Fashion killer: House of Gucci’s costume designer talks dressing Lady Gaga
As the long-awaited movie finally lands in cinemas, Janty Yates discusses working collaboratively with ‘LG’, steering clear of Dynasty-era Joan Collins, and running riot in the Gucci archives
From the moment the slowed-down, spaced-out strains of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” kicked in and Lady Gaga solemnly crossed her chest and uttered “Father, Son, and House of Gucci” in the teaser trailer for the film of the same name, we knew we had a high camp fashion classic on our hands. Finally getting its release this week, the movie has been an age in the making. With scripts passed pillar to post around Hollywood’s biggest players for the best part of five years, and everyone from Penélope Cruz, to Angelina Jolie, to Margot Robbie rumoured to be in the running to play notorious fashion killer Patrizia Gucci, news broke in early 2021 that Gaga had secured the role – and more importantly, the opportunity to really ham up her oft-mentioned, meme-worthy Italianness.
What followed was a frenzy of pap shots capturing Gaga and on-screen lover Adam Driver – cast in the role of ill-fated Gucci heir Maurizio – in various locations; cosying up to each other in a skiing scene in the Alps, or otherwise being chauffeured from their winnebagos to the set under enormous umbrellas. Naturally, attention quickly turned to House of Gucci’s costumes, with countless publications – including a little mag you might know as Dazed – picking apart the sartorial side of the early BTS photographs like hyenas ripping meat from a carcass. Power shoulders, wiggle dresses, luxe velvet suits, and that unmistakable double-G emblem? House of Gucci promised a feast for the eyes.
With Sir Ridley Scott in the director’s seat of the movie, it made sense that he turned to longtime, trusted collaborator Janty Yates when it came to the clothes. With costumes for the cast of Gladiator, Hannibal, and Alien offshoots Prometheus and Covenant – which she worked with London wunderkind Craig Green on – under her belt, House of Gucci saw her let loose in the Italian house’s archives and given free reign to pull as many looks as she liked for ‘LG’ (as she affectionately calls Lady Gaga) and the rest of the cast, including Jared Leto, Al Pacino, and Driver.
With the story of deceit and murder spanning three decades, from the heady disco days of 1970 right through to the early 90s, the movie gave Yates the opportunity to “really go wild”. As well as rare Gucci looks dug up from the house’s back catalogue, she also pulled from major labels including Alaïa, Valentino, and Saint Laurent. Though there’s an endless stream of excellent fashions on show throughout, Yates’ only regret is that more looks didn’t make it into the final cut. “There was a scene where LG and Al Pacino were dancing at Studio 54 and she’s in a stunning turquoise halterneck dress that was cut,” she recalls. “It was in the trailer, so I don’t understand why it’s not in the film! But you know, Ridley knows what he wants to keep and what he wants to cut, so I’m sure there was a good reason.”
As House of Gucci gets its widespread release today, Yates fills us in on collaborating with ‘LG’, drawing inspiration from Gina Lollobrigida as opposed to Joan Collins, and getting to run riot in the Gucci archives.
Hey Janty! You’ve long collaborated with Ridley Scott on costumes for his films. How did you feel when he asked you to help him bring this particular story to life?
Janty Yates: Well actually, it was Lady Scott, his wife, who had been sitting on the story for about 20 years, and every time I’d hear them talking about it I’d say ‘Don’t forget me! Don’t forget about me!’ – you know, throwing my hat in the ring and making it known I wanted to do it. But it was a very long process, and went all over the place. It went to Wong Kar-wai, it came back to Ridley, I think at one point Martin Scorcese was in the mix. I never imagined Ridley would end up doing it. It wasn’t until COVID really hit that we got round to doing it, and I actually started doing my research and development during the first lockdown.
You’ve stated that the wardrobe of Gina Lollobrigida was a big influence when it came to Patrizia’s costumes. What was it about her look that inspired you?
Janty Yates: It was more Sir Ridley who loved Gina’s look, and he kept bringing her up throughout the initial process. We kept trying to tell him she was from the 1960s, but actually we took a couple of ideas from her. Ridley’s whole concern was that he wanted her to be more Gina Lollobrigida than Joan Collins from Dynasty, who had those huge blouses with enormous shoulders, and huge amounts of jewels dripping off her. We wanted to veer away from that and go more classic. I was kind of nervous to broach this with LG on Zoom on the first day, but she was actually on the same page – she said ‘I want to look exactly like my mother’, and her mother is a full-blown Italian lady. She was very on board with the vision from the off.
“I was kind of nervous to broach this with Lady Gaga on Zoom on the first day, but she was actually on the same page – she said ‘I want to look exactly like my mother’, and her mother is a full-blown Italian lady” – Janty Yates
What was it like working with Lady Gaga? Was it quite a collaborative process?
Janty Yates: She is a great collaborator, so wonderful all the way through. I started my cutter quite early, which MGM allowed me to do, bless them, because their head of production understood how important it was we were ready. We had lots of shapes and pieces ready for the first fitting and LG just loved everything. We made around 50–60 looks for her in total in the end.
The movie begins in the mid-1970s and spans the 80s right into the 90s. Can you talk me through Patrizia’s style evolution?
Janty Yates: She had a very definitive arc. We started her off very sweet, maybe even a bit naive, in little cashmere twinsets and skirts, and a very iconic Burberry trench with the check on the outside – which I didn’t even know existed, but LG told me it did so we found one. A miracle! And then there was the dress she wore, for example, when she drives up in her little car and walks across the forecourt of her father’s trucking company where she works. Her bum wiggles, and her high heels clack on the tarmac, and she knows exactly what she’s doing to those men, they all love her. But it’s still all very innocent.
Then she of course sets her sights on Maurizio and her style changes radically. We used everything from mock Chanel, to Gucci archive, to vintage Yves Saint Laurent. We threw everything at it.
Then the arc begins its descent when she’s run over and ends up in hospital with a brain clot, and she’s given up on Maurizio. She turns into quite an aggressive woman, really, and gives up caring about what she wears – she’s in jeans and leather jackets, which came as quite a shock to me actually when I was researching her style.
You worked with Craig Green on the costumes for Alien: Covenant, so I’m wondering if, alongside the big designers you pulled for House of Gucci, you also included any pieces by young or cult designers?
Janty Yates: My cutter was turning out such glorious outfits and we had so much already, there was no need to look for anyone new because we were already spoiled for choice. But actually, a while ago I was doing a lot of prep for a film called Merlin for Disney and I came across a designer called A Sai Ta (of Asai). I met with him on Brick Lane and we had a good long chat, and he was going to make the costumes for all the little gelfling kind of things. Sadly, it got put on hold, but we really bonded and I think his work is absolutely wonderful. I couldn’t fit anything of his into House of Gucci, though.
You were allowed to delve into the Gucci archives ahead of filming. Did you go into them looking for anything specific, or did you wait to see what came to you?
Janty Yates: The archive was actually quite small, housed in a room above the museum of which I became a habitual visitor. There were about 15–20 outfits we took, and we borrowed a lot of bags. We kept them all in the strong room we were functioning out of on set. We ended up using two Gucci looks in the film – one of which was a double-G tunic worn with matching trousers that LG wears when she’s on 42nd Street and finds all the fakes being sold. She’s wearing a mink on top of course. And then there’s the double-G silk blouse in tans and browns with the leather skirt she wears when she’s at her daughter’s sports day. We really were spoiled for choice between the various archives and my cutter’s magnificent work, which I think makes up about 60 per cent of the film.
“Ridley’s whole concern was that he wanted (Patrizia) to be more Gina Lollobrigida than Joan Collins from Dynasty, who had those huge blouses with enormous shoulders, and huge amounts of jewels dripping off her. We wanted to veer away from that and go more classic” – Janty Yates
Do you have a favourite look, or one that you feel really sums everything up?
Janty Yates: I would have to say her bridal gown. LG looked so pretty and so youthful, and very innocent and naive. Everything was sewn by hand so it took between eight and ten weeks to make that gown. We actually had the photographs of Patrizia herself at her actual wedding, and made a replica of the quite plain dress she wore for that as well. We didn’t decide until the morning we were shooting the wedding scene which one we were going to use. LG put both of them on, but in the end the more OTT one won – it was just overwhelmingly beautiful.
Creatives are obviously notorious for being hard on themselves, so I’m wondering if there was anything you wished you’d done differently when you saw the final film?
Janty Yates: Oh no, I was absolutely delighted with the final result (laughs). The only thing I would say is that I wish there were more looks in it! For example, there was a scene where LG and Al Pacino were dancing at Studio 54 and she’s in a stunning turquoise halterneck dress that was cut. It was in the trailer, so I really don’t understand why it’s not in the film! But you know, Ridley knows what he wants to keep and what he wants to cut, so I’m sure there was a good reason.
I mean, he loves an extended edit, so maybe we’ll eventually get to see it…
Janty Yates: Oh absolutely, I think it might make the director’s cut someday. Here’s hoping anyway!