Hannibal_Anthony Hopkins_linen suit dining.bmp © 2009 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Hannibal: Exclusive Interview with Janty Yates

Oscar winning costume designer Janty Yates has kindly taken time out filming Ridley Scott’s latest Robin Hood to chat about her contribution to an earlier Scott picture, Hannibal (2001).

Hannibal’s forbear, classic chiller The Silence of the Lambs (1990), was directed by Jonathan Demme and costumed by Colleen Atwood. It relies on a dank, washed-out atmosphere that informs the narrative by very lack of its presence. Hannibal on the other hand was always intended as a glossier more conspicuous affair.

This marked something of a change of pace for Janty Yates whose earlier credits included the austere Victorian fashions of Jude (1996) and Scott’s own sword and sandal epic Gladiator (2000), for which she won an Academy Award.

Hannibal is not a historical picture, instead it applies contemporary fashionable costume to identify and reveal character. Free from the uniform of the asylum, fugitive Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is now a man of style. By contrast his pursuer Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) could care less about clothes. She has neither the finances or flair; moreover she would probably feel guilty at such narcissistic folly.

As such these two characters are both, in their own way, victims of fashion: Lecter by indulgence, Clarice by intentional lack.

Lecter’s Taste:

Dr. Hannibal Lecter is perfectly at home in his Florence exile. Here in this artistic Italian haven he adopts a well-groomed European vibe.

A world away from the boiler suits and identical white tees Anthony Hopkins wore for The Silence of the Lambs; this is Lecter how he always imagined himself.

It was imperative to indicate Lecter was at the top of his game” observes Yates. “Whether it be design, art, literature, music, science, etc. His wardrobe was always to be cutting edge and as elegant as his interior decor.

Hopkins carries off the justifiable pomposity of Lecter with a knowing smile. Wardrobe highlights include a three button single breasted white linen suit, fedora style Panama hat with black silk band (similar to the one Lecter wore at the end of The Silence of the Lambs), a pair of lime-green sunglasses by Cutler and Gross, a brown leather ‘man case’ and, even more radically, loose fitting rolled-up linen trousers (very 1980s Comme des Garçons).

Lecter was the height of elegance, no expense spared. He wore mainly Gucci suits and some Armani.

However Yates also indicated that the long, luxury draped raincoat glimpsed when Lecter dispatches a pickpocket is actually by Issey Myake, a Japanese designer famed in the late-seventies for his monochrome knitwear.

Lecter’s taste then is not specific to any one label or country, but it is always couture. At least until he flees to the U.S., whereby an untucked shirt, baseball cap and slacks becomes his usual everyman disguise. Lecter is ostentatious if he knows it is acceptable, but adaptable to his surroundings.

For the film’s final scene aboard an airplane he even dons a lurid blue shellsuit, which probably hurt more for Lecter than chopping off his own arm.

Hello Clarice:

In portraying dogged FBI agent Clarice Starling, Julianne Moore’s ethereal beauty is purposely de-emphasised throughout much of Hannibal.

For someone who lives an erratic and active lifestyle; who has to work at elegance (the antithesis of Lecter in this respect) Clarice would never buy clothes for anything other than functionality.

This was a collaboration with Sir Ridley and Ms Moore. The character would dress exactly as we had seen FBI officers dress. They did not wear, and on their salaries could not afford, designer clothes.

Moore’s wardrobe primarily consisted of combat trousers, plain tees and shirts, two denim jackets (indigo and stonewashed) and a small selection of drab off-the-peg suits.

However during the last act Clarice is groomed in designer labels by Lecter for his grotesque farewell ‘dinner’. In fact Julianne Moore gets to wear probably the most grandiose haute couture outfit of the whole movie.

Her strappy stilettos are by Gucci (as clearly indicated to the viewer when they are left in the photo booth by Lecter). This is likely a riposte to the ‘cheap shoes’ comment Lecter derides her with in The Silence of the Lambs.

I would like to think this was the subtext” confirms Yates.

The black halterneck dress Clarice wakes up in was made by New York designer Mark Bouwer. Bouwer trained under legendary disco couturier Roy Halston and his influences can clearly be seen in this dress for Hannibal. In particular the flowing, Grecian-esque swathe, front slit, and deep, shockingly revealing v-neckline.

Bouwer was suggested to Ridley Scott by Moore herself. This can either be interpreted as star influence or a genuine desire to fulfil the fashionable requirement of the narrative. Nonetheless, irrespective of narrative justification and on a level of purely aesthetic splendour, the dress is perfection.

Free Range Rude:

It is Chief Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), the once celebrated now downtrodden Florence detective, who perhaps provided Yates with her most enjoyable assignment.

Pazzi was fun to do as an Italian Cop. Still well cut, but more ‘high street’.

Diminutive Italian actor Giannini wears this accessible diffusion chic in an almost slovenly way. A cotton raglan slip-on shouts ‘detective’ while brown tortoiseshell shades whisper ‘European’. Think Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade on holiday.

No UK cops would dress like that” Yates continues. “But when we visited Florence police headquarters, these plain clothes cops certainly did.

Pazzi’s wife Allegra (Francesca Neri) is a very beautiful woman way above his financial means and cultural capacity.

Having recently been demoted from the Il Mostro serial killer case, Pazzi feels insecure in their relationship and desperately plots to bring Hannibal Lecter in for the reward. This proves to be his undoing (and unravelling, literally) when Lecter wises up to the plan. Although Pazzi at least gets to buy his wife an expensive dress before shipping out.

During the Vide Cor Meum opera scene, Neri wears an opulent mocha coloured halterneck evening gown embellished with sparkly rhinestone studs. The dress was by Gucci and poor Pazzi would certainly have cleared out his overdraft to buy it. To Lecter, delectable Allegra must have looked like haute cuisine.

And finally there is Mason Verger, the disfigured paedophile memorably played under the prosthetic guise of a chewed-up toffee by Gary Oldman.

Verger is horrific in every way imaginable, yet monied to such an extent he can afford to live in a Virginia mansion and dress like an English lord.

That man, with his resources, would have his suits and jackets made in Savile Row and his shirts tailored for him at Turnbull and Asser.

Evidently ‘newly reborn’ Verger believes he can buy his way into repute by merely looking the part; that by wearing Savile Row he automatically gains an air of respectability. Verger even dons a cravat with pin and patterned brocade waistcoat for his evening watching Lecter being digested by wild boars.

He does not remain respectable for long however, as Lecter soon escapes and the boars chow down on Verger instead. Appropriately enough fancy brocade silk is often used to line the inside of coffins. Verger was even more prepared for Jesus than he thought.

Hannibal received some harsh notices from outraged critics and fans of The Silence of the Lambs on its release. Yet it evolved the story in a modern, imaginative way; it moved on, just as Lecter himself needed to.

If The Silence of the Lambs was a horror film, Hannibal is a cop thriller. A gory, handsome one at that.

With thanks to Janty Yates.

© 2009 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.

  • richard Legge

    Great insight into the thinking behind the characters presentation! thanks for this.