“The Young Pope”

February 3, 2017

Anna Wyckoff

In HBO’s The Young Pope, Costume Designer Carlo Poggioli was able to consider the sacred and the profane within the person of one character, Lenny Belardo—aka Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law). The series, co-designed with Luca Canfora, follows the first American pope as he comes to power, and decides how to wield it. Director Paolo Sorrentino is a frequent collaborator, and Poggioli notes that not only does Sorrentino consider every detail, he also visits the costume shop frequently to examine garments firsthand.

In an interesting twist, Poggioli used liturgical garments, which have changed only incrementally since the medieval period, to explore Pope Belardo’s transformation. Poggioli had the benefit of a six-month prep, and the luxury of scrutinizing original garments housed in the Vatican Museum. Additionally, he was charged with a unique design problem—in order to accommodate the many multiples necessary for the film, he had to build everything from scratch, as realistically as possible, down to the intricate embroidery.

The church’s power is symbolized by the papal tiara, last worn by Paulo VI in the 1960s, who gave it up in a gesture of humility and practicality. Enormously heavy, shaped like a hive, and covered in jewels, the headdress was literally and figuratively from another age. Law assured Pioggioli saying, “Carlo, thank you. I now understand why the Pope couldn’t move at all. This weight gives me the possibility to understand the weight of the church.”

Poggioli took care to draw the distinction between the private and public life of the pope. Out of the public eye, the pontiff is just a human being. Poggioli explains, “The interesting thing is what he was wearing was like a mask. When he wears all these jewels and stones he is representing something else that is the power, and when he’s representing himself, that’s simple. But when he wears his vestments, everything is hand-made, even the embroidery had to be real. Each cape needed months of work, and I have to say thank you to Swarovski because they gave us the possibility to use all of their wonderful stones on the capes and tiara.” Even the jewelry was custom made for the film, and Poggioli chose to alter the scale of the originals for effect, and make everything slightly larger than they actually are.

Pioggioli also used the accessories to elaborate on the character. He built all of the hats with slightly exaggerated brims. He says, “The Pope wears sunglasses, he wears the hats. He’s hiding from the people during his first speech in St. Peter’s, so they don’t know his face. Because in his speech he says, ‘You will see my face when you will believe in Christ. That’s when you will be allowed to see me.’ That’s a line from the script and that is the atmosphere. He’s hiding all the time.”

Another distinctive element is the red slippers, which Pioggioli commissioned Christian Louboutin to create. Symbolizing the blood and passion of Christ, Pioggioli calls them the “Ferraris,” and designed them thinking about the scene where everyone has to kiss the Pope’s shoes. They offer striking punctuation to the Pope Belardo’s white robes and ornate gowns.

“In Rome, the power of the church is everywhere, says Poggioli, “when you think about Giotto, Raffaello, and Michelangelo, so you can see in all this the transformation of the church in all of this. When you go in the chapels, like the Sistine Chapel, they show the maximum representation of the power in the church. So, I tried to put this power into the costume of our Pope.”

The Young Pope airs on HBO Sundays and Mondays at 9 p.m. ET.

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