Belle du Monde

By September 12, 2013
Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Natalia Vodianova

Costume designer Magdalena Labuz selected Hermès attire for the equestrian scenes in the film "Belle du Seigneur." (Photo courtesy TNVO)

Belle du Seigneur is Swiss novelist Albert Cohen’s sweeping masterwork set on the brink of WW II. When we saw still photos from the film, released to U.S. theaters in June, we were intrigued: two of the most beautiful actors in the world, riding on the beach and strolling seductively in equestrian garb. We had questions. Who costumed the film? Which designer’s clothes were used, and why?

A series of emails to French producers ensued. We were fortunate to locate costume designer Magdalena Labuz, who graciously answered our questions. As it turns out, she is a horsewoman, too!

Ms. Labuz was kind enough to share her time and insights about working on the movie, which tells the story of a Jewish civil servant (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who played Henry VIII in Showtime’s “The Tudors”) and his affair with a married Swiss aristocrat (supermodel Natalia Vodianova).

Magdalena Labuz and her Freisian, Floris.

Magdalena Labuz at home in Luxembourg with her Friesian, Floris. (Collection of Magdalena Labuz)

The Equestrian News: We were delighted to discover you are a fellow horse-lover. Was this a childhood passion that carried into adulthood?
Magdalena Labuz: I grew up in Poland, in a big industrial town. There were no horses around, but I was always attracted by them. When I was five, on holiday at in my uncle’s farm, my teenage cousin helped me climb onto a neighbor’s old work horse. It was a secret ― my uncle would be very upset to know! No saddle, no instructor. I started spending all my holidays there to ride him. Big luck for me, the horse was quiet. I still remember all sensations from this first time. Then I moved in Italy, then to France. Now I’m living in Luxembourg. It’s a small town with a magnificent countryside and a lot of riding stables. I got back to riding some years ago, when my daughter, Livia, became interested. We did some classes together. Now, she is the one true good rider in our family. Since last year we have Floris, a Friesian gelding, now 4-years-old, and she makes a great work with him.

TEN: How did the equestrian costuming fit into your overall strategy for the fashion of Belle du Seigneur?
ML: The equestrian style is for a very small part of our movie ― a special scene for the main characters, very different from their other costumes. Since director Glenio Bonder wanted a very modern period style, a modern equestrian look fit perfectly in my design. For other scenes, I used a lot of vintage dresses, including originals by Fortuny, but I also mixed-in some contemporary clothes with the period pieces.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Natalia Vodianova.

Comfort and timeless elegance were the goals that led Labuz to select Hermès style for her film. (Photo courtesy TNVO)

TEN: Which equestrian brands did you choose and why?
ML: I wanted for Natalia Vodianova’s character, Ariane, and Solal, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, a high degree of elegance, so Hermès, what else? This brand was dressing riders ―and horses !― in the relevant period [1937]. It is, to me, the most elegant brand for riding equipment. It was a pleasure to collaborate with with Hermès. They allowed me into their amazing archives. The gloves are from a small Parisian brand called Buscarlet.

TEN: Since tall boots make such a “statement,” did you have to pay special attention to the footwear?
ML: We just needed riding boots, comfortable and as similar as possible to period ones. They didn’t really have to appear broken-in. Ariane never wears the same costume twice. We discussed that a lot with Glenio, the director, and finally we decided to build her character on continual changing.

TEN: Had either of the two principal actors any experience riding horses?
ML: Both Natalia and Jonathan are rather good riders. Two horses arrived in the morning for a scene scheduled to shoot around noon. For the Friesian, it was first time he saw a sea… oops! We all worried a bit for ours riders. I remember that a trainer spent some time riding him on the beach to get him used to it, and when we shot everything went well.

Natalia Vodianova in Hermes riding jacket and breeches.

Both Vodianova and Rhys Meyers had riding experience. (Photo courtesy TNVO)

TEN: What do you think of the “equestrian look” as a fashion statement and do you ever wear your riding clothes for everyday casual or business wear?
ML: Equestrian style is really elegant and smart. I do love going through different periods of riding fashion, and when I have time to play I do my own mix of period/military/modern pieces in my dressing. I’m interested in the story behind the fashion and in particular the evolution of the riding outfit since humankind started to ride. I would love to make a book about it. Some pictures show really extravagant and interesting outfits.

TEN: What project are you working on now?
ML: A Marvin Gaye biopic, with Jesse L. Martin as main character. This is one of the most exciting projects I have ever done, with an absolutely great cast.

TEN: Have you recently attended any equestrian events?
ML: In April I attended the Saut Hermès at the Grand Palais in Paris. I saw just a small part of the three-day show, but it was absolutely amazing. Fashion and horses mix well!

Hermès breeches

Classic Hermès breeches

Vintage Hermès jacket

Vintage-look Hermès riding jacket.

Hermès jumping saddle

Hermès jumping saddle - cushy, with a glove fit.

Gifts at Saut Hermès

Gift bag goodies at Saut Hermès in Paris.

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