
Costuming Gaga proved to be one of Yates’ biggest challenges on “House of Gucci” due to the sheer number of outfits: 54, including new shoes, bags and accessories for every outfit. Luckily for Yates, the actress’s intense process of becoming the character of Patrizia Reggiani was just as rigorous when it came to figuring out her wardrobe. “Normally we just make sure the costumes fit and do the jewelry on the day,” explained Yates, but the costume designer’s early and thorough collaboration with Gaga, through countless hours of fittings, allowed Yates to map out Patrizia’s rise-and-fall arc with incredible detail — as you will see in the video below:
Gaga’s costumes and accessories also drove a lot of the decisions made by other departments; cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and production designer Arthur Max had to follow her lead in coming up with a color palette for the film. Yates added that coordinating with Scott, Wolski, and Max was “terribly important, because you don’t want to have someone in a red dress against red walls and disappearing into the background.”
The complexity of the job was made slightly more manageable by the fact that “House of Gucci” was shot largely in sequence, which allowed Yates and the actors to track the arcs of the characters more easily and make adjustments as needed throughout production. “Anything that’s in sequence is glorious,” she raved. “Absolutely glorious. You know, it never happens like that.” Yates noted that her communication with the actors is always a key component of her job; she feels that making the actors comfortable is as much her job as the director’s. “It’s a huge part of it, because very often you see the actors before Ridley’s actually sat down with them and discussed their character,” Yates said. “And so they very often get a hook from the costumes and then can expand the character from that hook. You want to make sure they’re happy because a happy actor gives a happy performance.”
Indeed, one of the greatest pleasures of “House of Gucci” is the exuberantly offbeat work by Jared Leto, unrecognizable under prosthetic makeup and clashing fashions as the family’s black sheep, Paolo. As with Gaga, Yates was concerned about Leto’s preexisting status as a style icon when thinking about how to approach the character. “Jared is very much a fashionista,” she observed, “and I thought, ‘What are we going to do that would work for a vintage look?’ I contacted the tailors from ‘The Great Beauty,’ which is a beautifully tailored film, and asked, ‘Would you be interested in doing Jared Leto?’ They said yes, which was fantastic.” The result of Yates’ discussions with the Attolini family (the master tailors out of Naples she brought on board) was a vision of Paolo as “a dandy’s dandy. We chose the biggest windowpane checks, horizontal- and vertical-striped shirts, the loudest ties, anything that was loud.”
Another performer in “House of Gucci” went in the opposite direction one might have expected for a film focused on fashion and style. As Gaga’s psychic advisor, Salma Hayek opted for the least flattering wardrobe possible. “She’s completely mad in a lovely way,” Yates laughed. “She came into the fitting and said, ‘There’s nothing here for me, there’s nothing bad enough.’ So we had to go running off and find awful housecoats and things like that. Basically, we just supplied her with the worst costumes we could and she absolutely loved it.”
For Yates, costumes are key to expressing character, which has made her association with Scott particularly fruitful. “He comes up with the most wonderful ideas and he loves costume and he loves the change that it can bring to a character,” she said. “Also, we do have a shorthand now. He says, ‘I don’t want it like so-and-so, but I want it like so-and-so,’ and I’ll know exactly what he means immediately, whereas anybody eavesdropping wouldn’t have a clue.” Yates added, “Every job is different and every job is terrifying, whether it’s science fiction or contemporary or 3000 B.C.,” making Scott’s knowledge of and passion for costume design a valuable trait. “It is quite unique among the directors I have worked with,” Yates concluded.