It’s key that aspiring film costume designers learn how to build relationships with actors. Films feature so many costume changes, that costume designers are required to constantly communicating with actors. Of course some films feature more costume changes than others, Helen Beaumont reveals which had the most ever.
Up until the 1990s, Elizabeth Taylor held the record. She gained this title while playing the eponymous lead role in the 1963’s Cleopatra, changing costumes 65 times. During the film, Taylor donned everything from sumptuous risqué gowns to the now-iconic gold cape, which resembled a phoenix’s wings and was adorned with thousands of seed beads, bugle beads and bead-anchored sequins.
The record was taken from Taylor by Madonna in 1996, when she played the title role in Evita. Based on the life of Argentine First Lady Eva Peron, Evita saw Madonna change costumes a staggering 85 times. The film’s costume designer, Penny Rose, who won a BAFTA for her work on Evita, while Madonna nabbed the ‘Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical’ gong at the Golden Globes as Eva Peron.
Penny Rose faced two significant challenges, while working on Evita. First, the title character undergoes various transformations throughout the film, as her life circumstances change. For Evita, Rose had to use clothing to accurately convey to audiences how Madonna’s character goes from poor peasant girl, to glamorous radio actress and then to distinguished Argentine First Lady.
Second, Evita was based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of the same name, which debuted in London’s West End during 1978. Rose first needed to create outfits that would work with the production’s dance numbers, such as ‘Buenos Aires’ and ‘Waltz for Eva and Che.’ The designer also had the task of using clothing to reflect Eva’s turmoil in more heart-wrenching, somber numbers like ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ and ‘Don’t Cry for me Argentina,’ Evita’s most famous song.
In an interview, Rose admitted that she performed extensive research, to create the costumes for Evita. The designer meticulously examined old photographs and newsreels featuring the real Eva Peron, but instead of doing straight copies, she adapted these pieces so they would suit Madonna. The star also has a much slimmer figure than Eva Peron, so Rose really couldn’t do exact copies.
At the film’s beginning, Rose used clothing to reflect Eva’s poor background. In ‘Buenos Aires,’ a number which chart’s a young Eva’s arrival in the Argentine capital, Madonna wears a simple pink, white-spotted knee-length dress, which both conveyed Eva’s social status and looked fantastic during dance routines. As Eva becomes an actress, the simple clothing is swapped out for more fabulous pieces, with Eva rocking everything from fur coats to elaborate, ‘40s Hollywood style hairdos.
As Eva meet’s Juan Peron and becomes First Lady, she embraces a more stately, elegant wardrobe. For this, Rose had Madonna wear simple, tied back hair, ‘40s’-esque skirt-suits, printed silk shirts and strings of pearls. This was especially apparent in ‘Don’t Cry for me Argentina,’ where Eva sings to an adoring crowd after Juan’s election victory. Eva Peron started favouring clothes designed by Christian Dior in later life. Rose said that she made a concerted effort to copy these Dior pieces in Evita, but she glammed them up for the silver screen, as the real Eva’s Dior clothing was “slightly dowdy.”
With so many costume changes, as well as a radical personality shift to reflect, Penny Rose was handed a monumental workload on Evita. Rose’s performance should illustrate to aspiring costume designers that no task is impossible in this field. By both researching the real Eva and adapting her clothing to the film’s star and modern audience expectations, Rose helped make Evita a hit with movie-goers.
About Helen Beaumont
Helen Beaumont’s career started at Camberwell College of Art, where she studied the History of Art and Design, specialising in costume during her final year. After completing study, Helen became a costume buyer for theatre and opera. She has since become a professional costume designer, with a keen interest in period clothing. Throughout her career, Helen has created authentic costumes for prestigious companies such as the Universal Studios, Disney, BBC, Tiger Aspect and the Young Vic Theatre.