Categories: Interviews

Interview: Costume Designers Gianni Casalnuovo and Maurizio Millenotti on the 1960s Sartorial Playground for ‘Ripley’

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Among the myriad of Emmy contenders, Netflix’s Ripley stands out with its stunning visual storytelling. The series grabs viewers’ attention with its masterful black and white cinematography, fabulous costumes, and intricate set designs, creating a viewing experience like no other. Every shot feels like a masterpiece, and every scene is meticulously crafted, showcasing a level of artistry that truly sets it apart.

So naturally, I was quite thrilled when I had the chance to speak with two-time Primetime Emmy Award nominee Gianni Casalnuovo and two-time Academy Award nominee Maurizio Millenotti, the costume designing geniuses whose creative flair helped bring Ripley to life in the most spectacular way. They shared fascinating insights into the challenges and triumphs of designing costumes for a black and white palette. Together, with the help of a translator, Casalnuovo and Millenotti explained how they used texture, silhouette, and strategic layering to ensure that every detail popped on screen. Their collaborative efforts with the director and cinematographer were crucial in highlighting key elements like unique patterns and worn patches, ensuring that the story was told as much through the costumes as through the dialogue and acting.

The pair also touched on how they approached the transformation of Tom Ripley’s character through his wardrobe. Starting with simple, utilitarian pieces that reflected his anonymity and desire for a different life, they gradually introduced luxurious textures as he mimicked Dickie Greenleaf, effectively portraying his journey and growing confidence. The costumes of other characters, such as Dickie’s carefree luxury and Marge Sherwood’s practical independence, were meticulously crafted to reflect their personalities and social standings, further enriching the narrative of Ripley.

Landon Johnson: Firstly, congratulations on your outstanding contribution to creating one of the most visually captivating shows on our screens. Black and white cinematography can sometimes pose challenges in ensuring that costume details are effectively communicated on screen. How did you ensure that the intricate elements of your designs were captured and highlighted in the monochromatic palette?

Gianni Casalnuovo and Maurizio Millenotti: Thank you so much for the kind words! We’re incredibly proud of the visual language we created for Ripley. You’re right, black and white can be tricky for costumes, but it also presented a unique opportunity. We focused heavily on texture to tell the story since color was off the table. A character like Tom Ripley might start with smooth, utilitarian fabrics in New York, then transition to luxurious textures as he mimics Dickie Greenleaf. This contrast translates beautifully in black and white, hinting at their different social standing. We paid close attention to silhouette development, using sharp, tailored suits to create distinct visuals compared to loose, flowing garments. Strategic layering of different textures and fabrics added depth and visual interest without relying on color variation. Collaborating closely with the director and cinematographer ensured that key details were highlighted during close-up shots, drawing the audience’s eye to unique patterns, worn patches, or specific jewelry. This approach allowed us to be more creative with storytelling through costume design, resulting in a positive response.

How did you approach the design process differently compared to working with color?

Black and white for Ripley was a design adventure! Color took a backseat to texture, such as rough linens versus smooth silks for Tom’s transformation, and silhouettes like sharp suits versus flowing garments. We layered fabrics strategically to ensure key details popped in close-ups. What initially seemed scary turned out not to be a limitation; black and white became a canvas for creative storytelling.

What guidance or freedom did Steven Zaillian give you in terms of his vision?

From the outset, we enjoyed a close collaboration with director Steven Zaillian. Daily meetings fostered a constant exchange of ideas. Steve actively participated in shaping the show’s visual identity, providing valuable guidance on the overall aesthetic while also giving us the freedom to explore creative costume concepts within that framework. This collaborative approach ensured a cohesive visual language for Ripley.

Ripley is set in the 1960s, a time known for its distinct fashion trends. How did you incorporate the fashion of the era into the costumes while maintaining a timeless quality that resonates with contemporary audiences?

Ripley’s 1960s setting offered a rich sartorial playground, but we wanted the costumes to transcend the era and connect with modern viewers. We opted for subtle nods to the decade rather than full-on mod revivals, focusing on clean lines and classic tailoring with hints of 60s flair. Quality materials and construction ensured the costumes looked polished and relevant, regardless of the decade. Silhouettes were created to be universally flattering and modern, avoiding extreme trends. Elements of 60s fashion reflected characters’ personalities and journeys, like Tom Ripley’s initial youthful rebellion evolving into a sophisticated look.

The protagonist, Tom Ripley, is a complex character with a multifaceted personality. How did you use costume design to reflect his evolution throughout the series?

Tom Ripley’s journey is mirrored in his wardrobe. His initial look reflects anonymity and yearning for a different life with simple, utilitarian pieces. As he becomes entangled with Dickie Greenleaf, his clothing subtly shifts to incorporate elements of Dickie’s affluent lifestyle. The lines between Tom and Dickie blur as the series progresses, with Tom’s wardrobe becoming more confident and intricate. By the end, Tom’s wardrobe develops a distinct identity, reflecting his transformation into a complex character.

How about with the other characters, such as the detective, Dickie, and Marge?

Costume design played a crucial role in defining other characters too. Dickie Greenleaf’s wardrobe embodied carefree luxury with lightweight fabrics and clean lines. Marge Sherwood’s clothing reflected practicality and independence with tailored separates and comfortable pieces. The detective’s wardrobe, characterized by classic, well-tailored suits, conveyed quiet authority and professionalism. These choices visually emphasized the characters’ personalities and social standings.

Did you encounter any specific historical or cultural references that influenced your costume designs for Ripley? How did you balance authenticity with creative interpretation?

We drew inspiration from 1960s fashion photography, magazines, and films, paying attention to key trends like menswear-inspired clothing for women and leisurewear. We balanced historical authenticity with creative interpretation, using textures like linen, tweed, and poplin to evoke the era. Cultural references subtly influenced designs, like Marge’s clothing echoing the feminist movement. Our goal was to create costumes that felt both authentic to the period and visually compelling for a modern audience.

What insights can you share about the collaborative process between costume design and other departments, such as cinematography and production design, in bringing the world of Ripley to life?

Ripley thrived on a constant conversation between different departments. We worked closely with the cinematographer to ensure key costume details were highlighted in black and white. Collaboration with the production designer ensured clothing seamlessly integrated with the visual environment. The makeup department created looks that complemented the costumes and emphasized characters’ personalities and journeys. This continuous exchange of ideas enriched the visual storytelling, creating a truly immersive world.

How do you hope viewers will perceive and interpret the costumes in Ripley? What emotions or messages do you aim to evoke through your designs?

We hope the costumes in Ripley become silent storytellers, offering a lens to understand the characters’ personalities and journeys. Tom Ripley’s transformation, the 1960s style, and the power of black and white are central themes. Through texture, silhouette, and layering, we aim to evoke emotions of mystery, intrigue, and transformation. We want the costumes to spark conversation and leave a lasting impression, enriching the narrative.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the visual storytelling of Ripley, particularly in relation to the costumes and their role in enhancing the narrative?

We wanted Ripley‘s costumes to be more than just clothes – they should be silent storytellers reflecting characters’ personalities and transformations. The 1960s style and social dynamics peek through the costumes, all in stunning black and white. We hope the costumes go beyond visuals and leave a lasting impression, enriching the narrative for the audience.

How did you feel when you first saw the remarkable end result of your work for the first time on screen? Were there any specific moments or scenes that particularly stood out to you in terms of how your costume designs were showcased in the black and white cinematography of Ripley?

Seeing Ripley come to life on screen after all the hard work was truly a magical experience. Tom’s transformation through his wardrobe was particularly rewarding. The way close-up shots captured the intricacies of the costumes added depth to the story. Black and white cinematography’s dramatic lighting highlighted the costumes’ interaction with light and shadow, enhancing the visual impact.

Ripley was so refreshing for viewers. What can we look forward to next from you both?

We’re thrilled to hear Ripley resonated with viewers. We’re always drawn to diverse projects and excited to explore new genres and challenges. One constant is our passion for using costume design as a storytelling tool. Whether it’s a fantastical world or a contemporary drama, we strive to create costumes that visually enrich the narrative and reveal characters’ inner lives. Stay tuned for our future projects!

Ripley is currently available to stream on Netflix. Giovanni Casalnuovo and Maurizio Millenotti are Emmy eligible in the category of Outstanding Period Costumes For A Limited Or Anthology Series Or Movie for the episode “La Dolce Vita” of Ripley.

Landon Johnson

Landon Johnson is a writer and a film and marketing guru. Through his six-year career in media marketing and development, he has worked in New York, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong for a variety of entertainment companies. He can quote every line from Wes Craven's "Scream," and is a voting member of the Screen Actors Guild who has served on numerous awards nominating committees for both film and TV. When he's not binge-watching independent films, he has a real passion for promoting untold stories portrayed on film that have a lasting impact on audiences.

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