Costume designer Carlos Rosario’s career has spanned over two decades and seen him work with some of the biggest names in the industry.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Carlos to talk about his latest work on Fede Alvarez’s thriller The Girl In The Spider’s Web, being inspired by Shirley MacLaine, fitting costumes for Kristen Stewart in his bedroom, and much more.
Q: ‘The Girl In The Spider’s Web’ is your second time working with Fede Alvarez following ‘Don’t Breathe’ in 2015. Can you tell us about your relationship and what Fede wanted you to bring to this project?
A: Having worked together before, we already had the type of relationship which makes the creative process so much easier. We also both speak Spanish, so collaborating with Fede is super fun.
Fede had established his aesthetic on the remake of Evil Dead and on Don’t Breathe, so I had a good sense of what works for him. I tried to follow those guidelines and boundaries for this movie.
He’s from Uruguay and my family is from Spain, so we have a very similar way of communicating and working. I absolutely love working with him because he always trusts his crew. He has a very diplomatic and respectful way to guide his team.
We had so many characters on this project so it was important to design costumes that would tell the audience right away what they are about. It was also important to incorporate that dark but stylised mood from the other movies and add the sophistication of North European fashion.
I think the tricky thing with Fede’s projects is to find a balance through the costumes between the very human and grounded characters, and the superhero characters. It’s always challenging but also super exciting.
Q: From the trailer alone, I find myself drawn to Claire Foy’s leather outfits. Can you talk about working with Claire and putting together costumes for her character?
A: Ellen Mirjonkick was the costume designer who initiated the concepts and the manufacturing of the costumes for Lisbeth Salander. I took it from there. Ellen’s intention was to pull back on the gothic and punk vibe and go more into a motorcycle concept. After all, Lisbeth Salander spends a lot of her time on a motorbike.
This time Lisbeth is more mature. It is less about her style and what she looks like, and more about what her mission is. I don’t think she spends her time going to the bars and sleeping a different girl every night anymore. This is more about what she wants to achieve as a human being – fighting for the oppressed and vulnerable women and re-establishing balance. It’s really all about justice for her.
I don’t think we wanted to design a character that would spend her time taking care of her hair and wardrobe. It was important to create a Lisbeth Salander that is more approachable so the audience could relate to her. Claire is very logical and pragmatic in her way of working, it’s almost as if she needed to know the story of the costume before she would see it. All her costumes needed to have a backstory, which is a very interesting creative process to go through.
Q: Sylvia Hoeks, too, has some fascinating looks that interact interestingly with the snowy backdrops. What was your approach to Sylvia?
A: Camilla Salander was one of my favorite characters to design costumes for. And I think Sylvia Hoeks portrays her brilliantly. The original concept was simply to create a red outfit because that’s the way it is in the book. That was definitely our starting point. I think Camilla is a very empowered female character, but her empowerment comes from a place of pain and sadness because of what happened to her when she was a kid. She tries to compensate her pain by overdoing it in terms of her look. Red conveys emotions and is a very important colour in Fede’s aesthetic too.
In a way, Camilla is the heart of the movie. She’s the one who impacts Lisbeth’s actions and emotions more than anybody else in the movie. And, yes, the purpose was to make her standout against the snowy backdrops. That concept goes very much in alignment with the very graphic and stylised look of the movie. She’s protecting and hiding her pain so I wanted to make sure her first look would feel like an armour. Then, as the action progresses, she becomes more vulnerable by removing all her layers so we can see her scars.
I love the outfit that looks like a Kimono cape. I think it’s very appropriate for the scene with the kid. It feels a bit religious and it makes that scene a bit more scary.
The reason why that outfit has so many layers is because Fede really liked what I did for Rocky (Jane Levy) on Don’t Breathe. He liked the fact she only wore one outfit for the entire movie, and they way that outfit was slowly deconstructed as the action progressed. When you have an actor wearing the same outfit for two hours, it’s important to give it some depth. Layers are a good way to make that work.
Q: What is your favourite look in the film?
A: I really like Camilla’s red outfits and the dress she wears the first time we see her. The latex bag too. It was so much fun to design.
The last outfit Claire wears is very cool too. I loved it because it started from a very interesting concept. Fede told me he liked the tracksuit Uma Thurman wears in Kill Bill so I thought it would be great to design something a bit more dramatic for the end by creating a leather version.
Q: How was your overall experience working on the film? Any memories to share?
A: Fede is a fantastic director and such a great guy to collaborate with. He really trusts his crew which automatically creates a really fun and inspiring enviornment to work. I’ve worked with most of his crew before – like Aria Harrison (script supervisor), Pedro Luque (Director of Photography) and Roque Banos (composer). So it always feels like working with friends. I always feel grateful to be able to work with all of them. We all really support each other.
One of my favorite moments was deciding the piercings for Lisbeth Salander. Everybody probably thinks it was a super long process – but in fact it wasn’t. It happened literally five minutes before shooting. We had boxes and boxes of piercings completely transformed so each one was unique. Claire and I were in her trailer and decided on the piercings right there in front of the mirror in just five minutes – and that was it.
I was super stressed out because the piercings are such an important part of the character, but at the end it all worked out very well.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you initially became interested in fashion and design?
A: I didn’t really know what to study after turning 18 years old. But I remember reading some of Shirley McLaine’s spiritual books which inspired me and helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I think it gave me the maturity to simply ask myself what gave me joy. I could clearly remember the incredible feeling I always had when I saw images of the Fashion Shows in Paris. I had never seen something as beautiful as that. It was the time of all the top models and Versace. So I decided to go to Paris and study fashion at ESMOD.
I grew up in a small town in France, called Perpignan, so my parents almost had a heart attack when I told them. Eventually they got used to it and were supportive. My mother and my grandmother were also a huge influence on my interest in fashion. My mother always dressed very well and my grandmother was a pattern maker. I remember seeing her cutting fabrics and sewing all the time when I was a kid.
Q: You then went on to study at Ecole Superieure de la Mode in Paris, learning and working with likes of Vivienne Westwood and Corinne Cobson. How did that experience shape you?
A: I think when you work in fashion or costume design, it’s important to learn as much as possible about every single aspect of the industry. ESMOD really gave me a good foundation – learning to create collections, pattern making etc. But it was only the basics. I knew I needed to learn directly from people working in the fashion industry.
So I started an internship at Christian Dior. Then I was hired to help the design team put together a collection on the ‘100 years of Cinema’. It was maybe a sign my career would go into costume design. Then I worked briefly with Corinne Cobson and Vivienne Westwood but I learned so much from them. It really gave me an idea of what my future could look like.
Q: What led you to pursue your passion for cinema and how did you end up being hired by Colleen Atwood?
A: My brother and I always loved movies. We always stayed really late to watch the Oscars and we were completely obsessed with who would win.
Working in the movie industry happened in a very organic way. I think It was meant to happen.
I went to Los Angeles as a tourist when I was 21 years old. A friend of mine suggested I should bring some of my drawings. Once in Los Angeles, I met somebody that gave me the idea to get in the Costume Designer’s Guild. It honestly never crossed my mind that costumes were needed in movies. I didn’t have anything to lose so I decided to present my work in front of a jury – and I was accepted.
Robert Turturice was president of the union at the time. Shortly after that, he became one of the designers on Batman and Robin. He remembered my work and asked me if I wanted to be his illustrator. That’s how it all started.
I met Colleen Atwood after that project. I simply called her and asked her if I could show her my work. As simple as that. Her house was under construction and I will always remember showing her my work in her bedroom. A few months later, she asked me if I wanted to work with her on Sleepy Hollow. Then we collaborated on quite a few projects including Chicago, Lemony Snicket and Planet of the Apes.
Q: You’ve worked on so many fantastic films but, as a big Johnny Cash fan, I have to bring up ‘Walk The Line’. What was it like working with with James Mangold on the film?
A: Walk The Line has always been one of my favorite projects. We shot it mostly in Memphis. There was something quite magical about working on that project and in that part of America.
I remember Reese and Joaquin being terrified to play those parts but at the end they both did an incredible job. James Mangold and his wife, who was the lead producer, were amazing to work with. Such visionaries, incredibly respectful towards their crew, very supportive and approachable. I only have good memories.
Q: You’ve worked with Blake Livley, Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Robin Williams, Jane Levy and many others. Who is left that you are still yearning to work with?
A: Wow, there are so many more actors I would love to work with – like Meryl Streep and Glen Close. I also would love to work with French actresses like Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche. But my dream would be to work with director Pedro Almodovar.
Q: And who from the past would you have loved to work with?
A: Marylin Monroe, Betty Davis and Ava Gardner.
Q: I saw a picture of work you did with Kristen Stewart – who I regard to be the best actor around at the moment – on your website. Can you talk about working with Kristen and share any memories from your time around her?
A: I was initially one of the first designers on Equals. I started all the concepts and made the first samples for the lead characters.
I loved working with Kristen. She was very respectful of the design process, very professional and fun to work with. It was a small project, so I had to transform my house into an office space. I actually ended up doing her fittings in my own personal bedroom. It was such a surreal moment. I remember wondering what my neighbours’ reaction would be if they saw her coming out of my house.
Q: What makes you proud and excited as a costume designer?
A: The moment the director says: “Action!” – I love that moment. Everything you’ve worked so hard for finally comes alive. It is always such an exciting moment. I feel such a sense of accomplishment. I’m proud to have contributed to something people from all around the world will watch.
I actually like every single step of the process: from collaborating with the actors, finding ways to bring the director’s vision to life, the manufacturing process, doing drawings and putting together boards, right to the moment where you sit down in a theater to see your work. I always feel very lucky to be part of this industry.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects and ambitions you can share with us?
A: I’m looking at different scripts at the moment and hope to find something that is the right fit.
My ambitions are very simple. I love what I do and hope to be able to do this job for a long time.