Costume designer Khadija Zeggaï unpacks the clothes in Ira Sachs new film, from working with Ben Whishaw, Franz Rogowski and Adèle Exarchopoulos, to mixing designer brands like Agnès B and Acne Studios with vintage
Throughout the fervid tangle of love, lust and ego that drives Ira Sachs’ latest film Passages, one element remains consistent: costume designer Khadija Zeggaï’s striking visual language animated by the characters’ precise outfitting.
Sachs and Zeggaï have collaborated before – Zeggaï dressed Isabelle Huppert’s character in his 2019 film Frankie – but this time they worked in lockstep to dream up an aesthetic that is both painterly and personal. “I work with people like Ira who are auteurs; people who love cinema like they love painting, or art in general,” says Zeggai. “It’s the most important thing for me: to work with people who can be moved by everything.”
The costume designer’s talent is more than just her visceral understanding of clothing – Zeggaï has a poetic sense of how her costumes layer into a global vision, working closely with the cinematographer and set designer to decide upon minute details like “if Adèle’s red jumper should be worn in the café”, in terms of contrast and palette.
Below, AnOther caught up with Khadija Zeggai to discuss how she developed the exquisite costumes which are, in many ways, the fabric of the film Passages.
Madeleine Rothery: How did you begin creating your visual language?
Khadija Zeggaï: Ira and I worked a lot together, especially at the beginning, to gather as much inspiration as possible. He had me watching lots of films – films by [Maurice] Pialat, by [Jean-Luc] Godard. French films but also American films and German films by [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder. There were lots and lots of things that both Ira and I saw. We would then discuss what was inspiring in each film – what inspired me, what inspired Ira.
MR: What changed between reading the script and meeting the actors?
KZ: A lot. When you read the script, you imagine one thing but then you get to know the sensitivity of each actor, of Ben [Whishaw], of Franz [Rogowski], of Adèle [Exarchopoulos] – they are each different. So, it’s true that my imagination can be applied but then it can also be changed by the people, because they have to wear the clothes. They must be able to feel the clothing. It’s something that’s very important.
We worked at my place with the actors and Ira as it was during Covid and we couldn’t go out, so we had to stay at the house and do the fittings. It was really lovely. I worked a lot with just the actors, but also with Ira and the actors together.
MR: Were there any parameters in terms of sourcing the costumes?
KZ: I had a lot, a lot of freedom. Ira was open to everything. There were no limits – you can feel it in the film. You can feel this sense of openness. I worked with certain brands like Agnès B and Acne Studios and I found a lot of things in thrift stores as well. I like thrifting and I also like clothes that are a bit Japanese. I mix a lot of things. It was so open with Ira, Ben, Franz and Adèle that anything was possible.
MR: Costume plays an important part in defining the roles of Tomas and Martin (played by Franz Rogowski and Ben Whishaw, respectively) within their relationship. How did you develop this dichotomy?
KZ: For Ben, I wanted things that were very pared down and simple. Nothing showy, nothing that was expensive, or at least appeared expensive. And for Franz, it was the opposite. It was about things that were very extravagant, unique. I found some very strange items in Emmaus [Parisian charity shops] – in fact, I bought [Franz’s] striped pants in an Emmaus for two euros, but it doesn’t show because they are mixed with things that seem expensive. I was lucky because Agnès B lent me things for Franz and for Ben, and I also received things from press offices.
MR: Tomas’ costumes are particularly pivotal, especially in that one scene when he meets the parents …
KZ: It’s true, in that scene Ira wanted him to wear the crop top with the leopard pants. It was provocation. And it worked well with character.
MR: Each of the characters wears some spectacular knitwear in the film. It was almost as though it was providing them with comfort, protection throughout the emotional turbulence. What was your intention?
KZ: I love knitwear, sweaters. Things that are very close to the body, which fit snugly with the body, but which aren’t formal. It’s true what you just said, it’s exactly that. It makes me happy to hear.
MR: Adèle’s costumes merge perfectly with the transformation of her character. How was it to work her?
KZ: It was a very rich experience as she is someone extremely generous. She gives a lot and spends a lot of time with everyone, and she is very interested in the materials the costumes are made from. It’s interesting to work with people who look for their character in the costumes. Although there was a lot of work, it was really easy to dress these three characters because Adèle, like Ben and like Franz, are people who look for their character and who work by trying on costumes.
Passages is out in UK cinemas now.