Costume designer Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle is one of France’s most celebrated, winning the very first César award (the French Oscars) for Swann in Love. She began as a painter, studied art history, designed for a lot of 1960s-70s TV, switched to film, then designed for a number of theatrical productions, and has now retired to return to painting. Let’s take a look at her frock flicks resume, with quotations when I can find them about her work. And because there’s a lot of bad TV screenshots to start, she’s also known for Vatel, so this is worth working your way through!
Le coeur ébloui (1964)
Okay, so there’s a BUNCH of early TV productions and I’ll die if I have to track down plot descriptions of them all. Let me instead give a shout out to the Base de données de films français which meticulously documents these productions. Most of the TV images that follow are from this site.
Le théâtre de la jeunesse: “Le magasin d’antiquités” (1964)
Le miroir à trois faces: “Pelléas et Mélisande” (1965)
An opera by Debussy. I think.
Le théâtre de la jeunesse: “Esope” (1965)
Esope = Aesop, as in fables.
La tour Eiffel qui tue (1966)
“The Eiffel Tower that kills.” Don’t ask me!
Huckleberry Finn (1967)
Yep, a French TV production!
Les hauts de Hurlevent (1968)
L’envolée belle (1969)
Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (1970)
Pierre de Ronsard, gentilhomme vendômois (170)
Tribunal de l’impossible: “Un esprit nommé Katie King” (1970)
Le malade imaginaire (1971)
Le misanthrope (1971)
Le soldat et la sorcière (1971)
Romulus le grand (1971)
La mare au diable (1972)
Histoire vraie (1973)
Madame Baptiste (1974)
Madame Bovary (1974)
Un amour de jeunesse (1977)
Les dames de la côte (1979)
And finally, we get some budget so I’ll put a bit more work into things. A TV miniseries set just before and during World War I.
Gerard Dépardieu as French revolutionary politician Georges Danton. At some point I will sit through this, Dépardieu notwithstanding.
“To create the costumes for Wajda’s Danton, she relied on contemporary writings such as those of Musset. They taught her that the children of the guillotines wore a red thread around their throats and greeted each other when they passed each other. Thus in the film, Lucile Desmoulins, learning of her conviction, puts a red ribbon around her throat and suddenly lowers her head. The archives of the time, such as the inventory after death, also told her that Danton was very pretty, and had a bewildering collection of costumes” (bad Google translation of Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle, Costumière).
A Sunday in the Country (1984)
“An elderly painter whose son visits with his family on the weekends, is also surprised by a visit from his still-single daughter,” per IMDB.
“What [director] Bertrand [Tavemier] wanted above all was the boredom of these fixed characters… He wanted people to feel the heavy boredom of these Sunday rituals, with the mass and the children on Sundays… I noticed how Sabine walks, with great strides. He wanted her to be very comfortable; but it was a difficult time, when women walked more like kangaroos! So I imagined a skirt that was very pleated at the bottom, a bit open, allowing Sabine to take as many strides as she wanted, and as soon as she stopped, everything came back into place, tightened around her legs” (bad Google translation of Yann Tobin, “‘Un film n’est pas un défilé de mode ! ’: Entretien avec Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle,” Positif, 1996).
Swann in Love (1984)
I hated the characters and loved the costumes. Based on the Proust novel and starring Jeremy Irons with fabulous bustle gowns.
“Generally, when I prepare a movie adapted from a novel, I start by reading the original book, even if it means being disappointed by the script itself! But what does it matter, is it always essential to know the source of the? Artwork. For Un Amour de Swann… I found lots of things in Proust’s work. I fed on it, I refer to it all the time, even if it’s not always shown in the movie… I hated Odette’s negligee in Proust’s description, mauve, with small ostrich feathers, I would have found it annoying in the image. On the other hand, as it is said elsewhere that Odette loves chinoiserie, I was inspired by them to create a kimono with oriental motifs that I painted myself” (bad Google translation of Yann Tobin, “‘Un film n’est pas un défilé de mode ! ’: Entretien avec Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle,” Positif, 1996).
Adieu Bonaparte (1985)
Napoléon tries (and fails) to invade Egypt. Nesle apparently designed SIX THOUSAND costumes for this? I got excited and skimmed the film online, particularly after seeing the sketch below, but did not see anything that seemed worth firing up.
Sophie Marceau in a film about: “In 1793 when terror is widespread in France, peasants known as Chouans fight the revolutionaries in attempt to restore the monarchy,” per IMDB.
“When there were crowd scenes, she [de Nesle] absolutely wanted each extra to go through her hands. The uniforms were fine, it’s the same costume, and again! She went to check that each hussar had his little pigtail, depending on the hairstyle he had, etc… She went to look for costumes at the Nantes museum, costumes, which are worth fortunes in showcases: I don’t know how she managed to snatch that from the museum… She checked them constantly, scolded negligent extras, cleaned up all night when there had been fights in the slush, when the costumes had to be clean and dry the next morning” (interview with director Philippe de Broca).
Manon Roland (1989)
IMDB isn’t helping me out here!
L’excès contraire (1988)
Henry and June (1990)
Finally something you might have seen! “Anaïs Nin meets American writer Henry Miller in Paris in 1931. She keeps a diary of her sexual awakening, which includes Henry and his wife June,” per IMDB. With Uma Thurman.
The Elegant Criminal (1990)
Jean Galmot, aventurier (1990)
In 1926, a French writer and prospector recalls his life in French Guiana.
Le retour de Casanova (1992)
Yet another Older Casanova film.
The Lover (1992)
Based on the Marguerite Duras novel: “In 1929 French Indochina, a French teenage girl embarks on a reckless and forbidden romance with a wealthy, older Chinese man, each knowing that knowledge of their affair will bring drastic consequences to each other,” per IMDB.
“Among the sources were the French Vietnamese Library of Saigon and the Botanical Museum of Saigon. De Nesle also used her family’s personal papers… Every garment was custom-made, most in the production’s workshops in Saigon. The Chinese Man’s suits were made by the French tailor Pierre Betoulle and his shoes by Lobb. The Chinese bride’s wedding robe belonged to De Nesle’s mother. Silks for the Chinese Man’s suit and the wedding party were made in Da Nang” (French Colonial Wear).
A French chef (Gerard Dépardieu) falls in love with Louis XIV’s mistress (Uma Thurman) while planning an important, elaborate meal.
“For Roland Joffé’s Vatel, Mignard’s paintings encouraged her to eliminate necklaces for women and lace for men” (bad Google translation of Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle, Costumière).
The Warrior’s Brother (2002)
Two brothers soldier and fall in love with the same woman in 13th century France.
Technically a “once upon a time” fairytale story, but the costumes look very early-17th-century influenced.
What’s your favorite of Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle’s many frock flicks designs?