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Interview: Les Mis costume designer

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As Les Misérables is released nationwide in cinemas today (11 January), Stylist speaks to the film's costume designer Paco Delgado, who has just been Oscar nominated for his lavish and imaginative designs in Tom Hooper's epic big screen adaptation. He explains to us how he went about tackling the challenge and showcases some of his sketches for the movie.

"My God, this is such a huge job" - was Paco Delgado's first reaction when Tom Hooper called to see if he would head up costume design for one of this year's most anticipated releases, the unapologetically opulent film version of Les Misérables.

It was no understatement: Delgado was tasked with creating looks for a large cast of flamboyant characters and visually translating Victor Hugo's classic tale in a way that was convincing and moving.

Not only that, he also had to contend with the sheer time span (1815 -48) of Les Mis, and the massive social changes the story encompasses.

"It took a lot of research," he says. "I started by re-reading the original book, which was full of quotes about everyday aspects of life at the time.

"The story's quite dark, it's about good versus evil - so my first instinct was to go for a darker colour palette. But Tom (Hooper) wanted to have colour and I had to fight with myself to use it. I used a lot of colour mixtures, like bright shades with tones of blue within."

Delgado worked with an all-star cast including Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Amanda Seyfried and Hugh Jackman.

"I had a lot of respect for them, they were such big names. It was the crème de la crème of the acting world," he says. "It was an amazing opportunity and they were all really, really nice.

"My job is a lot about talking and exchanging ideas. We had many conversations about how did they see their characters. Part of what makes my job interesting is being open to new ideas. You need to listen to the actors, if they say, 'red is a colour that doesn't work for me,' you listen to them.

Les Mis must be a designer's dream when it comes to characterisation - there's such a mix of personalities to choose from and they are all vividly portrayed. Did Delgado have any favourites to design for?

"I loved designing all the major costumes," he says. "I liked Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) because his character changed so much through the story. He starts a prisoner and ends up a respectable person.

"And of course, the ladies' dresses were very appealing. I really enjoyed designing for the comedy characters played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. As pickpockets and ruffians they were expressing a kind of freedom and it was refreshing to represent that with a freer use of fabric and colour."

Not surprisingly, Delgado's team was massive - encompassing 45-50 people at any one time cutting and sewing into the night, every day for the entire shoot.

"I am very proud to be a part of this special film, and am especially happy for all of the recognition it has received," he says. "I was supported by a great wardrobe team who worked with such passion. "

The future looks very bright for Delgado: he's already up for two major awards (Oscar and Bafta) for his work in Les Mis and many more will surely follow.

"Costume design is a compromise," he says, modestly. "It's a four-way process between the actors, the director, the audience and me.

"It is amazing to get a (Oscar) nomination for a film we all worked so hard on."

Sketches: Paco Delgado/Les Mis production

Picture credit: Rex Features

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