The fashion in this film also becomes a sort of visual indicator to illustrate the different tensions within the declining Recchi family dynasty in Milan. The harsh, extremely structured clothing worn by Emma (Tilda Swinton) reflects the kind of gilded cage the character is trapped in. A foreigner transplanted to Milan away from her home in Russia, she lives a cold hollow life until she has an affair and experiences romance for the first time. Her lover brings out her other side that had been dormant and suppressed ever since she married into the family. There is no real heart or passion within the family–everything they do is for appearances which makes her feel all the more increasingly like a beautiful yet empty vase. This accounts for the muted palette she wears around the family of the house, and the rich jewel like tones she wears around with her lover. This remains consistent throughout the entire film and it is beautiful to see how she matures and develops externally and internally as the film grows more complex.
Tilda Swinton shares some interesting thoughts on her character and the clothing she wears from the film. From Refinery29.com:
Which part of the character of Emma did you respond to most?
"We wanted to tell a story about someone who had a really developed inner life but who didn't have much company, and we were drawing on fantasies of silent cinema and a kind of classic novel like Tolstoy, Flaubert, where you have a woman protagonist—who is very often a mother—who has given a part of her life to supporting and loving other people, and not necessarily paying much attention to herself. We wanted this person to be very interior, not particularly communicative, fairly self sufficient, but unawoken. She's not suppressed or oppressed in any way, but she's just not fully alive when you first meet her. We wanted to look into a woman approaching the idea of being not just a mother, a woman, not just bound by the fact that she's there to support her children. We were thinking of Emma Bovary of course, of Anna Karenina, and anyone in cinema who had a sense of untapped inner life."
How significant is Emma's wardrobe to her character's transformation?
"Well, she's somebody who is an avatar. She comes into this world as an alien, and I think that anybody marrying that sort of industrial tycoon in Milan in the '90s would find themselves daunted to assimilated. There's a uniform you need to be supplied with. You know, to walk the walk and talk the talk in a certain way in order to fit into the very precise grid that that world prescribes people. As someone like Emma, who comes from outside that milieu, she really has no preparation for it. She has to learn the code and so her wardrobe, to a certain extent, is everything."
How do you think the color palette of the costumes evoked her life in the country versus her life at home?
"It was designed to do exactly that. Raf Simons of Jil Sander and his team were so responsive to our challenge which was to make a responsive wardrobe for an uncommunicative person. The idea of her signaling with a red dress that she might be in the process of falling in love... Color referencing was really fun to play with.
What message did you want to convey with the very deliberate references to luxury brands?
"I wanted to convey observations about a kind of limitation of a completely false hierarchy in the market and a kind of global availability and domination of certain luxury brands, which is disappointing at best. It's possible to walk into a rich person's house in any city in the world and find the same make of candles, or the same shoes. I find it a waste of cultural specificity and history and myth making, and I would so much rather walk into someone's house, however much money they have, and feel that I'm actually connecting with the culture of that place and the people who live in that place. I'm disappointed when I go through airports and I see the same shops and I think there's a way in which that particular luxury milieu is like one big duty-free shop."
Personally, what is inspiring is her silent but polite rebellion against the strict conformity of the family. It's subtle but she is clearly firm in her conviction. Her simple with rich fine details will be much imitated by me. In past fashion in film posts, I have tended to focus a substantial part of my discussion on the plot of the film and less on the clothing themselves. Hopefully from this posts onwards, they will be much more focused on the aesthetics and of course, the clothes. Last but not least, I am hesitant to bring this up because it has raised a few eyebrows from people who have not seen it in the past, but the film has the most gorgeously filmed sex scene ever. Please watch at your own discretion. Anyway let me know what you think of the new arrangements in the comments below!