The French film, “Priceless” is making its slow journey across the nation this summer. Starring Audrey Tautou, the film is a study in high fashion.
Live from France!
Virginia Montel was charged the difficult task of costuming a film that celebrated a woman in the South of France, content to move from one rich gentleman to another as they adorn her in the most celebrated designs on the planet.
A romantic comedy in the truly French cinema genre, “Priceless” is just that, an impeccable piece of filmmaking that reminds us why audiences adore French films. Costume designer Virginie Montel called the experience of her and Audrey choosing dresses and heels while feeling like “little girls.”
Montel called SheKnows from Paris to talk about the finer points of costume design and the tough job of spending every working moment dealing with the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Manolo Blahnik.
SheKnows: Ms. Virginie Montel, first of all thank you so much for visiting with SheKnows all the way from Paris. I wanted to ask about what you thought about this film when you were first approached?
Virginie Montel: I was first approached by the director. The challenge is that Audrey is far from being someone who wants to look sexy. Just thinking about that, we had to make her sexy. We were wondering how she could be conformable while being sexy. How she can be free with it. She’s a girl after money, but I thought about how I could dress her without being too much like an easy girl. It was dangerous on that movie to go in the direction of ‘I’m a big girl, I want money and I want people to see it.’ The direction was to be very respectable of what Audrey brings. We tell her to be a funny, nice girl and little rock n’ roll girl, we instead went in that direction.
Audrey Tautou as muse
SheKnows: She fit the part perfectly in more ways than one. What was it like for you to have her as your muse for this film?
VM: Audrey was great. When she came for the sitting she said ‘I am really happy to do this movie. How are we going to do this?’ We started to talk and I showed her and she tried on dresses and high heels and she had pleasure in it. She played with it. In the beginning we found someone she was happy to be, the clothes were a huge part of her character. She shouldn’t be ashamed of her body or anything. She was free in the outfit she was trying. She played the part of it brilliantly. Some actresses, sometimes, let’s just say sometimes, they can be very ashamed of their bodies. They’re afraid that something is not good. Audrey was perfect. She was taking pleasure in being comfortable in those gowns and outfits. She said she never was before.
SheKnows: That has got to be a high compliment for you.
VM: Oh, very much. She was wonderful. It was good for all of us on the film. She made the filming more fun than hard.
SheKnows: Also, even though she spends most of the film in these fantastic dresses, it is when she is her most vulnerable in the grey bikini, alone by the pool with no where to go, that her character emerges. What about the choice of the sarong and the color grey for her bikini?
VM: That’s true, she was never more afraid at that point in the movie. I think that was key to the story and played into us questioning what exactly she had on there. She is quite vulnerable at the end. She’s not such an easy girl or money girl. She had to look like she had nothing left and nothing left to explain. It is an illustration of the reality of being nude in front of somebody. Not because she had nothing on, but because she doesn’t know where to go or what to do. We wanted to illustrate, now, I’m alone. I’m cold and I have nothing. A grey bikini was perfect. To show that this girl is not only a money girl that men can play with. She’s touchable, vulnerable. I think that’s why the movie is good also.
The little black dress
SheKnows: It is a wonderful movie. The black dress at the end,
VM: Where she runs to him?
SheKnows: Yes, with the plunging neck line…
VM: You remember that scene well. (Laughs)
SheKnows: Well, she did look gorgeous. But it occurred to me, from your perspective, she’s running to see him with desperation. Was that a difficult feat to find a dress that works for the drama of the final act of the film, but also be able to be functional with her running at top speed through a hotel?
VM: Ah, yes. That was a challenge. We had to choose a dress for that scene special, because it was the final scene. She had to run. She had to sexy. She had to be not much girly, you know? When she ran, the dress was low on the shoulder and that was what we were thinking about her character. She had nothing. She didn’t care about what she looks like. At the end, the dress is the dress of her dreams. But, she doesn’t care. She’s not dreaming anymore. She was in love and had to run to it. The dress could fall off her body, she does not care. She stops, takes off her heels, she’s barefoot. She is free. She is at her most glamorous, of what she thought she wanted, and tosses it all aside to try for love, like a princess. It could be the changing of the, how do you say, oh, my English is so bad.
SheKnows: No, it’s not. Virginie, you’re doing great.
VM: Thank you, well, Audrey in that scene, she wears the dress like a new person. She has been completely changed.
SheKnows: What also struck me about the costumes is they were their own characters in many scenes. They also served as art direction. How do you achieve that, where costumes become art?
VM: That’s why I love my work and I got to do that on this film especially. With many directors, I take part in the costumes, hair and makeup. We try to give direction to the character in a different way. I don’t know if it’s part of art direction, but that is what we try to do. When I put together costumes, I try for them to not be too much. It is not the first part of what we are seeing. But they are a big part. On “Priceless,” they had to be part of the character, definitely. That is the most important. In that movie the clothes are important because of the story.
SheKnows: Did you enjoy the filming process on “Priceless,” it sure sounds like it was a joy for you.
VM: I did. It was good fun, really good fun. We played like we were little girls, you know? It was nice to have that kind of fun.