I’ve decided to start this blog by dedicating the first posts to the designs of Padme Amidala’s dresses in the first three episodes of Star Wars. Although I’m not particularly fond of these movies, I have to give some credit to their wardrobe design and the thought and creativity that went into it.
We will look into the most iconic dresses of Padme Amidala and do a breakdown of the influences behind them. Each post will be dedicated to one of these dresses.
The first one of these series is the one I like to call the “Red Invasion” gown. It’s featured the first time we see Natalie Portman’s character in The Phantom Menace, and it’s probably one of the most iconic gowns she has.
This gown is made of embroidered silk and faux fur that lines the double collar, tabards, double sleeves and hem. The alien-like touch is given to the dress by the electric lights placed on the skirt, that are made to resemble ladybugs.
The head piece that accompanies this dress is also pretty iconic in and on itself, be it due to its size or uniqueness, I cannot say.
Before I start with the historical/ cultural influences, I’d like to point out that this dress takes a lot from a dress from the 1944 movie: “Cobra woman” by Maria Montez.
As you can see, the structure of the dress is the same, and so is the color. Both are deep reed with golden embroidery and a very prominent and large headpiece. It is very difficult to deny the resemblance. Could it be a coincidence? Yes. Is it that likely? No. Whether it was a conscious inspiration or not, it cannot be denied that the Amidala dress takes a hell of a lot from this 1944 movie.
Besides that obvious resemblance, this dress takes inspiration from other sources as well; mainly from the traditional clothing of some Asian cultures, such as china and Japan.
For starters: the coloration of this dress is clearly based on the more traditional dresses of the Chinese nobility. But the heaviness of the dress (it looks pretty consisted and layered) as well as the use of fur is clearly taken from Tibet and Mongolia, rather than China. The main difference between the two is how thick the clothes are, What we understand as Chinese clothing generally consists in silks and very thin and flowing dresses (like those featured in Zhang Yimou’s movies). Tibetan and Mongolian clothes are thicker, made for a colder and less gentle environment.
An the shoulder piece of this dress actually reminds me a lot of this gown in "The Last emperor". It's just a detail, but I though it was worth mentioning.
The headdress is almost as important as the dress itself. Most Asian cultures, traditionally tend to go for huge hairstyles, heavily decorated and with huge volume. That is exactly what Amidala’s headdress is aiming for. And it certainly succeeds. The golden “hat” that surrounds the face and the hair sort of reminds me to the imperial Chinese hats, especially the top of it.
On the other hand, the hair roll surrounding it is more Japanese than Chinese. The traditional Chinese hairstyles tend to put the hair flat on their heads and add huge headdresses on top of it.
On the contrary, the traditional Japanese hairstyles (or the more known at least) base themselves on creating volume from the root of the hair by using hair rolls (very similar to the one she wears, although not quite so exaggerated).
Another traditional aspect of Japanese hairstyles, especially in royalty, is the creation of a long tail of hair descending down the back. This, as we can see, it’s also used in the design of Amidala’s hair. Although in her case it’s clearly more exaggerated, since there are at least six strands of twisted hair falling down instead of one.
The final touch to the dress is the make up. This is very recognizable on itself because she wears the same every time she appears as the Queen. That’s why we come to associate the role of Queen of Naboo with that makeup. And in the next movies, when she is no longer queen, we see that she stops using it. We also see the following Queens use it, so it is clearly marked that this makeup is unique to the Queen.
The design of it consists of white painted skin with only a touch of color: the red painted lips and the two red dots on her cheeks.
This design actually takes a look from the traditional geisha make up. Although it avoids any kind of make up in the eyes, which most geishas would use, and only paints the upper lip, leaving most of the other lip white.
This agglomeration of influences creates a very peculiar look for her character and establish a very strong culture behind it.
That us why it’s a real pity that a movie with such a good production design couldn’t be as good as every fan wanted it to be. In my opinion is an incredible waste of resources and creativity from the art department considering how bad these movies are.
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To read A look into Star Wars: Padme's Dresses. Part II click here.