Anna Karenina style: Costume designer Jacqueline Durran reveals Keira Knightley's rare style quality

Nicola McCafferty
Yahoo Lifestyle
4 February 2013

Keira Knightley's beautiful portrayal of Anna Karenina was brought to life by her character's floor-sweeping, glamorous ballgowns.

And while Jacqueline Durran, the lead costume designer on the film, has found herself nominated for a Oscar and a BAFTA as a result of the fabulous wardrobe - it's Keira's style quality she's championing.

"She is beautiful," Jacqueline gushed. "She is great to dress.

"She’s not only beautiful, but she’s stylish. She makes a look work."

[Related: JW Anderson brings monochrome style to Topshop]

Anna Karenina marks the third time Jacqueline has worked with the British actress, having also collaborated on Atonement - she's the brains behind that green dress - and Pride and Prejudice.

Clearly it's a relationship that works, something she believes is heavily-hinged on the fact that Keira is unashamedly stylish herself.

"People can be beautiful, but not stylish," she told us. "So it’s not necessarily good for clothes. But if someone’s both, then it’s a dream really."

Jacqueline Durran is responsible for all the stunning ballgowns seen in the hit film, which is an incredibly stylish view of 1870s St Petersburg, where the plot is staged.

In Anna Karenina's world, it's all glamorous ballgowns, jewels and pearls and feathers - and of course, sheer misery and heartbreak.

Brought to the screen by director Joe Wright, Jacqueline's brief was to do away with the expected decision to design accurate period costumes and instead focus on shapes and silhouettes.

"In my first conversation with Joe he said he wanted me to not do accurate period costumes," she explained.

"[Instead he wanted the clothes] to have the feel of a period costume but not be of the period.

"He wanted me to focus on silhouette. He didn’t want any trimming or lace or beading or anything.

[Related: Model Cara Delevingne bags first British Vogue cover]

"So the way we decided to do that was by taking elements of the 50s which are such strong silhouettes and combine the two things."

The costume designer said it's of huge importance to work with the actors when it comes to creating their individual looks, as it's their wardrobe that helps them become their characters.

She told us: "It's really essential that the actors are involved. Because what you’re trying to do is combine the director’s vision with what the actor will wear and be comfortable in.

"It’s not about being physically comfortable or vain or anything like that.

"And when you're working with actors like Keira, who are really serious about acting, you want it to represent the character."

Jacqueline revealed that Keira was involved in every aspect of the process, helping to make Joe Wright's vision for the movie come to life.

"[With Keira], we talk about the costumes, we talk about what colour we think they should be, we talk about the shape of the costumes, all those sorts of aspects.

"You're working a lot of different things; the director’s vision, the elements the actor wants to make them feel like theyre playing the character and the way you feel like it should be on the spectrum of the choices for all the different characters. You're combining all those elements together."

The movie is a constant showcase of glamorous couture, with Jacqueline even making individual costumes for the crowd - something that usually wouldn't be done.

"I’m not sure how many costumes I actually ended up making," she laughed. "Because you make crowd costumes which you don’t usually make, we must have made over 100 crowd costumes.

"And then you make costumes for the principle actors, up to about 12. They're numbered in terms of the size of the part… The most principle actors you make all their clothes, then all their uniforms."

Working on Anna Karenina was something different though, Jacqueline explains.

With many films the wardrobe helps make something real, but here it was more the character entering 'the style of the film.'

"All films are slightly different," she explained. "Sometimes you're aiming to get something completely real, so that the audience is putting on clothes that almost transform them into that character.

"But with Anna it's slightly different. It’s all so stylized. It wasn’t so much as entering into the real but entering into the style of the film."

She added: "It’s like you're getting dressed and getting involved in this big theatrical event. So it’s slightly different."

[Related: Jump on the trend for jumpsuits with these top high street buys]

Fashionistas will find themselves swooning over Keira Knightley's wardrobe in the film; marvelling at the stunning ballgowns and chic pearl jewels that adorn every scene.

And for Jacqueline, it's the free rein she had to do break the boundaries of what typically constitutes a period film that makes for the best looks.

"There are all kinds of things I like," she told us when it came to choosing her favourite outfit.

She went on: "When she's at the races, she wears a dress made of denim. I really liked that as I thought it was a real fun thing to do.

"It wasn’t something you'd usually do in a period film. But then it wasn’t a different kind of period film, so we had the possibility of doing it.

"The other thing I really like is when she’s sitting in the coffee shop, or the tea rooms, in Moscow in summer and she’s in all off-white with a pillarbox hat. It’s quite 50s and quite 1970s mixed together."

While many costume designers may have panicked at the prospect of creating so many beautiful costumes - for a film where style is paramount - Jacqueline Durran clearly wasn't fazed.

Instead, she said by focusing on the basics and working up she was able to make the process more manageable.

"I think if you started thinking of the whole thing it would be too much," she admitted.

"You just kind of work from the basics up. And then you start from there.

"It’s a process of breaking it down into small parts to make each bit manageable."

Anna Karenina is out on Blu-ray and DVD now. The Anna Karenina Costume Exhibition at Ham House is open until 4th April,

What to read next

Banks "Outraged" by Brilliant Home Payoff Method

Before you pay your next mortgage you should see this. Millions of homeowners are already amazed. If your bank knew you did this, they'd freak!

Heartburn During Pregnancy

Dealing With Pregnancy is Hard Enough. Getting Heartburn While Pregnant is a Pain. Learn What Causes Heartburn During Pregnancy.

10 Looks to Heat Up the Season

Love warm weather? Nothing heats up the season like these essentials.

Veterans Can Get Great Rates With A Refinance

You could save big by reducing your rate with a VA home refinance. Compare quotes and take advantage of your benefits!

This home security system is bizarre—but it works.

Built by the leading engineers in the country with revolutionary wireless technology… Engineered to make your home feel like a fortress...