In Conversation With… Janty Yates

Academy Award winning costume designer Janty Yates has worked on huge movies like ‘Gladiator’, ‘The Last Duel’ and most recently ‘House of Gucci’. To mark the home release of ‘House of Gucci’ – the crime drama directed by Yates’ long-time collaborator Ridley Scott – we sat down with her to chat all things Lady Gaga, Patrizia Reggiani and what it was like rifling through the Gucci archives…
By Harriet Russell /

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Janty, tell us how the ‘House of Gucci’ project came about?

The project was in the works for many, many years. Ridley’s [Scott] wife Giannina [Facio] had spent a long time developing the material – she says close to 20 years – and every time it came Ridley’s way to direct, I’d tell him, “Don’t forget about me!” The project went round and round – it landed on the desks of many amazing directors – but nothing quite manifested. Eventually, Ridley warmed to the project, got Lady Gaga on board and suddenly everything fell into the place. We were scheduled to do House of Gucci the year before we did The Last Duel (starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Jodie Comer) but when Matt [Damon] phoned Ridley to say the script he’d written was ready to film, we decided to push House of Gucci back a year to give us enough time. 

Were you familiar with the history of the house before you started working on the film?

I’d read Sara Forden’s book of the same name about a year before we started the project. I told everybody around me to read it, too – I couldn’t believe the Machiavellian nature of this family. It was such an appalling story – not only was villain Patrizia Reggiani awful, but Aldo and Paolo Gucci were terrible, too. It was like reading about the Borgias. That book really taught me so much about the family, so it became my starting point.

Were Gucci helpful when it came to the wardrobe?

The only person I remember being a bit tetchy about the film was the illegitimate daughter of Aldo Gucci – and she had the entire Italian press at her fingertips. In my opinion, we didn’t make any of them out to be terribly negative characters, apart from the two main villains. The Gucci Foundation were brilliant, though. They lent me archive clothes and the Gucci Garden museum in Florence became my second home. It had it all – documents, film footage, photographs – everything I needed in terms of historical references.

How many archive pieces did you use in the film then?

Only two in the end – a double G tunic and trousers with leather trim and a double G silk blouse and leather skirt. We took a pink evening dress from Patrizia’s personal archive and translated into red satin for the first meeting with Maurizio, too. I know that might not sound like a lot, but we were lent only 18 outfits to begin with. We used lots more of the accessories – almost all the bags, lots of scarves and sunglasses. People might be surprised to hear Patrizia didn’t actually wear a lot of Gucci. Back then, the house was quite conservative. Many people associate it with full-on sex appeal, but that only really happened when Tom Ford took over in the 90s. Instead, we focused on sourcing racks of vintage Dior, Givenchy and YSL – these were the labels that carried real status at the time, and they were far more cutting-edge, which is what Patrizia was more interested in.

Did you shoot any costumes or looks which ended up on the cutting room floor?

Not really – there were so many looks, for Lady Gaga especially (54 in total), so I feel like we covered everything I wanted to include. We were spoilt for choice, really, and I can’t play favourites. LG – as we call her – was very collaborative, as well, which was fantastic. She really understood Patrizia’s approach to fashion, in so far that she was very ‘arriviste’ i.e. ambitious or self-seeking, and she even let us look in her own collection of vintage or archive pieces for inspiration. Patrizia, in terms of her style, was intent on wearing the most ‘it’ pieces of the moment, and then accessorising with Gucci bags and glasses.

How do you even start building a wardrobe on a project like this? 

First and foremost, I always listen to what Ridley wants – he gives me a brief and his way of thinking is what goes. For example, I’d initially put together a Joan Collins file thinking that might be the kind of look we went with for Patrizia. Ridley simply said, “No.” We started gathering research and putting ideas together about a year before filming kicked off and, during lockdown, the studio paid me to do more research. We were very blessed in terms of references, though – it isn’t always like that, but the Guccis recorded so much and took lots of photographs, so we had hundreds of archive images to work off. 

We also found an incredible number of upmarket vintage pieces at a costume house called Tirelli, near Rome. They didn’t want to lend them to us at first, but once they heard Lady Gaga was involved in the project, they agreed. I also had Dominic Young, my cutter, put together the rest of the wardrobe, along with his team, and we incorporated more vintage pieces from Out Of The Ordinary. No matter the project, we always gather from lots of different sources. 

Talk to us about the fitting process…

Nearly everything on House of Gucci ended up being made from scratch. Our tailor – who works out of New York but was trained on Savile Row in London – made 40 outfits for Adam [Driver] and 14 for Al Pacino. Ermenegildo Zegna was also involved – although he fell ill during the project – and the Attolini brothers [Cesare and Giuseppe, two Neapolitan tailors] made all of Paolo Gucci’s [Jared Leto] suits. 

For the first three months we had to do every fitting or meeting over Zoom. I had about three five- to six-hour fittings with Lady Gaga over Zoom and there were definitely a couple of two-hour long Zooms with Al Pacino and at least four or five with Jared Leto. My poor tailor was also tasked with following Adam around America while he was shooting to make his various outfits. Because of the nature of the times, we had to accommodate them, where possible. I then went to Rome for about two months before the shoot started, which is where I probably did about 50 hours’ worth of physical fittings with Lady Gaga – she wanted hair and make-up to be there every time and to be able to choose everything right down to the rings. We also wanted to make out the rise and fall of this character. She never repeated a single thing – not even an earring.

Has House of Gucci made you want to do more projects dedicated to a single fashion house?

Frankly, I’m just happy to have work. It doesn’t matter if it’s a space film set in the future or the 18th century, as we’re working on now for Napoleon (starring Joaquin Phoenix). I’m just pleased to have a project on the go. Period or contemporary, I’m happy to jump into any genre, too. I like doing period because I failed by History O’ Level! I’ve worked on Gladiator, Exodus – so many movies where I had to learn everything from how they ate to how they slept, to be able to build out the right costumes and wardrobe. I also ditched geography for music when I was 13 and yet my career allows me to travel the world and learn about all these new places. 

Talking of travel, how do you transport a wardrobe full of clothes when you’re working on location?

Wherever we are, we have to set up enormous marquees to hold all the costumes and be able to fit everyone in between scenes. Right now, I’m on the Napoleon set at Blenheim Palace and we have three of them, along with several huge transport lorries to take everything to and from the warehouse. It’s like a military operation – it all needs heating, lighting and laundry facilities, too.

So, what’s coming up next for you?

We only started filming Napoleon five days ago and will stay on this set until May. We’ve been working on the film since last June. For now, it’s my life. I have no idea what’s next – but that’s the freelance life for you. I started in this business by working for nothing. I studied dress design and pattern cutting at college, and was passionate about it, but this industry is all about putting yourself out there where and when you can. I’ve learnt you get a long way in life by being an easy, agreeable person to work with. I’ve made a habit of trying not to say no throughout the course of my career – I guess it’s stood me in good stead.

 

‘House of Gucci’ is out now on digital, Blu-ray and DVD. Follow @HouseOfGucciMovie on Instagram for more information.

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