BAFTA-winning ‘Jackie’ costume designer – Madeline Fontaine – In Conversation


Talented costume designer Madeline Fontaine just won a BAFTA for her work on Pablo Larrain film Jackie. She is also in the running to win an Oscar this year.

Previously she won French César Awards for her work on Séraphine (2005) and Un long Dimanche de fiançailles (2009).

Today she joins us for a Film Doctor In Conversation.

Ladies and gentleman, meet Madeline Fontaine!


Natalie Portman in Jackie – BAFTA-winning costume design by Madeline Fontaine – Photo: Pablo Larrains and Stephanie Branchu


What is your creative background and what are your first memories concerning your fascination with clothes?

My parents were sensitive to any form of art, and I got the chance to be awakened in my childhood. One deep and very light memory is of me dancing in the urge room of the Orangerie Museum (Paris, France) when I discovered the Nymphéas (Monet). I was about 5 years old.

I had the chance to see dance and theatre too. I was not especially fascinated by clothes, but costumes and textiles were part of what I was sensitive towards.

When did you decide to become a costume designer and how did you get into the film industry?

By chance I met a costume designer on a project called “L’étémeutrier”. She was looking for someone who could help her in an area she did not know – finding vintage shops and giving her a hand in making some pieces of costumes. It was in Provence where I chose to live at that time, in 1982.

Then I realised I could have something to experiment in this profession and decided to learn. Except for the artistic basis I already got from art school, I had to learn a lot from “inside”.

Then I started to assist different costume designers and kept an interest on everything concerning art history, creations and observing with a sharper “eye“ than before all the stories clothes could tell about people.


What were the key skills that helped you become a successful costume designer apart from talent?

I met Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro when they were preparing “The City of Lost Children”. Jean-Paul Gaultier designed it (I worked 9 months on it pretty alone).

Then Jean-Pierre wrote “Amélie” and asked me to design the costumes. It was a beautiful window. And we went on with “A Very Long Engagement”…


Did you have a mentor or somebody that really affects your way of thinking and instincts regarding costume design? 

I learned a lot from the designers I worked with, often just observing their approach of the characters research, their interpretation and sensitivity. Not necessarily mine but always interesting.


What’s your first memory that comes to mind regarding “Amelie”?

The first time she appeared in the silhouette that we finally adopted.



Film star Natalie Portman in BAFTA winning film Jackie
Photo: Pablo Larrains and Stephanie Branchu
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When you began your research for Jackie, you had access to a lot of pictures and footage. Was it restrictive in a way? Is there any freedom of working when it comes to such historical moment and figures?

 Yes, it’s very generous in terms of references and restrictive in terms of creation. The freedom we had was in sensitivity to recreate the feeling of Jackie’s taste.

Some rare pieces did not stick on the footage. The outfit she wears in Hyannis port, the dress of the Pablo Casal’s concert, the dresses she puts and takes off searching the way to herself in the corridors, etc.


Tell us more about the challenges of remaking the main pieces – the red Dior dress and the pink suit. What are the stages that the crew went through to get them done?

It started with the adaptation of the proportions for Natalie Portman. She’s physically different from Jackie. We had to research the proper fabrics to give them the same aspect and get-up. We researched the technical process of fabrication (how the fabrics react).

Then the question of colours came. We had to make some dyeing tests to make sure what the result after the choice of camera and image treatment would be. We discovered that the good red of Collingswood report was too dark when shot in black and white. Then we made another dress especially for this – pink grey.


You did research in antiques, collector’s shops and rental houses in France. How did you find them?

There are places we are used to working with. I discovered some collectors working on YSL. The rental houses in France and the USA have been more than useful for the project. 


Do you prefer to work on certain types of productions and what makes you say yes to one?

The subject might inspire me and the costumes might be interesting to work on. Whatever the size of the project. 


Film star Natalie Portman in BAFTA winning movie Jackie
Photo: Pablo Larrains and Stephanie Branchu
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What is a directors’ approach to costumes and do they trust you completely or follow their own visions?

It really depends on each director. Some have very precise memories or projections, others need to see different options and don’t know how to give you the keys. Others are completely trustful… I like to feel the collaboration, and with no trust, it cannot happen.


What should a young and talented designer do to make his/her way into the film industry?

I do not think there is any recipe. It depends on meetings most of the time, but one thing I know is that we have to always be curious and learn from everything, be exigent and open.

Thank you, Madeline!

Interview by Danny Delcheva

RELATED ARTICLE: Interview with BAFTA and Oscar-winning Mad Max costume designer Jenny Beavan
RELATED ARTICLE: Interview with  BAFTA and Oscar-winning Carol and Cinderella costume designer Sandy Powell

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