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Denise Cronenberg, the costume designer behind brother David Cronenberg’s horror films like The Fly and Dead Ringers, has died. She was 81.
She died May 22 at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ontario, due to complications from old age, the Globe and Mail reported. The newspaper included a tribute from her brother.
“I don’t think that she got the recognition she deserved, and I’m quite sure that she felt the same way,” he said. “We’re Canadian, so we tend not to be self-promoters, and she certainly wasn’t. But at the same time, you take a lot of pride in your work, so you would like to be recognized, but don’t want to beg for it. I think she was disappointed on that level.”
Born on Oct. 1, 1938, in Toronto, Denise became a ballet dancer, including with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet during the 1950s, after graduating from Ryerson Polytechnic. She then took up fashion design, which led her into film as a costume designer.
The first feature she designed costumes for was 1986’s The Fly, directed by David Cronenberg for 20th Century Fox. She continued on many of his genre films, including Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers, M Butterly, Crash, Existenz and Spider, and later on dramas like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.
Denise, in a 2014 short video for the Toronto International Film Festival, discussed designing the wardrobe for 1988’s Dead Ringers, in which Jeremy Irons plays identical twins. “The two young twins, when they were young, I did them after what [brother] David wore in the ’50s. From our photo albums. The breeches, the jacket, the T-shirt. And glasses, which he wore when he was very young. So that was exactly that. Just an added touch,” she recalled.
The older twins were given contrasting formal and more relaxed suits to wear. Irons recalled the two sets of wardrobe for the identical twins helping him on set distinguish in his performances between the characters. “We shot on two separate days for the two different costumes for the two different guys. I had different dressing rooms for each one,” he recounted to help complete the onscreen illusion in Dead Ringers.
Denise also designed the costumes for her brother’s A Dangerous Method, the 2011 period drama set in 1904 when a Russian woman, played by Keira Knightley, arrives at the clinic of Carl Jung’s (Michael Fassbender) clinic to seek treatment for hysteria.
In the media notes for the Sony Pictures Classics release, Denise said the drama was a welcome break after spending much of her career designing costumes for films by her brother that were set in the modern day or the future. “In terms of costume, it is fascinating to work with a script that spans this period of time. We cover 1904 through to 1913, and I had all the costumes made for the lead cast at CosProp in London where I chose the fabrics and styles. It was a huge job but wonderful and lots of fun. I’ve never chosen so many pieces of lace in my life,” she remarked.
Denise’s long career also had her working on a host of other Hollywood movies, including Moonlight and Valentino, Murder at 1600, Dawn of the Dead, Shoot ‘em up, A Cavemen’s Valentine, Dead Silence, The Incredible Hulk and Resident Evil: Afterlife.
Denise was nominated five times for best achievement in costume design at the Genies, Canada’s film awards, including for her work on Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch and Spider. She is survived by three children, including filmmaker Aaron Woodley, and five grandchildren.
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