Catherine Martin: Costume Designer & Production Designer of Moulin Rouge
By: Tanya Jensen
Photo below: Catherine Martin
Photos by Jennifer Graylock
NEW YORK, Dec 18, 2001/ --- Catherine Martin, costume and set designer for the hit movie
"Moulin Rouge," knows a thing or two about panties.
"Trying to encapsulate what on the set we termed 'a world of entertainment underneath women's dresses' was difficult in a PG13
movie," she told reporters in one of the Morgans Hotel's Moulin Rouge-themed rooms, decorated as
such to hype the release of the film's DVD - which includes six hours of extra footage and
peeks behind the scenes - on December 18.
"Because the girls had to kick so fast and so high their underwear needed to be non-restrictive
for movement. It basically consisted of two flaps of fabric on each thigh tied with string
around the waist, when [the original Moulin Rouge dancers] kicked the audience really got
an eyeful," Martin explained, shedding some light on just why the Moulin Rouge is so infamous.
"We couldn't do that so it became about layers of colors and petticoats. Some of the
undergarments alone weighed 30 pounds and needed braces for support."
Martin, who also worked with "Moulin Rouge" director Baz Luhrmann on "Romeo and Juliet" and
won an Oscar nomination for those costumes, delved deep into the history of the period and
the place she was charged to convey on screen.
"We wanted the clothing to communicate the feeling of the late 19th century/early 20th
century, but also interpret those looks for a modern audience," she noted. "In the 1890s
when the Moulin Rouge first began the costumes were very particular, an acquired taste.
The girls were not a dance group - they were individuals who danced together. It was working
class entertainment. We gave each girl in the movie her own personality, taking inspiration
from divas from the '40s and '50s, so each of the 26 costumes were very different."
It was a grueling process, as Martin well recalls. "You start to run out of ideas after 21,"
As with all grand scale ventures, problems are a part of the project. "We needed to have
clothes that would work with the dancing. The cancan is a seriously intense dance - it gets
up to 111bpm [beats per minute]. This means the clothes cannot be too heavy and the demands
on the shoes were incredible. We had an on-the-set cobbler who was constantly reattaching
heels and putting the shoes back together," said Martin.
So how was working with Nicole Kidman, who broke two ribs during filming and at one point
was in a wheelchair due to her damaged knees?
"Nicole is a doll. She is very easy to work with despite the great demands, as was everyone
involved. The clothes need a great actress to make them speak and give them a personality which
she and the other girls did brilliantly," Martin claimed.
Was Martin surprised at the huge extent to which the "Moulin Rouge" style influenced fashion?
"I do not take credit at all for the those trends," she modestly stated. "We were planning
these costumes for four years, and they were also in fashion at YSL, for example. I do think
everyone was feeling a similar thing, but I'd like to think we had some influence.
It was amazing to see how corsets, ribbons, petticoats, and even the shoes are worn in
some way by so many people. The great thing about the style is anyone can find something,
from just a feather in the hair to a full bodice and petticoat ensemble."
The room of Christian as seen in the movie Moulin Rouge