With his hat whose horns were worn on the sides rather than in front and behind, his fitted military uniforms and his hand slipped under the vest, Napoleon Bonaparte is certainly one of the most recognizable historical figures still today. As for his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, often represented in a white dress with pure lines and a very high waist, she remains the quintessential incarnation of the Empire style.
“Napoleon’s uniforms were absolutely magnificent and form-fitting, causing him to stand very straight. I can very well imagine that he had an influence on fashion and that Parisians wanted to have this proud look. Nobody liked wearing a corset, with this revolutionary style that was the Empire style, there was no longer any need to wear underwear. People adopted the style so quickly that I can’t say whether it inspired Joséphine, who was at the cutting edge of fashion, or whether she inspired it,” says Janty Yates, winner of an Oscar for the costumes of Gladiator, by Ridley Scott.
Ridley Scott wanting his Napoleon to be as faithful as possible to reality, Janty Yates, whose fifteenth collaboration with the director of House of Gucci, and David Crossman, a specialist in military costumes who notably distinguished himself with Saving Private Ryan , by Steven Spielberg, and 1917, by Sam Mendes, had to do their homework. They visited several museums, including that of the Château de Malmaison, Joséphine’s final resting place, reviewed all the existing portraits of the Bonaparte couple, and looked through exhibition catalogs.
“I had access to what remained of Napoleon’s uniforms in Paris and, of course, to his hats and his famous frock coat, of which a blue version remained in Fontainebleau,” says the man who designed costumes for the fourth time. for Ridley Scott. A collector friend has an original frock coat and I was therefore able to copy it and adapt it to Napoleon’s style. At the Paris museum, we have the measurements of the hat, so all the ones we made for the film are exactly the same size as Napoleon’s. »
Napoleon’s iconic bicorne, however, posed some problems for David Crossman: “Joaquin Phoenix being vegan, we couldn’t make the hats out of felt, because it’s a textile made with wool. So we made them with the bark of a tree that grows in Uganda. Initially, I was concerned that tree bark wouldn’t react to the elements like felt. Ultimately, it was a brilliant idea, since on screen, we notice that it gives the hat beautiful textures in the way it captures the light. »
And the famous boots, then? “Luckily for us, the bootmakers in Rome, who had worked with Joaquin on Mary Magdalene, made him faux leather boots. I had worked with Joaquin before, so I am used to his requests. For this film, I created his costume for Napoleon’s coronation and some interior clothing, including the black velvet costume. As I was in charge of civilian costumes, Joaquin was David’s baby,” reveals Janty Yates.
Believing this to be good for troop morale, Napoleon liked his army to sport gaudy colors, gleaming buttons, gold embroidery, and tall, dapper feathers; its influence will be felt until the First World War. David Crossman relates that after the French Revolution and until the first days of the Empire, men, who had only rags to wear, found warmth and comfort by wearing the Napoleonic uniform.
“Napoleon dressed soberly,” adds the man who oversaw the making of 4,000 uniforms. When he became emperor, his style even became simpler; he wore neutral colored clothes. On the battlefield, he wore a long gray coat. I believe he favored a sober style to recall his modest Corsican origins and distance himself from the extravagance of the French monarchy. »
According to some historians, Napoleon started fashion trends every time he returned from the battlefield. Moreover, he could not stand the idea that a woman could wear the same dress twice in his presence. This would probably explain why Joséphine was a fashionista with around 650 dresses and almost as many pairs of shoes.
“She was long before she met Napoleon,” thinks David Crossman. It was a way of finding comfort, of calming one’s anxieties. Reading biographies about her, we learn that Joséphine had a really difficult and often sad life, both with her first husband and with Napoleon, who were hard on her. »
“For the film, we only had to make 30 dresses; each one was made at home, which took about four weeks, says Janty Yates. For the coronation, the dress is identical to that in the painting of the Coronation of Napoleon by David. The dresses created for the film are similar to those of Joséphine, but the embroidery and gilding are different. From what I’ve read, the dresses were light, made of sumptuous silk, sometimes even cotton, with embroidery added. »
Joséphine often wore white because it was Napoleon’s favorite color; However, white is a color to avoid on camera. “We used a lot of off-white, pale gold, pale silver… and scarlet red. Ridley is a great artist who does beautiful storyboards and in principle he is very collaborative. However, he drew Joséphine wearing a red dress in a red room. “Do you want her in a red dress?”, I asked her; he said “yes!”. So I made this dress,” Janty Yates concludes with a laugh.