'The Skin I Live In': Pedro Almodovar on Jean Paul Gaultier's Film Fashions, Friendship

Antonio Banderas Skin - H 2011

Antonio Banderas Skin - H 2011

The acclaimed Spanish director collaborates with the French designer for the asexually erotic bodysuits in his first horror film.

French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier designed the intriguing bodysuits for Pedro Almodovar's unsettling medical psychological thriller, The Skin I Live In. The film tells the story of a mad plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas), a boy named Vincent (Jan Cornet) and a young woman named Vera (Elena Anaya) whom the surgeon keeps captive in his house, performing multiple mysterious surgeries on her.

This is not Gaultier's first foray into film. He tells Fash Track that he was inspired to become a fashion designer because of a film. "When I was nine or ten, I watched the film by Jacques Becker called Falbalas and I owe it my career. I was seduced by the atmosphere of the couture house during WWII. That was my 'eureka' moment when I knew I wanted to be a couturier and stage fashion shows."

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He has also designed costumes for The Cook, The Thief, The Wife and Her Lover (Remember Helen Mirren's sexy black bondage bodysuit), The Fifth Element (Who would forget Milla Jovovich's punky white bandaid bodysuit), City of Lost Children and Almodovar's early film, Kika.

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Fash Track spoke with Almodovar about the film, the fashions and his long friendship with Gaultier.

On the filmmaker/fashion designer friendship: "I knew of Gaultier’s work from the mid-80s. I met him briefly at the mythic Parisian disco Les Bains Douches and then again at an AIDS benefit by the end of the 80s. I was in a Thierry Mugler suit then, but it was at this benefit that we really started our relationship. I felt very connected to his eclecticism, his sense of humour and his natural audacity. We’ve both been called enfants terribles, however, we’ve never looked for scandal, it has been the mere result of our spontaneity. I thought I could work with him after I saw what he did for Madonna for her Blonde Ambition Tour. His talent is alive and versatile, he can receive his inspiration from such different sources as the trash, the streetwear or the classic French designers such as Yves Saint Laurent or Patou."

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On film's bodysuits: "Jean-Paul took care of the female protagonist’s bodysuits and of the purple 'uniform' worn by Marilia, the surgeon’s housekeeper. Jean-Paul has no malice. When he makes explicitly erotic clothes, he does them in an innocent way, as a naughty kid would. He doesn’t have a morbid approach, he’s simply frank and he’s naturally prone to the pleasure of the senses. He’s always played with the combination of the feminine and of the masculine. Both in Bad Education and The Skin I Live In, he combines very well the concepts of 'nakedness' and 'identity.'"

"In Skin, I needed a garment that created the sensation that it was protecting the skin and, at the same time, reflected the numerous surgical interventions that body has gone through. The bodysuit was like a second skin. The stitches and paddings in certain areas suggest Vera’s own scars. At the same time, when presenting Vera’s character in a general shot, I wanted to create the impression that she was naked but also that her skin had a particular kind of glow, somehow artificial. Jean-Paul’s bodysuit manages to transmit all that."

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On what the bodysuits convey: "Vera has three different kinds of bodysuits. One is in a light nude tone with invisible zippers; the other two are in black and in a darker nude tone, with stitches and paddings. Vera only wears these bodysuits and refuses to wear feminine clothes. This accentuates her nakedness and defenseless.  It also helps to suggest that the skin is an organ that works as a suit that wraps our body. The asexuality is intentional. Her new sex transforms her almost into a robot, a new kind of creature that moves between both sexes without properly belonging to any of them. It’s not unusual to think of Fritz Lang’s iconic robot in Metropolis."

On Banderas' costumes: "The laboratory and the operation theatre are aseptic places, where any contamination can result in a mistake in the research or an infection. Therefore, Antonio wears the kind of clinical garb which are professionally used for this. I didn’t want to show any incision in the skin while they were operating, I deliberately avoided all the gore aspects. With regards to his clothing at the party, Dr. Ledgard has just presented his discoveries about a new skin in a Biotechnology Symposium and the party is right afterwards. That’s why he’s dressed in the same way for both events. For a psychopath, the best way to go unnoticed is to dress formally, even conventionally."

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On Vera's dress-aversion: "Costumes have different meanings. On the one hand, they present the characters’ social class, profession and tastes. On the other, they help me to define the colours I’ve chosen for the film, the general aesthetic of the narration. But costumes and fashion represent something more. In The Skin I Live In, for instance, Vera reacts to her new imposed gender by tearing off brutally three dresses. They’re lying on a bed, as if they were the ghosts of three women, and she tears them to tiny bits."

On the final Dolce & Gabbana floral dress (pictured below): "Vicente is always surrounded by dresses in his mother’s boutique, as a subliminal premonition of the gender he’ll be condemned to. Even when he wants to offer Cristina, the shop attendant, a flowery Dolce & Gabbana dress, he cannot imagine that he’ll be back to the store wearing that same dress six years later. He has found it in a store in Toledo, where he’s gone for some shopping with Marilia (although this isn’t included in the film). This will identify him as Vicente, in spite of his current physical appearance. As every element on screen, costumes give an incredible amount of information about the characters and the story. In some cases, they even become the best way to convey an emotion."

The Skin I Live In is now playing in theatres.