When it comes to watching movies, it’s often easy to get so wrapped up in the story and the drama that we fail to acknowledge the details that can hold a film together and transform it from a good movie to a truly spectacular piece of art. One person who really understands the importance of detail is Milena Canonero – the Italian costume designer who has helped shape the style of some of cinema’s most iconic and memorable moments.
Canonero was raised in Genoa, where she studied art, design history and costume design before moving to London, where she perfected her craft working on small theatre productions and commercials. Her career in film really took off after a chance meeting with legendary director Stanley Kubrick, who offered her her first major work as a costume designer on a film that is still regarded as a cultural icon today – A Clockwork Orange. In this early work, Canonero demonstrated an incredible skill that would stay consistent throughout her career - the ability to not only create costumes that looked visually stunning, but also the ability to explore the psychology of the characters to reflect their personalities and the larger themes of the film through their outfits. As she said herself in an interview with Faschineshion.com:
It’s not the costume itself that I like to do, of course it is interesting, but it’s more about the meaning I give to the masterpiece.
Canonero’s collaboration with Stanley Kubrick continued with her work on The Shining – a film which which continues to influence popular culture to this day – and Barry Lyndon, which led to her first Oscar win. The accolades and awards didn’t stop there, either; throughout her career which has spanned almost 40 years Milena has gone on to win an incredible 9 Oscars for her costume designs, as well as 7 BAFTAs and countless other awards for films including Chariots of Fire, Dick Tracy and Marie Antoinette.
In the last decade though, it has been her work with acclaimed director Wes Anderson that has been most noticeable. Once the pair began working together, they almost seemed destined for success; Anderson’s films are renowned for their meticulous detail and attention to design, and Canonero’s carefully thought-out costumes perfectly complimented the director’s stylistic cinematic approach. Add to this Anderson’s affinity with classic Italian design - the director recently designed a stunning retro Milanese-style café for The Prada Foundation – and it became a match made in heaven. Canonero worked as costume designer for three of Anderson’s most attractive films, helping to sculpt the style of The Darjeeling Limited, the charm of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and the opulence of The Grand Budapest Hotel.