How Costumes, Hair, and Makeup Tell the 'House of Gucci' Story
In the words of Maurizio Gucci from House of Gucci, “Gucci is like a cake. And you'll have a taste, and you want more. And then you'll want the whole thing for yourself."
The film, directed by Ridley Scott, follows the storied fashion brand’s dynastic golden years, through a tumultuous love story between a power-hungry Patrizia who marries the heir to the Gucci empire, Maurizio, that ultimately led to the Gucci’s family’s demise. The flawless storytelling jumps off the screen through the language of the costumes, hair, and makeup. Together these departments transformed characters like Lady Gaga and Jared Leto into impeccable, eccentric, and seductive fashion icons.
To explore the artistic language of the film even further, and experience a taste of the notorious Gucci cake, we spoke with four Italian crew members who worked for months to execute this historical piece of fashion cinema:
Marco Alzari, Costume Supervisor Assistant, supported the Associate Costume Designer, Stefano De Nardis and Costume Designer, Janty Yates, in both the technical and artistic elements of the House of Gucci costumes for principals and the 2000+ background actors.
Federica Castelli, second Prosthetics Makeup Artist and Coordinator for Jared Leto’s make-up on the project, worked closely with the prosthetics designer, Göran Lundström, who she’s been working with for around five years, and spent most of her time in Italy organizing and preparing all the logistics for the project. In addition, she worked as the second make-up artist on set with Lundström and Anna Carin Lock, the wig maker and hairstylist, who hid Jared’s long hair under a bald cap!
Stefania Pellegrini, Key Makeup Artist on the project, supervised the artistic direction of Jana Caroboni, Makeup and Prosthetics Designer. Stefania coordinated with the other team members in the makeup department (12 total) to ensure every principal actor’s makeup was impeccable and executed according to Jana’s vision.
Romina Ronzani, Key Hairstylist, liaised between the Hair Designer, Giuliano Mariano, and the other members of the hair department to ensure Giuliano’s artistic work was executed and running smoothly on and off set.
The Research Process
Lady Gaga, who portrayed the lead character, Patrizia Gucci, captivated us from her first moments on screen to the final scenes, dripping with chunky gold necklaces, tailored trench coats, belted silk dresses, and leather stilettos. The exquisite costumes hint at her love of luxury even before she married into the Gucci family. In one of the opening scenes, while working at her father’s small trucking business, she flaunts her way into the office as if she were walking the runway. Everything about her look, even as an office manager in a blue-collar industry, stands apart from the monochromatic uniforms that surround her. Once she marries Maurizio Gucci, she continues to indulge in the attention of others, but now from the copious amount of wealth and fame she inherited, and continues aiming higher, further building upon her regal appearance with layers of jackets and jewelry, as she works to make Gucci her empire.
Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani in 'House of Gucci' / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
The process of creating Gaga’s standout look was no small feat!
Pre-production started far in advance for House of Gucci, as Marco admits, “We did so much historical research on the Gucci family and for each of the characters, and then created folders for the main cast. Northern Italy, Milan, and Florence were very specific and very different from the rest of Italy at the time, so we also did research for those areas.”
Marco explained how many of Gaga’s costumes mixed new making and vintage pieces sourced from private collections, including the Gucci Museum, “Research was a very long process between Janty Yates, Stefano De Nardis, and the buyers. After the fittings, we returned the items that we decided not to use and only kept the selected items, which we kept in a locked room with security. Everything was under control at all times, all the time. It made me nervous! We had to treat the fittings with velvet gloves and so much respect! It’s a sign of good luck to use something original. But we mostly used just the original pieces for Lady Gaga’s character, Patrizia. Sometimes we were able to make alterations to the original pieces if it was invisible and removable in order to not damage the beautiful garments which went on display for some of the premieres in LA.”
Marco Alzari, Costume Supervisor Assistant, 'House of Gucci' / Courtesy of Marco Alzari
Stefania echoes Marco, explaining, “It was the Italian fashion from the 70’s to the 90’s. We did a lot of research, referencing Helmut Newton photography books, Vogue, and all the catwalks, films, and fashion magazines from the time. We created many mood boards to show to Mr. Scott, and to help us embrace Jana’s artistic vision. We had to cover a 30-year gap because of the film’s story. There was a big difference between women in the 50’s compared to the 90’s and we wanted to show this evolution through the makeup. We started the makeup with very pale skin tones and matte eye shadows. Then going into the 90’s, we changed to warmer/tanned skin tones and strong colors, because women were more confident. Mr. Scott and Jana together wanted something that was real, and they wanted to see the glam at the time. The makeup needed to be bold, precise, and powerful, but never distracting."
The time evolution was also evoked through the changing hair styles, as Romina explains, “The story goes from the 70’s to the 80’s, to the 90’s and then finishes in 2003. We are talking about 30 years of fashion that was changing constantly! And so we needed to show all of that through the hair looks. We used many wigs, hair weft, and other techniques to reach perfection and to tell exactly how this passage of time transpired.”
How Color Choices Impact the Story
Color is a language itself that adds to the story in a significant way. Through the costumes, color is used to set different characters apart, giving the audience a sense of a character’s status, personality, and even implying their motives. For makeup, the color choices must work hand in hand not only with the costumes, but also with the cinematography and lighting departments.
Marco discusses the process behind the fabric choices, “Most of the color was used for Patrizia, especially in the main part when she's Lady Gucci, and has all the power. The crazy colors were for Paolo because he was kind of the funky person in the family. And the most conservative colors were for the Gucci gentleman: Maurizio, Aldo, and Rodolfo, because they were the strong parts of the family. Janty had all classical suits made for them, and all those colors were opposite in color to Paolo, but in keeping with the era at the time, since we go through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s in the film, and there are specific scenes where we are using specific colors.”
Lady Gaga 'House of Gucci' / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
Detailing how the makeup colors say something different about the characters, Stefania explains, “You want to keep the characters as real as possible, but at the same time you want to see different looks. For example, Jana wanted to show the difference between Maurizio’s two women – one which had a dark side [Patrizia] with a strong look representing the ‘middle class,’ and the other, [Paola] with the light side, representing the Italian upper class – simple and elegant. Through the makeup, you can tell the passage of time during the story, like how Jana started Aldo Gucci’s character in the beginning looking healthy and glamorous with glowing, warmer shades during his fashionable days. But after prison, he is a completely different person, so Jana added subtle aging by using paler and gray tones on him.”
Stefania continues, revealing how the makeup department worked closely with the costume department, “Jana had a long chat with Janty Yates. We went all over into the costume department to see exactly the look that they were putting together. They had beautiful dresses! You could really feel the vibes. And this helped us a lot because of course, it's a full look. It's costume, makeup, and hair. So if you see them separately, they don't really speak that much to you. But when you see the full look, and you have a full vision, it's something that you say, okay, we are in the right direction. So, you all need to work in close contact with costumes and also with the cinematography. Understanding how the film will be lit helps you choose the right color palette and shades. In a very dark ambiance, you would never choose a dark red lipstick for a character, because it would look black in the picture…When you see the location, you better understand the vibe and the direction to follow."
Romina would agree on the importance of collaboration, adding, “Talking to other departments is fundamental. Hair, makeup and costume are a full look, and they need to work together with an understanding of the cinematography vision for everyone to all reach the same goal.”
Transforming Actors into Characters
For many crew members, the most rewarding part of the job is seeing an actor embrace their role once the costumes, hair, and makeup all come together seamlessly to create their character.
One character in particular, who went through an extensive transformation, was Paolo Gucci, played by Jared Leto. If you look at their pictures side by side, you would never have guessed they were the same person except for the piercing blue eyes!
Federica gives us an insight into the transformation process, “Jared’s bone structure is very different from Paolo. To create his look, Jared’s face was scanned in 3D and printed in high resolution. Then, we created a copy of it in plaster and colored it to match the plastiline used to create the sculpture of the make-up. Göran Lundström explored several possible designs in plastiline, [then] sculpted the makeup and decided how to split it in the most efficient way, which allowed the most natural movements. There is no one big mask. Based on Göran’s instruction, the mold department created partials… areas like the nose, the mouth, the cheeks, and the neck.”
Jared Leto with makeup crew Federica Castelli and Anna Carin Lock, 'House of Gucci' / Courtesy of Federica Castelli
Creating the partials, however, was only part of the process. She goes on to explain the additional attention to detail that must go into proportions, creating a natural look: “When you transform someone’s appearance, sometimes you discover that you need to add other elements as you go. For example, with Jared, Göran discovered that he needed to give him bigger earlobes, because they looked too small with Paolo’s face. When you change the shape and size of a face, some proportions become different and you have to add more volume here and there to compensate…and the prosthetics are extremely delicate, up to the point that it’s impossible to recycle them, because the edges have to blend seamlessly into the actor’s skin. Unfortunately, the removal process is very destructive. So, for Jared, we had one full set of prosthetics for each day of shooting, plus some extra to be safe.”
Bringing the Vision to Life
Makeup, costumes, and hair not only transform the outside of an actor, but they also help actors embrace their characters from the inside. Stefania, Marco, Federica, and Romina all work together seamlessly so talent like Adam Driver, Jared Leto, and Lady Gaga could lean into their roles from the moment they left the trailer and stepped onto set as a Gucci!
Federica says, “Maybe we can do great makeup, but if the actor is not up to the challenge, then it doesn't work, and this is also the other way around. If the actor is great and we create makeup that doesn't work, it will show, and create a problem for them. What's amazing for me is seeing a character come to life on set. Jared was amazing. He acted like he had no makeup on. When we do something really heavy on an actor like a big change, we give them time to stand in front of a mirror or maybe a camera and try to move because their natural movement might not look the way they want with the makeup on. This part of the process is key for the actor to really embrace the character. And that's what we did with Jared. He and Göran talked at length about Paolo and these inputs were incorporated in the final design. After all, Jared is the one who's going to wear the makeup and he needs to believe in it.”
If you haven’t yet watched Ridley Scott’s, House of Gucci, take a closer look beyond the characters and experience the story through the lens of costumes, makeup, and hair. The hundreds of hours of research, prep, and production that went into the film, pay off in an effortlessly told drama that transports you to the ski slopes of 1980’s Northern Italy or Tom Ford’s first catwalk in 1990’s New York City. After finishing, it just may leave you coming back to watch again for another taste of that Gucci cake.