For the past two years, Janty Yates has been as busy as can be, creating looks for two very different films for director Ridley Scott, sometimes simultaneously. The costume designer, who has already started prep for Scott’s next film, “Kitbag,” about Napoleon Bonaparte, was originally signed on only for “House of Gucci.” That was until Matt Damon and Ben Affleck suddenly showed up with the historical epic “The Last Duel.”
“I was in Rome at the time, just on holiday,” Yates recalls of coming onboard the Lady Gaga starrer “House of Gucci.” “I was having lunch with my wonderful second family, my Roman costumers, and I crewed them up and they told me about the Gucci museum. I went and there’s so much information there [and] an amazing amount of photos and film from the 1940s showing the warehouses where they made the handbags and made the shoes. … I came back and I felt fairly pleased with myself. And then Matt Damon phoned Ridley and said, ‘We’ve written this script. Would you direct it? We’re free now.’ So [“Gucci”] got pushed a year.”
Yates, who has collaborated with Scott since 2000’s “Gladiator” (for which she won her Oscar), quickly shifted her focus from 1970s Gucci to the Middle Ages. Although Yates had worked in the period previously, “The Last Duel” marked her first time creating full suits of armor from scratch. For inspiration, she looked to a medieval style of Italian armor that’s on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She and her team created six suits of armor for Damon’s character, Jean Carrouges, and six for Adam Driver’s Jacques Le Gris to wear for the titular duel. There had to be versions of the armor, constructed of plastic, that were clean, muddy, bloodied and even gored for the scene’s continuity.
“I’ve created a lot of armor in my time now but full armor is a whole different kettle of fish,” Yates says. “You have to make sure every joint is perfect and knees can bend without worrying about it and elbows can bend without worrying about it and helmets don’t go crashing onto the back shoulder. There are all sorts of things that you learn. It’s all in the paint job. If you’ve got a bad paint job, it looks plastic. It just looks theatrical. But if you have a really excellent paint and aging job, it looks just like metal.”
For Jodie Comer’s noblewoman Marguerite, Yates wanted to showcase a subtle evolution throughout the film. Her costumes, although often ornate and highly detailed with layers of fabric and embroidery, reflected the character’s willingness to connect with the commoners — as well as Scott’s preference.
“Ridley loved the linen look and he’d say, ‘Oh, isn’t she in linen today?’” Yates laughs. “We were trying to keep that for [scenes] around the estate, when she was helping the villagers and helping the serfs and all of that. We did put her in linen a bit more than we had intended.”
Scott was also quite specific in his brief for “House of Gucci,” which follows the Gucci dynasty over several decades and includes replicas of three complete fashion shows. Yates, who says she didn’t treat the film any differently even though it was centered on fashion, was tasked with finding and creating nearly 500 costumes. For Lady Gaga’s Patrizia Reggiani Gucci, the team sourced and made 54 costumes, along with jewelry and accessories. Yates used very few actual Gucci pieces, although she did have access to the fashion house’s archive. Instead, she looked for classic designers Patrizia would have worn once she married into the Gucci family.
“Patrizia Reggiani hardly ever wore Gucci,” Yates confirms. “She didn’t really like it. It wasn’t Tom Ford, shall we say. She loved Yves St. Laurent. She loved Dior. She loved Givenchy. Most of all, we used costumes my cutters team created from fabric I found that would work. Like power suits. And then we had probably 30% original vintage. I walked into Tirelli, the costume house [in Rome], to pull more costume and they said, ‘Oh, have you seen our archive?’ Well, it was really a small church hall-sized room with probably 100 Diors, 50 Yves St. Laurents. Everything from Armani to early Versace — everything. It was fantastic what the Italians came up with.”
Yates sees Patrizia as “Elizabeth Taylor with a hint of Gina Lollobrigida,” and says Lady Gaga was intensely involved in the looks for her character. They did more than 50 hours of fittings with the actress, who acted out each scene in each costume they fit her (sometimes with Yates reading for husband Maurizio). Boucheron and Bulgari loaned jewels and Yates borrowed more than 20 trays of jewelry from the Pikkio costume house in Rome. “She was over the top,” Yates notes of Patrizia. “She wore her jewelry as a statement of richness, of her money. She would wear real jewels and tons of them.”
One of the highlights of the film is the skiing scene, where Maurizio wears an all-white one-piece ski suit that juxtaposes Patrizia’s red one when he runs into an old flame, Paola, played by Camille Cottin. That was another brief from Scott.
“Ridley had said, ‘I want Paola and Maurizio to be in white all-in-ones,’” Yates remembers. “They had a line of dialogue that when they met up, they both said, ‘Oh, you’re wearing white, I’m wearing white. Don’t I know you?’ It was an icebreaker, but that line is not in the film, sadly. I said to Ridley, ‘Well, if they’re in white, should we just put Patrizia in red?’ This wonderful company made the suits. … I had had fur hats made for all of them, but when Lady Gaga came over she went, ‘I’m having the fur hat. She’s not having the fur hat.’ Adam, of course, categorically refused to wear a fur hat. Camille ended up in my old white cashmere beanie.”
Yates doesn’t necessarily see any correlation between her work on “The Last Duel” and “House of Gucci” beyond the fact that she loves both films passionately. “You marry a film when you work on one,” she says. “You work the most ridiculous hours. You fall asleep completely at every weekend — any free time you’ve got you spend horizontal. You don’t have any social life. It’s all the film. Still, I’m so lucky every day.”