August 23 2014

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Russian Dolls: On Location With Keira, Cara, And Anna Karenina’s Hair And Makeup Designer


Much talk has already swirled around the latest film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina—the casting of Keira Knightley as the troubled heroine, the feather and fur-trimmed costumes, the lavish strings of Chanel jewels worn on screen. It’s all very fitting for a story that involves much gossip and eyebrow-raising among the Russian high society in the 19th century, which is when the epic story is set. The film stays true to the original novel, depicting the title character (Knightley) as the virtuous wife of a high-ranking government official (Jude Law). A fated train ride throws her life in turmoil, as she locks eyes with the dashing cavalry officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and is drawn into a disastrous affair that plays out before the watchful gazes of Anna’s friends (Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery) and foes (British model-of-the-moment Cara Delevingne). With all that drama in the background, it’s no wonder hair and makeup designer Ivana Primorac chose to keep faces relatively simple—with just a touch of shading on the skin, eyes, and lips—complemented by strands that appear loose and unfettered at times. The subtle nuances of social order can be decoded in every flick of an eyelash and turn of a curl, however. Here, Primorac talks with ahead of the film’s U.S. premiere next month about brows that are built one hair at a time, the perils of frozen skin, and how to recognize a rival by the tone of her blush.

You’ve worked on many period films in the past, but how did you research this particular film?
“It’s set in 1874, when photography was just developing, so we had a lot of visual references to go by. We looked at photographs by Karl Bulla, Alexander Drankov, and Vladimir Shukhov, and paintings by Franz Xaver Winterhalter—he was an artist who painted hair and faces in a particularly realistic way. We also looked at the photographs from the Maly Theatre in Moscow and the Bolshoi Theatre to help inspire us since the whole film is actually set in an old Russian theater.”

What was your inspiration for the makeup?
“Russian women didn’t wear much makeup then, so we wanted to go for a natural look. Still, Keira has a lot of makeup on, even though she doesn’t look ‘made up.’ I focused on making her skin slightly darker and more olive-toned since there was an Asian and Mongolian influence in Russia, by applying Chanel’s Le Blanc primer and Chanel Vitalumière foundations. On her eyes, I used Chanel’s Le Crayon Kohl pencil in Ambre, which really lends itself to a period film because it has this reddish pigment that looks like skin just a bit darker on camera. I shaded the kohl from the inner corners, near the tear duct, to the outer corners to give her eyes an almond shape that focuses her whole face. And for the brows, we actually placed real hairs under Keira’s arch and toward the tip to get a full, dramatic look.”

I heard that director Joe Wright, he of Brad Pitt’s Chanel No.5 commercial fame, wanted Keira’s curls to be unlike any other female character’s in the film. How so?
“Her character was supposed to have naturally curly hair, and there had to be a certain wildness to it. It’s not a very set curl, but one that’s untamed. Vronsky is the only other character whose hair also has this wildness to it, which you notice when they end up making love and their heads are together on the pillow.”

Swoon. Were any other beauty details customized to Keira?
“Yes, we’d worked with Keira before, so we knew her proportions and frame well and designed hairstyles that would show off her shoulders and skin. Since there were many wonderful textures in the clothing, along with veils and feathers going on, we decided that her updos should match the period but also be slightly modern and looser, a bit more free-flowing and soft.”

Cara Delevingne plays a princess who Anna believes is her rival. How did you make her look the part?
“This was Cara’s first film and she was an absolute joy to work with. Her part is small but very important. She’s the catalyst for making Anna slightly mad and jealous. So we wanted to make her very beautiful with a fresh, young look. I used these beautiful Armani blushes, which were key for enhancing the peachiness of her skin, and Chanel Vitalumière Aqua foundation since she was quite tan at the time of filming and we had to make her look paler, very porcelainlike. She has fantastic eyebrows already so we left those alone and then piled about four kilos of hair on her head!”

Michelle Dockery also plays a pivotal role as a friend to Anna when society shuns her. How did her look convey her social standing?
“Michelle has a very versatile face, and she’s able to convey the emotion and embarrassment Anna feels when they’re at the opera. With that in mind, we made her traditional and conservative with pale skin, less stylized makeup, and hairstyles that were shaped closer to her head and less flamboyant, without ringlets.”

Sounds easier that I’m sure it probably was. What was the biggest beauty challenge of working on the film?
“There was so much makeup going on in the film, but it couldn’t look like a lot. That’s a very fine line. We also had different lighting setups depending on if we were shooting in the theater or outdoors in Russia in minus 40-degree weather when everyone’s skin was freezing. But I loved doing this film because Joe [Wright] is incredibly visual—he’s into every eyebrow, eyelash, and skin tone—so there was no limit to the ideas we could put into action to portray Anna’s transformation.”

Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features

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