Culture corner: Diamonds and satin bring Tolstoy to life

To get into character as Tolstoy’s Russian aristo-adulteress Anna Karenina, the actress Keira Knightley would, before each day’s shooting, select earrings with Jacqueline Durran, the film’s costume designer. One pair, cursive gold twirls twisting as if reflecting the travails of Anna’s illicit romance with the young Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson), fall from tiny diamond studs, with giant pearl drops grazing just below the chin line.

“Having real jewels lent a kind of excitement and opulence during filming,” says the Bafta-award winning Durran, and the jewels themselves added to the lavish overall effect. All the 20 or so large pieces worn by Knightley in the film were supplied by Chanel Fine Jewellery, including a standout necklace made of intricately fashioned gold camellia flowers set on either side of what Durran describes as an “extraordinary show of diamonds”.

Fabrics also had a jewel-like gleam, with a starring role given to satin, the material Durran had used previously for the widely copied long emerald gown she designed for Knightley’s character in Atonement (2007). An off-the-shoulder ebony gown, worn by Anna during an inappropriate waltz with Count Vronsky, is fashioned with enough satin (15 metres) to silence fellow courtiers in the dance hall. Joe Wright briefed Durran to create a “believably period” look, rather than adhere strictly to the novel’s 19th-century setting: Durran’s costumes are deliberately anachronistic.

The film’s menswear aesthetic, dominated by military dress, presented Durran with her greatest challenge. For Vronsky, Wright envisaged a blue uniform accented with pure white wool, but because that was more difficult to come by Durran’s compromise was to use cream wools as well as the rarer white version. Conversely, Anna’s cuckolded husband Alexei Karenin (Jude Law) opts for more muted clothes. Russian tsars of the late 19th century, with their inherent social status and gravitas, were the inspiration for Karenin’s grey suits – “more austere and plain, to denote his power”, says Durran.

Anyone inspired to channel some of the film’s style in their own wardrobe needn’t go back in time by 140 years, however. In November, Banana Republic will release an Anna Karenina capsule collection designed by Durran. Think dark colours, hints of military styling on men’s and women’s jackets, mini capes and, of course, (fake) fur Cossack hats.

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