For Paco Delgado, "Les Misérables" moves like a breathless action movie in the way it combines gritty drama with musical fantasy. That was director Tom Hooper's cinematic vision for the operatic sing-through. So for the Spanish costume designer ("The Skin I Live In," "Biutiful"), it's all about capturing emotional states during this revolutionary epoch. From the Christ-like Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) to the oppressive Javert (Russell Crowe) to the doomed Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to the hopeful Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), he uses color to convey their dramatic arcs, particularly the clash of red and blue. In fact, it's a movie in which characters ultimately mirror themselves as well as one another.
"I read the Victor Hugo book, which is full of amazing references," Delgado recalls. "He's so realistic and so descriptive about how people lived and dressed and their environments. Then we looked at paintings of the period, especially Delacroix, Goya, and Ingres. I also researched at the Victoria and Albert in London, Le Musée du Louvre, and Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. At the Victoria and Albert they have collections of clothes as well as printed materials from the period.
"Then I discussed color and material with Eve Stewart, the production designer. She had a realistic approach along with a fantastic one. She created the basis for my work with a palette of brown and gray. But it's about so many people suffering that I had to battle against the darkness of what I was thinking in terms of clothing. At the same time, because it was a musical, I had to do something with color. And I think that was the most challenging thing, really, to be honest."
Yet for an epic production spanning more than 30 years (1815-1848) and requiring 2,200 outfits for nearly 4,000 performers, it begins and ends with Valjean. He rises from poverty to prosperity as part of a redemptive journey. Yet Jackman requested that he retain a bourgeois look throughout. "At the beginning, when he's a convict, we used a lot of rough material for him," Delgado explains. "And little by little, making him more sophisticated and more tailored using more color.