Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet: A Costume Review

Why is it that love, tragedy, and fashion seem to go hand in hand in all of the greatest dramas? The most captivating and moving films don’t necessarily conclude with a happy ending. They spark emotion and growth, and leave us feeling and knowing something more than we did before we watched them. Watching a great movie is insightful, emotionally moving, and it challenges our intellect.

The translation of a written story to the big screen is incredibly delicate, and takes a skilled director. The wardrobe is an integral part of storytelling, and authenticates the director’s vision. But if it’s not done well, it can interfere with the story.

Visually translating the wardrobes can either be a designer’s dream or nightmare, depending on the talent involved.

Luckily, the costume designers for Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet had the expertise to support their visions, and the creativity to produce the most exceptional designs.


Welcome to the Moulin Rouge

Designers Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie of Moulin Rouge made a visual dream come to life. Besides the talent, the music, the choreography, and the exquisite sets, the wardrobe stood out as exceptionally creative, and contributed to luring the audience into the story.

Set in the early 1900’s in Paris, Satine, played by Nicole Kidman, enters the plot with a bang, singing and dancing in a silver and black beaded corset, with fishnet stockings and a top hat.

Moulin Rouge

She’s seen throughout the movie in various wardrobe changes, such as a seductive red gown with a corseted, lace-up bodice, and exquisite train.  Her duet in this gown takes place on top of the elephant-shaped apartment where she lives, mistaking the identity of her soon to be lover, Christian (Ewan McGregor), as a Duke.

A daytime look for Satine includes a chic, white, wool suit with a matching beret and red lips. She is attempting to look like a serious actress, and also like a lady, which is part of the development of her character.

In the last scene, Satine wears an Indian-inspired diamond headpiece and a white wedding gown. She ends the musical with a happy ending, marrying the poor guitar player, but soon afterwards, her real life comes to an abrupt death when she dies in the arms of her lover.

It is the east and Juliet is the sun.

Another tragic love story that was translated for the screen was Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, interpreted by director Baz Luhrmann, which was a modern day story that kept the dialogue from the original literature. Costumes were a key component in establishing the modern time period of the film, and were used to reference the social class of each character.

Romeo + Juliet

The movie is set in present day, in the hip city of “Verona Beach.” Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Romeo, is a tortured romantic. Wearing a Hawaiin printed shirt, with dishelved hair, he captures the interest of all the women watching him. His gang of friends, with their neon hair, brightly colored shirts, and oversized guns, look like trouble.

An interesting choice of historical costume reference takes place at the Capulet party, where Romeo and Juliet are wearing costumes from the original time period in which the story is set. The design adds authenticity to the original language in which the plot of the play was set, and is a pivotal point in bringing in a connection for audiences from both time periods.

The vibrant colors, fast movement, and intensity showed the ferocity of the love story and heightened the drama, which culminated in an intense, neon-lit double suicide. The movie was a visual translation of Shakespeare’s historical masterpiece, brought to life with a young audience in mind. Entertaining, creative, and unique, the costumes were a key component in creating the world and developing the characters’ social identities within it.