how raf simons came to co-create tilda swinton's wardrobe for 'a bigger splash'

Costume designer Giulia Persanti discusses collaborating with Dior on the impeccable, pitch-perfect costumes for Luca Guadagnino's new Mediterranean thriller.

by Larry Easley
09 May 2016, 5:00pm

tilda swinton in 'a bigger splash'

Sex, suspense, and the Mediterranean sea: this is the world of A Bigger Splash, the newly released erotic thriller by Italian director Luca Guadagnino. Based loosely on the 1969 film La Piscine, A Bigger Splash centers on Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton), a troubled rock star recovering from vocal surgery and her photographer boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) as they vacation on the sun-bleached Italian island of Pantelleria. The couple's peaceful trip is brought to an abrupt halt with the arrival of Marianne's former lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his coquettish daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). A dynamic plot and stellar cast drive the film, but it's the impeccable costumes that emerge as the unsung stars.

Enter Giulia Piersanti, the mastermind behind the movie's lust-worthy outfits. Piersanti left school at Parsons at only 19 to get a head start in the fashion industry, and after cutting her teeth at Lanvin, Missoni, and Fendi, she now makes her living as a consultant for Dior Homme and Balenciaga. Fashion is second nature to her, but when her close friend Luca Guadagnino tapped her to collaborate with Raf Simons and the house of Dior on the costumes for A Bigger Splash, she took a deep-end plunge into the less familiar world of cinema. i-D caught up with the creative to talk about her experience behind the scenes.

How did your design background play into the costume process?
Obviously approaching Dior and the atelier team is easier for me than approaching a costume atelier, which would be a bit different. It's a wonderful experience to be able to work with a great house like Dior and be able to be very precise about the things we wanted. We designed the costumes together with Raf and his team, and that is where my design experience was really helpful. We also worked with Charvet to get the shirts for Ralph Fiennes made. We got to go to Charvet in Paris, which is a magical place, and look at all the different fabrics.

Marianne's wardrobe, designed with Raf Simons, provides many of the big fashion moments in the film. What about the Dior aesthetic made it the right fit for this film?
With Dior we just wanted to keep with what the brand is all about, to keep the brand DNA. We tried to capture that iconic resort style from another era. It was really more about changing fabrics and making them more Mediterranean; subtle stripes and linens. Raf is very modern and the fabrics are beautiful, but we wanted to make it feel more natural in a way.

Speaking of Marianne, in one scene Penelope describes her as "pretty domesticated for a rock star," and her outfits don't fit into the typical rock star stereotype. What was the reasoning behind that decision?
We specifically wanted Marianne Lane, Tilda's character, to be a bit more elegant than her surroundings. It was important for her to have a wardrobe that was a bit over the top. In the end it was also important in the acting and portrayal of the character for her to be nonchalant about it and very effortless. She's a star, and she doesn't hide it. Even when she goes out into the piazza she's a bit overly dressed, like an old movie star would be. She needed to keep that glamour in her wardrobe. The hardest part was making that all feel real and not just some "fashion thing." I think we did a good job in achieving that delicate equilibrium between glamour and effortlessness.

Sexuality plays a huge role in the film. How did you address that with the costumes?
Sex? That's all Luca. I wouldn't say that we necessarily tried to make sexy wardrobes at all. That really came through more in the acting. Except for Penelope, in her underwear and see-through shirts, no one was meant to be provocative. And with Dakota we worked together to make sure that she was happy with the costumes and that they made sense for a girl her age. Every costume was a discussion between me, Luca, and the actor.

The two male characters — Paul and Harry — have quite opposite personalities. How did you try and communicate that through the wardrobe?
Matthias's character doesn't show anything through his wardrobe. I really imagine him as Avedon in a way, as some photographer or director who is very technical who finds a uniform for themself so that they don't have to worry about picking out their clothes. It's all about practicality for him. And with Ralph Fiennes it was the opposite. He's a music producer and more wild, and his clothes didn't necessarily match all the time. If you just look at the two next to each other they're really different.

Do you have a particular favorite look or piece in the film?
Tilda's look at the end of the movie, where she's wearing a big checked skirt and matching top. We went to Dior with this picture of Ingrid Bergman from Journey to Italy where she has this big heavy checked coat and wool skirt, and we turned it into something very modern and summery. She wears it all so well.

What's next for you?
We're working now on Luca's next film. We actually have two more films coming. The one we're working on now is based on a book called Call Me By Your Name. Time-wise it's set in Italy in the 80s, and it's a coming-of-age love story between two boys. We just started working on it, and we start filming in a week. And we're going to start on Suspiria in September. That's something we're going to have so much fun with. We're going to be making costumes from scratch for everyone. It's funny because this is not necessarily a career I wanted to pursue but I love working with Luca, so why not?

'A Bigger Splash' is in theaters now.


Text Larry Easley
Stills from 'A Bigger Splash' courtesy Fox Searchlight

costume design
tilda swinton
film interviews
A Bigger Splash
Luca Guadagnino
giulia piersanti