Hun­gar­ian fash­ion de­signer An­drea Flesch’s cos­tume de­signs for the en­chant­ing “Co­lette” thor­oughly em­body the famed French au­thor and racon­teuse Si­donie-Gabrielle Co­lette’s spirit as an early 20th cen­tury gen­der rebel and fash­ion icon. The in­tri­cate de­tail­ing and au­then­tic re­pro­duc­tions of the lit­er­ary icon­o­clast’s fash­ions show­case her mas­cu­line-tinged wardrobe per­fectly. ¶ “This is the first time I’ve done this time pe­riod, and it’s so lovely to have it be with Co­lette,” says Flesch en­thu­si­as­ti­cally from Europe. “It’s al­ways the best when you do a pe­riod for the first time; the en­ergy is high. The ’40s I’ve done a thou­sand times, and if you woke me up in the mid­dle of the night, I could still tell you ev­ery­thing about it. But the first time is al­ways fresh. ¶ “It was re­ally one of the best ex­pe­ri­ences of my life, and I loved it with all my heart,” Flesch adds of work­ing on the Wash West­more­land film. “Co­lette was such an orig­i­nal woman; it’s amaz­ing her life story wasn’t seized upon for the screen long ago.”

Cer­tain cul­tural icons have a per­sonal style that seems at once both fully re­al­ized yet in re­al­ity is al­ways evolv­ing: Think of Elvis, Bowie, Madonna. Co­lette is in this cat­e­gory. Was that chal­leng­ing to cap­ture on film?

Yes, it was a long arc that we pulled to­gether. She wasn’t as much about fash­ion per se as fol­low­ing that in­ner voice of her own in­ter­nal im­prove­ment, her pri­vate path and open­ing to find­ing her­self. She was very much one of those peo­ple. They don’t look to oth­ers nec­es­sar­ily to tell them things and how to look; they look in­side. As she ma­tured, her clothes changed with her.

I un­der­stand early on the de­ci­sion was made for Keira Knight­ley (as Co­lette) not to wear a corset. How did that de­ci­sion come about? Co­lette her­self would have worn one, yes?

Yes, there are even some well-known photos of pulling a corset on her! It was Wash’s idea and I think also Keira. Keira was very de­cided that she didn’t need or want a corset. So it was not my idea, but I think it was a great idea. It re­ally changed ev­ery­thing.

I re­mem­ber when we were in Lon­don and get­ting ev­ery­thing pulled to­gether, and peo­ple were look­ing at me how “it’s not right” that she’s not wear­ing a corset. But it was a re­ally great idea. Keira was, from the be­gin­ning, very pre­pared and solid in her vi­sion of Co­lette — she had a very strong feel­ing, and you can see through the whole film it makes a very big dif­fer­ence to her char­ac­ter not to be bound up by a corset, for ev­ery­thing she means.

With that corset-free im­age, Co­lette was seem­ingly a fore­run­ner of Coco Chanel, who ar­rived on the scene rel­a­tively soon af­ter?

Ab­so­lutely. This was my vi­sion. They

were sim­i­lar and fa­mil­iar to me, both Co­lette and Coco Chanel. Also, Coco Chanel’s fa­vorite writer was Co­lette, so later on they knew each other in real life. But I feel the same when I think about Coco Chanel or Co­lette; it’s some­thing about free­dom. I have to say Co­lette wasn’t so aware of fash­ion

like Chanel, but the in­ner thing was very sim­i­lar.

How did you ar­rive at the lovely but sub­dued color pal­ette of ivory, gray, brown, and black and white? I’d have thought Paris fash­ion of the time was filled with

bright col­ors.

It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause in the be­gin­ning be­fore we started, when I was mak­ing moods for Wash, I had ev­ery­thing more col­or­ful. Yet when I got in the midst of the work, I re­ally felt it had to be more black and white. Co­lette’s per­son­al­ity is so clean

and so sim­ple and so sen­si­tive in a pro­found way, and so I didn’t want to have the clothes mov­ing around and dis­tract­ing from her.

I wanted to keep her per­son­al­ity cen­ter stage. For me she’s a very el­e­gant per­son, and black and white is the most el­e­gant

‘It’s OK when a cos­tume is great, but when some­one puts it on and wears and feels it, that’s the amaz­ing mo­ment for me.’ — AN­DREA FLESCH

thing in cos­tume. So, sud­denly, I saw that no other col­ors could get in.

I know in real life at that time things could be fussy and over­whelm­ing and col­or­ful, but I wanted to make things a bit plain, not ex­ag­ger­ated, to keep it sim­ple.

Even when Keira wore very fem­i­nine clothes — I’m think­ing of that beau­ti­ful ivory blouse she wore re­peat­edly with the ruf­fles and high col­lar — there was al­ways a mas­cu­line twist to it. Were there tricks you used for that?

That was the goal, yes. I used skinny ties a lot, and on that I was in­spired by Co­lette her­self. She wore them in real life. A few women of the time wore them, but not many. It was con­sid­ered more lib­er­ated and mod­ern. For her, it was a state­ment.

How in­volved was Keira in her cos­tumes and fit­tings?

It was amaz­ing with Keira. It’s OK when a cos­tume is great, but when some­one puts it on and wears and feels it, that’s the amaz­ing mo­ment for me. It was good that she didn’t just have fit­tings and it’s “OK,” but she had lots of ideas; we col­lab­o­rated and we al­ways agreed in the end. She al­ways knew the cor­rect thing to do for her char­ac­ter and the film; her in­stincts are ex­cel­lent. I think we put to­gether around 50 cos­tumes for her.

Robert Vi­glasky Bleecker Street

KEIRA Knight­ley stars as the stylish Co­lette.

Robert Vi­glasky Bleecker Street

KEIRA KNIGHT­LEY in cos­tume with “Co­lette” di­rec­tor Wash West­more­land.

An­drea Flesch

Robert Vi­glasky Bleecker Street

MAS­CU­LINE TOUCHES in Co­lette’s cloth­ing were lib­er­ated and mod­ern.

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