Most HBO shows are known for their truly amazing – and award winning – costumes: “Game of Thrones” is of course the best example; “Rome” was another. These days, great premium cable period dramas are known for their detailed and magnificent costumes – they’re even partially being watched for their costumes: “The Crown,” “The Tudors,” “Black Sails,” “Downton Abbey” – even “Westworld” has exceptional costumes. But HBO’s brand new prestige drama that debuted on Sunday January 15 – “The Young Pope”, starring Jude Law and Diane Keaton – created by Italian filmmaker/writer/director Paolo Sorrentino – isn’t about elaborate, glamorous fashion, embellishment, petticoats, corsets, crowns, or bright colors; set in the church of Rome, it’s a study in papal whites and blacks – with the occasional pop of red. And of course, gold crosses.
The New Yorker calls “The Young Pope” a “Cecil B. DeMille-style costume drama.” Turns out, Pope Jude has fifteen full outfits, and a tippet and fresh alb for every aspect of his mood. While the series was shot in Rome – and some of it in the U.S. and Africa – none of it was shot at the Sistine Chapel, which had to be built to scale for the series. There are two main costume designers on the show, both of them Italian, who have both worked with Sorrentino before and come with their own impressive pedigrees: Luca Canifora did “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and Carlo Poggioli worked on “Divergent.”
While the Catholic Church’s ecclesiastical traditional costume is very elaborate – particularly the robes and jewels and flat brimmed hats of popes – it hasn’t changed all that much in years. Referred to often as “liturgical vestments,” it contains the “alb” – white robes worn as undergarments – and the “tippet” – the long black scarf worn as a long hanging shawl in front. It’s not something anyone ever considered “fashion” till the great Italian director Federico Fellini put a Vatican “ecclesiastical fashion show” in his 1972 film, Roma. It was considered “sacrilege” at the time – and created an uproar. Now it’s almost more curious than anything else, with the power of organized religion taking a backseat on the world stage in the last quarter century.
So, will “The Young Pope’s” costumes have any effect on real fashion? Designers might produce more white flowing robe looks and duster coats and dresses for spring 2018 (which will show in February, very soon) – but white on white–with some gold jewelry, a black shawl tossed on top of it– is always a good look for Spring/Summer – not to mention the red carpet and the resort. Now that’s, of course, for women, not men. But in India or Morocco– well, why not? And meanwhile, Jude Law, on the late night talk show circuit last week, said his costumes and headpieces were so heavy he could barely stand – let alone walk. Perhaps Popes are among the rare males who ever experience the kind of thing women go through in heavily beaded black tie ballgowns on the red carpet – or queens at their coronations!