For ‘Napoleon,’ Finishing the Hats
Costume designer David Crossman, known for his expertise in creating military wear, faced a unique challenge when tasked with designing the hats for the movie “Napoleon,” directed by Ridley Scott and featuring Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix, a vegan, does not wear animal products, which meant that traditional materials like wool felt could not be used. Despite this limitation, Crossman found a solution: a fabric made from tree bark originating in Uganda. This fabric provided the perfect texture for the hats and was a welcome relief for Crossman, who had initially worried about using synthetic materials.
To ensure accuracy, Crossman conducted thorough research, examining original Napoleon hats from private collections and the Musée de l’Armée in Paris. Despite the unconventional materials used, Phoenix’s hats were true to size, and the production was able to move forward.
Throughout the film, Phoenix dons a variety of bicorns, each reflecting different stages of Napoleon’s rise to power. From a simple hat worn during his early days as an officer to more opulent designs as he becomes emperor, each hat is carefully designed to convey the evolution of the character.
One iconic moment in the film sees Napoleon turning his hat sideways, a departure from tradition that he popularized. The plain hat he wears in this scene represents his youthful, untested days as an officer.
Another significant hat worn by Napoleon features gold detailing and reflects a period of glamour in his life, as well as his relationship with Joséphine. Despite the grandeur of the hat, Crossman wanted to portray a man at a low point, and deliberately maintained simplicity in other aspects of the character’s attire.
As Napoleon’s power solidifies, his hats grow in size and ornateness, symbolizing his political strength and establishing his unique style. The actors playing Napoleon’s generals and marshals also wear distinctive bicorns, adorned with feathers and gold details, adding to the visual richness of the film.
By staying true to historical accuracy and not compromising on the size and design of the hats, Crossman and the production team were able to authentically capture the essence of Napoleon’s iconic headwear.
The film provides a visually stunning portrayal of Napoleon’s journey, with the hats serving as powerful symbols of his evolving character and influence. Through careful attention to detail and innovative use of materials, Crossman brings a rich historical period to life on the big screen.