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Great Expectations: costume interview

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Stylist speaks to Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, the costume designer behind lavish 2012 film Great Expectations, about her fresh and modern vision and what it was like working with Helena Bonham Carter

Photos: Rex Features

Beatrix Aruna Pasztor is something of an establishment in the world of Hollywood costume design, having worked on everything from 2004 period drama Vanity Fair to upcoming action thriller Red 2.

It's fair to say she likes a challenge and found exactly that in Mike Newell's 2012 adaptation of Great Expectations , starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter.

Not only was Beatrix working on a limited budget for the film, she also faced the dilemma of making her costumes stand out from the many other screen versions of Charles Dickens' classic novel.

"It was wonderful to take on the project," she says. "Great Expectations has been done so many times over the years and it was a great challenge to bring something new and different to the costumes.

"I consulted paintings and biographies from the Dickensian era and tried to combine them with contemporary fashion shows for a fresh and modern look. I was influenced by painters such as Thomas Gainsborough – especially in his depiction of details such as ruffles and lace - and also designers like Alexander McQueen. I went to a lot of different catwalks to draw inspiration."

The McQueen Oyster dress that Beatrix drew inspiration from for Miss Havisham

One of the most symbolic costumes featured in the film is Miss Havisham's ubiquitous wedding dress and it's a feature Beatrix was keen to target in her contemporary vision of the story.

"Miss Havisham is such an iconic, intriguing character and I really wanted to do a young, fresh version of her," she explains. "I was very much influenced by Alexander McQueen’s SS13 oyster dress. It’s simple but beautiful and a wonderful example of how material can be used and layered to create a dramatic silhouette. I wanted to create was a fashion show piece, something that actually is a good piece in itself. And of course, the exaggerated hair and make-up was a key part of creating the look."

It seems her efforts paid off as Helena, who plays Miss Havisham, was so enamoured with the dress she asked to keep it after filming.

"Helena Bonham Carter was very happy with the dress, she actually asked whether she could have it to wear on the red carpet," says Beatrix. "It’s in storage at the moment (it was held there in case of re-shoots) but if she does end up wearing it out somewhere that would be absolutely fantastic."

"I tried to cohesively integrate Dickensian influences with designer inspiration," she continues. "As well as McQueen, I drew ideas from people like Rick Owens and Iris van Herpen, whose use of texture is very intriguing. I wanted the Dickensian era to be relevant and available to today’s audience."

Beyond Miss Havisham, Beatrix had a realm of interesting roles to get creative with on the costume front in Great Expectations.

"There were so many good characters to reflect in wonderful designs and so many contrasts, from rich city boys to slum kids," she says. "For Estella (above, played by Holliday Grainger), I used very light colours to begin with and gradually introduced a bit of richer colour. I also used a very vivid shade of pale green to reflect the icy cold side to her character. Magwitch (played by Ralph Fiennes) was a really big challenge, I wanted to make him dramatic and very different.

"It was a wonderful process, it was like painting a canvas with great material. We had a very small crew as we had limited finances. It was very hands-on and exciting. "

Great Expectations is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 25 March from Lionsgate Home Entertainment

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