March 2, 2021

from the costumes of Doctor Zhivago to the skins of the Night’s Watch


Madrid’s Sastrería Cornejo celebrates 100 years dressing the cinema and theater. Part of the costumes from movies like Doctor Zhivago, Shakespeare in Love, Gladiator, Les Miserables, Vatel or Anna Karenina, as well as costumes from series like Game of Thrones, Outlander, Velvet or Cable girls They were made by the team of more than forty Cornejo workers, and now, stored and ready to rent in other productions. La Sastrería Cornejo was born in the Cava Baja of the Madrid neighborhood of La Latina, where Humberto Cornejo Arenillas lived, owner of a small collection of costumes that he inherited and that he rented for the usual masked balls among the wealthy class, as well as as costumes in theaters and zarzuelas. Today the third and fourth generation work with an international projection that accounts for 70% of the turnover.

Humberto Cornejo (grandson of the founder Humberto Cornejo Arenillas) tells us that the international career of tailoring began in 57 with the filming in Spain of Pride and passion, in which they had to make clothes for Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren. But it was the American film producer magnate Samuel Bronston who would mark a before and after in this humble and modest tailor shop: “Bronston was going to shoot in Italy, at Cinecittà; Spain had no infrastructure to make films, but here it was offered facilities such as the army intervening as a free figure. What was definitive is that Bronston was financed by some investors who had the money here, and Franco would not let him take it out, so they convinced him to take it out in the form of films. That is why he came to Spain to shoot and, although he usually worked with Italian tailors, since the money had to be spent in the country, we made the costumes for the five films: King of kings, El Cid, The fall of the Roman Empire, 55 days in Beijing Y The fabulous world of the circus ”.

Humberto says that for these films they made large quantities of clothes of very good quality: “I think that 55 days in Beijing we still have three or four thousand Chinese in stock. And the clothes ‘of the fall’ have been in many movies such as, for example, in Gladiator. Clothes are not sold, they are made and rented, this surprises people. Sandy Powell won the Oscar for best costume with Shakespeare in love and the clothes were reused, it is a common practice ”.

Cornejo has worked on all of director Ridley Scott’s films since 2000: “For example, in the film Robin Hood we take advantage of the clothes of The Kingdom of Heaven. And now, in the one that Ridley has just shot, which is also medieval in tune, we have reused garments. And that’s what we live on, rent. The last time we did a whole new wardrobe was in ’82, Conan the barbarian, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and they were other times ”.

Gladiator and Shakespeare in love

In Cornejo they can boast of having dressed more than 400 people per season of Game of Thrones. The most requested material was the black goatskins that covered the shoulders of the Night’s Watch, which had been the clothing of the barbarians in The fall of the Roman Empire. That wardrobe has been in Game of Thrones, in Vikings, in Outlander, and in Willow. “In 94 my craze to buy clothes began and I had to convince my father ”, Humberto Cornejo tells us, “I took him to Paris and we saw the clothes from the movie Queen margot, 16th century French, I had to ask for a loan to buy the 600 suits, but it was an investment because it is a cult band and they come a lot looking for those dresses. There they were in the dance sequence in Shakespeare in love years later, for example. The next purchase was in Malta, in Gladiator, I bought two or three thousand Romans and it was very important for us because it was the first time that fiberglass was used for the armor. The ones we had were made of metal or leather, but that material was agile and did not weigh ”.

Humberto Cornejo has been able to make these purchases profitable and, in fact, there are many feature film costumes that he has acquired a posteriori, like all the clothes of Perfume, The Prince of Persia or Maleficent.

Cornejo tells us that the costume designers (mostly women) who are hired by the production companies already know what the tailor shops have in store because “the world of cinema seems very big, but it is very small.” The costume designers would be in charge, together with the director, of imagining (creating or looking for) the costumes appropriate to the historical times and aesthetics of the film. “For example, we are very well in the Middle Ages, in the 15th and 16th centuries, which was when the Spanish monarchy dominated. But we are worse in the French fashion of the court of Louis XIV, while the Angels tailor shop in London is the first in English fashion of all times, but we are better than they in Rome, because we have all the material of Gladiator. Another of our specialties is leather work “.

María González is part of the tailoring team and assures: “We do not have all the clothing in our stores cataloged or digitized, but we estimate that more than 500,000 people could leave here dressed, that would be about two million garments. The main volume of business is based on the rental of the stock of what has already been made and used in cinema or theater. The clothes are hung on hangers so that it is easy to see them, so sometimes costume designers or art directors come to see specific clothes from a time, centuries, or countries; or if not, we do photo sessions and send them to them ”. It is common for costume designers to send documentation with what they are looking for and, if Cornejo has something that fits or fits, they consider coming to see the clothes.

Asterix and Obelix Earrings

The clothes are continually arranged, put in and taken off, adapting to the sizes of the actors: “the size of our suit is the last one that has been put on, when we make them we leave them wide so they can adapt to different bodies” . The fundamental thing in the control of the stock is a rigorous order for years or times and countries, in addition to the prodigious memory of the project managers who dominate what the warehouses keep.

Alfredo Martínez is one of those in charge, he has been working in Cornejo for more than thirty-two years and one of his tasks is to make the selection of costumes: “you can ask me that you need to dress 40 people from the 1920s with day suits, for example , and I search and make a proposal. We have to control a lot of History and History of Fashion, we rely on books and documentation ”.

The Cornejo tailor shop has a men’s wardrobe workshop, another for women, one specialized in headgear and another in shoe and leather. “And there is a person specialized in resins and synthetic materials to make shells and props”, María González tells us. The family business welcomes many families within it, says Humberto Cornejo: “my managers are the sons of those in charge who worked with my grandfather and my father, the cutter is the grandson of my grandfather’s cutter, my cutter is the daughter of a dressmaker . The lady who washed clothes with my grandmother, her son was in charge with my father, and now I have three children working for that manager and one grandson, that is, the great-grandson of my grandmother’s co-worker. ”

Right now the tailors are making the costumes for the Teatro Real opera Rule by Vincenzo Bellini that opens on March 3, they are also working with the Puy du Fou historical park, which is preparing two more shows for spring (Vikings and medieval) and they are awaiting the arrival of the costumes for the new film by Asterix and Obelix, which would be the fourth of the saga in which they collaborate. Although renting is the main business, Cornejo artisans do not stop cutting, sewing and creating. The machinery for dressing and assembling movie costumes does not understand curtain closures.

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