“Napoleon” costume designers divvied up their tasks, with Janty Yates concentrating on French civilian wear and David Crossman on evolving military outfits.
The Ridley Scott epic follows Napoleon Bonaparte’s (Joaquin Phoenix) rise from general to emperor. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with Josephine (Vanessa Kirby).
The recreation of the battle of Austerlitz is a highlight of the movie. For that, Crossman dressed the Russian infantry in green and the Russian cavalry in white. The Hungarian infantry wore various shades of brown, and Napoleon’s army was in blue. Crossman says his goal was to make the looks as varied as possible, so it didn’t fall flat. “A lot of the time, it’s the hats that distinguish,” says Crossman. “We mixed in civilian pieces into the uniform, particularly on the French, because they were the bankrupt army, and they had no money. So you’d see a lot of civilian clothing mixed into those uniforms.”
For Napoleon’s coronation, Yates took cues from Jacques-Louis David’s famous 1807 painting about the event. “We copied it as verbatim as we could,” she says. “I put the emperor’s family into an empire line probably a little bit earlier than I should have because the crowd was still wearing corsets and hoop skirts. I thought it would be simpler and more elegant. So that was taking a bit of a liberty.”
Adds Crossman: “The marshals wore heavily embroidered coats that went down the sleeves and around the collar. We made as many of those as we could afford.”
Their goal was to give the outfits, especially in the crowd scenes, as much character as possible — “rather than have them looking like Napoleonic costumes and hats on everyone.”