An Interview with Penny Rose
Costume Designer for Evita
Q: Penny, are the costumes all exact copies, authentic ones?
PENNY ROSE: No, they're not exact copies, but they're very similar in style, fabric, and color to the kind of things Eva Perón did wear.
Q: Did you look at a lot of newsreels?
PENNY ROSE: Well, we've got a phenomenal amount of photographic research and videos of her, but we did things that suited Madonna in the style that Eva wore, rather than straight copies.
Q: Did Madonna say, "I would like this"?
PENNY ROSE: Yes. She would point out things that she really liked and ask me if she could have them, and very often she could. We've got a fantastic costume making department led by Annie Hadley, and we've accommodated Madonna as we can. Some of the things are authentic clothing, but most of it we've had to make.
Q: What's Madonna's input, and what does she think about Evita's clothes?
PENNY ROSE: She likes us to be as close to reality as possible, but obviously Madonna's got a much better figure than Eva had, and we've made things in the essence of, rather than exact copies. Later on, after Eva's clothes were made by Christian Dior, the copies of Dior that we've made are really very glamorous, whereas Eva's were slightly dowdy. So we've kind of lifted it a bit.
Q: But Eva was a romantic fashion icon of the time, wasn't she?
PENNY ROSE: I think in reality she was a kind of Imelda Marcos of her time. She absolutely loved clothes and hats and shoes, and the reason people commented all the time is because she never seemed to wear anything twice. It's almost a kind of Princess Diana thing. I'm not sure she was always that well dressed, but of course Madonna's going to be.
Q: There was something about postwar austerity, and this glamorous woman going around the world. She had an impact.
PENNY ROSE: She certainly began to have a big impact once she'd been to Europe, because then she started wearing Dior clothes and Chapperelli clothes and she was really couturely dressed, but also the cut and style of the clothes of the period are just so much more feminine than people wear today.
Q: Is the film going to lead to a forties revival? What sort of impact might these clothes have now?
PENNY ROSE: Well, I hope some of the things will be remembered -- Madonna looking incredibly ladylike and glamorous, away from her kind of sexy image. But in fact the Paris collections last season did have a lot of "forties" shapes, so we're just in line with them, really.
Q: Did Madonna have a very big input in your thinking and in the design of the clothes?
PENNY ROSE: It's a definite collaboration. She and I discuss it, I show her things, and we do it together, really, because it's most important to me that she feels good wearing the things we've made for her.
Q: How many costumes does Madonna wear in the film?
PENNY ROSE: There are 85 costumes, and we don't ever repeat anything. There are small scenes that go with songs; some of the scenes are quite short, and she wears a different outfit each time.
Q: Is this is a record, for a leading actress to have 85 costumes in a film?
PENNY ROSE: Well, it's a record for me! I don't know about anyone else.
Q: How do you feel when some of these wonderful clothes are being used for only a few seconds?
PENNY ROSE: It doesn't really make any difference how long the scene is. It's still got to make an impact, be it two seconds or five minutes, so it's about the same amount of work and the same amount of input, however long the scene is. We try, obviously -- I mean, this is an outfit that we're all very, very fond of. It's an original that I found in Los Angeles, and it's got a rather good hat that goes with it. She looks absolutely fabulous in it, so obviously we've tried to use it in a scene where we think it will be seen more.
Q: Do you have a favorite dress?
PENNY ROSE: I'm particularly fond of a Dior outfit that she's going to wear at the Paris Opera when she faints, because we found the dress at Cos Prop in London. It's one of John Bright's special originals, and he let us borrow it. It's a bright, screaming pink, silk ball gown, but we felt it needed more, as it's strapless. So we made a matching coat and the whole outfit just looks absolutely brilliant.
Q: Is it boring to clothe the men after having these wonderful leading-lady designs?
PENNY ROSE: Jonathan Pryce's clothes were made by us in London. He's got a lot of lovely suits and some really spectacular uniforms. He's very patient. He loves dressing up, and he'll stand for a fitting for any amount of time. We've had to pad him up a bit because he's slimmer than Perón was, but I think he looks pretty good.
Q: Give us a bit about the background of Eva and her hats and her jewelry.
PENNY ROSE: Well, she always wore her hats on the back of her head because her hairdo was so enormous during the forties period. Whereas hats should have been worn on the front, hers were always popped on the back, so with Martin Samuel the hairdresser, we sort of reach a compromise where he does the hairstyle and then we find a hat that works. A fifties Dior type of hat should be worn on the front of the head, and in fact she wears it on the back, but it still looks very impressive.
We have a copy of a Bulgari brooch and earring set which they have in their archives. They very generously made us a copy with craftsmen in Florence, and they made us two sets of earrings in case we lose a pair. We also have very good original sets of costume jewelry. In that period, people wore an awful lot of costume jewelry, and we've got maybe 30 sets in all. Then we did copy three or four things of Eva's at Martin Adams in London, including the Perónist badge that she wears a lot.
Q: Was Eva Perón as lavish with her footwear as with her clothes and jewels?
PENNY ROSE: When she went to Paris and started having her clothes made by Dior and the other couturiers, Salvador Ferragamo started to make shoes to match every outfit she ordered, and they very generously gave us some shoes as well, made especially for Madonna. They came to visit us, measured her feet, and we chose from their archives the sort of shoe we thought Eva would have. We've also been into the bank vaults here in Buenos Aires where some of Eva's shoes and clothes are kept, so we were able to say, for example, that she definitely had a pair like this, and we made them.