When costume designer David Crossman, who specializes in military clothing, found out he would be working on “Napoleon” (in theaters Wednesday), Ridley Scott’s epic starring Joaquin Phoenix, he had a “mini panic” about the hats . It wasn’t about recreating Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous headgear, the kind that collectors pay a lot for (one just sold for $2.1 million). It was that he would do it with certain limits. Phoenix is vegan and carries no animal products, meaning Crossman couldn’t use wool felt. “Immediately I felt like it would be a problem knowing what to make the iconic hat with, because it would all be about the hat,” Crossman said during a video call.
Luckily, they found a solution: a fabric made from tree bark native to Uganda, which turned out to have an ideal texture for the task at hand. “I thought, ‘oh well, we’re out of trouble,'” Crossman added. “I was so afraid it was synthetic polyester. But what this also gave us was a nice surface texture on the hat.
Once Crossman overcame this obstacle, the work could begin. For his research, Crossman looked for originals. He examined objects from a private collection as well as examples of real Napoleon hats at the Musée de l’Armée in Paris. Phoenix hats may have been made from barkcloth, but they were true to size.
Over the course of the film, Phoenix dons a series of cocked hats of varying size and opulence as he rises from upstart officer to celebrated emperor. There were three key versions of the character reproduced several times, Crossman said, as well as a glorious array of hats for various generals, allies and enemies. Here, Crossman discusses some key looks.
In the film, just before Napoleon launches his attack on British forces at Toulon in southern France in 1793, he turns his hat sideways. Although bicorns are traditionally worn facing forward, Napoleon popularized this wearing. The change comes just before a key victory that demonstrates Napoleon’s evolution as well as his personal style. It was also an actor’s choice. “It was Joaquin’s decision because he knew it had to happen,” Crossman said.
This plain hat is the one he wears as a young, inexperienced Corsican officer. “It keeps him out of trouble on the streets of Paris, he has a revolutionary little tricolor cockade so you know which side he’s on,” Crossman said. Although some of Napoleon’s rank and file wore feathers on their hats at that time, Crossman explained that he decided to keep it simple. “He was blending into the background, watching the Revolution unfold, looking for his opportunity,” Crossman said.
Hat of General and First Consul
Perhaps Napoleon’s most striking hat is the one he wears during the period in the film when he is a general – a period which coincides with his meeting and courting Josephine (Vanessa Kirby) – as well as when he is prime consul. Its golden edge echoes Jacques-Louis David’s painting “Bonaparte crossing the Alps”, which shows him astride a rearing horse.
But even with this glamorous headgear, Crossman wanted to portray a man at his lowest. “There was this kind of period where Napoleon, when he met Joséphine (at the Survivors’ Ball), he was out of luck at that point, he simply didn’t have any more money, so I don’t didn’t want to put him in a difficult situation. an embroidered uniform for that,” Crossman said, “so he has a much simpler uniform, just with gold trim. » He added that he based the uniform on an engraving he found. “So I guess the most ostentatious thing about him is his hat, which Joaquin was determined to keep on all the time.”
Yes, you will notice that Phoenix often keeps his head covered indoors. “Not for comedic effect, but for some effect, he just liked to keep it in certain situations inside,” Crossman said. As Napoleon became established, his uniform became more elaborate to match the golden nature of his embroidered hat.
By the time Napoleon became emperor, including during the crucial Battle of Austerlitz sequence, he wore a large, relatively unadorned bicorne. “That’s the hat he loved,” Crossman said. “He made a few a year and had them refreshed. We were always sending him new hats. This is why there are so many Napoleon hats today.
Based on Crossman’s research at the museum, he discovered that after Napoleon was crowned as emperor, his hats became larger and larger as he became politically stronger. “I’ve seen a lot of really nice iterations of Napoleon, including ‘Bill and Ted,’ but I’ve never seen the hat depicted this large,” Crossman said, “so this is the first one we made .”
Matching hats belonging to generals and marshals
While Napoleon’s hat remains simple during his time as emperor, actors playing his generals and marshals, such as Ben Miles as Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt, have white or black plumage depending on their rank. . In addition to feathers, these bicorns also have gold details.
And again, Crossman wanted to make them big. He said that normally in a production the actors and directors will ask them to reduce the size of the hats from their historically accurate proportions to make them more attractive. But that was not the case on “Napoleon”. “I expected more hat issues during filming,” Crossman said, “because vanity comes into play. But we didn’t encounter any of that, which was great.”