Made in Madrid: The Spanish tailors outfitting world cinema

With a vast wardrobe catering to everything from "House of the Dragon" to "The Crown", Spain's Peris Costumes has carved out a well-tailored niche for itself, renting costumes to producers across the globe.

Made in Madrid: The Spanish tailors outfitting world cinema
Helmets from ancient period that have been used in film productions are stored at the Peris Costumes company, in Algete, northern Madrid. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

“Here, you can find everything,” says CEO Javier Toledo showing off a vast array of costumes and accessories – from suits of armour to frock coats, sailor suits and monastic robes.

All around him mannequins dressed in 18th-century gowns stand next to posters of the many films his company has worked on in recent years.

“There are starting to be rather a lot,” admits the 63-year-old entrepreneur with white hair and a neatly trimmed goatee whose business is based in Algete, a small town just outside Madrid.

Since Toledo took over 10 years ago, the business has been transformed.

What began as a small family firm set up by tailors specialising in theatre costumes in the eastern coastal city of Valencia in 1856 has become a world leader in costume hire for the film industry.

And it’s a success story closely linked to the rise of on-demand streaming giants such as Netflix, Disney+ and HBO.

“We have responded to the changes that have taken place in the market,” he told AFP, pointing notably to the explosion in popularity “of the series”.

When he bought the company, Peris Costumes only had a dozen staff, all based in Madrid.

Today, the group employs 250 people and has offices or workshops in 15 capital cities, including Budapest, Berlin, Paris and Mexico City.

“During the first half of the year, we were involved in almost 600 productions. And by the end of the year we’re hoping that will be more than 1,000,” says marketing director Myriam Wais.

An employee of Peris Costumes company tidies up jewellery and accessories from different periods to hire for the film industry. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Cleopatra’ jewellery

Among the films and series that have chosen the company are numerous super-productions which are very demanding in terms of period or fantasy costumes.

Whether it’s “The Rings of Power”, “Mulan” or “Marco Polo”, many productions prefer to rent costumes rather than invest in making their own.

“Trying to make (the costumes) from scratch is practically impossible because of the time and costs involved,” says Toledo.

And producers appreciate “having costumes that have been worn in and aged with time”, he explains.

To expand its catalogue, Peris Costumes has in recent years has bought up millions of gowns, hats, pairs of shoes and uniforms from studio giants like Warner Bros.

And all these complement its own in-house collections put together in the workshops of its costume designers.

“In total, we have more than 10 million articles” of clothing and accessories, says Wais, reeling off a list of the most popular styles and eras.

It is, she says, “the biggest wardrobe in the world”.

In a nearby room, four garment makers are working with pieces of leather, with a hammer-like maul and pliers on hand.

“Right now, we’re working on our inventory but there are also orders,” she says.

In another room is the jewellery workshop, where close to 20,000 pieces are stored, including the jewels worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 epic “Cleopatra” and the papal cross worn by Jude Law in the 2016 series “The Young Pope”.

CEO of Peris Costumes Javier Toledo poses next to costumes to hire for the film industry, stored in one of the company’s warehouses. A small family business set up by tailors specialising in theatre costumes in Valencia in 1856, Peris Costumes has been transformed into one of the world leaders in costume hire for the film industry, a success story closely linked to the rise of on-demand streaming giants. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

Damaged but never discarded

At Peris Costumes, the rule is to never throw anything away, not even if it is damaged during filming.

“We have an area called ‘The Walking Dead’ in which we put everything that is broken or damaged but that could be reused,” Wais says, the term referencing a TV series about zombie apocalypse survivors.

With demand showing little sign of ebbing, this Spanish outfitter has recently started digitising some of its catalogue with the help of a studio equipped with 144 high-resolution cameras.

Dubbed Peris Digital, this service lets production companies “create 3D images” of costumes which can be used “during post-production”, Wais says.

And this “virtual wardrobe” has also proved popular with the makers of video games, the company says.

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Horror director David Cronenberg honoured at Spain’s San Sebastián film festival

Canadian director David Cronenberg, the master of stomach-churning body-horror classics, has been honoured at the San Sebastián film festival for a lifetime of work examining the dark side of the soul.

Horror director David Cronenberg honoured at Spain's San Sebastián film festival

The sci-fi shockmeister, whose films include “The Fly”, “Dead Ringers” and “Crash”, received the honorary Donostia award at a gala in the northern Spanish city.

Earlier on Wednesday, the 79-year-old — whose latest film “Crimes of the Future” is a dystopian tale about a future where people undergo surgical alterations for the sake of art and sexual pleasure – said his work was not about seeking to push spectators to the limits but to push himself.

“It’s like I go on a creative journey exploring myself, my relationship with the world. I invent things and see how it feels… do they reveal some truth, something interesting, something entertaining,” he told reporters at the festival.

Watch David Cronenberg’s award speech below (starts around minute 12):

“And then I say to the audience: this is something I imagined, see what you think. So I’m not really trying to push the audience, I’m really pushing myself.”

When the film, starring Kristen Stewart, Lea Seydoux and Viggo Mortensen, premiered at Cannes in May, it divided the audience, sending many queasy viewers running for the exits but also winning a seven-minute standing ovation.

It will be screened later on Wednesday in San Sebastián.

‘The attraction of the forbidden’

“The appeal of art is to the unconscious, to the parts of ourselves that are still primitive and destructive, so in that way, we as artists are exploring those things that are hidden, that are forbidden, that are not to be acted upon in society, but still need to be understood, and to be expressed,” Cronenberg said.

“The attraction of cinema has always been what is forbidden, whether it’s as simple as sex in a time of repression, when sex was not to be shown on the screen, to other more obscure kinds of impulses like the ones that you might see in ‘Crimes of the Future’,” he said.

Winning the Donostia award was an encouragement to keep making films, he said.

“I used to think if you got an award for your whole career, they were basically saying enough, stop making films but I now realise it’s really to say: keep making films,” he said.

“So I hope to commit more crimes in the future by making more films.”

He said his next project was a film called “The Shrouds” starring Seydoux and Vincent Cassel which would begin shooting in Toronto in spring.

“It’s a very personal project for me. People who know me will know what parts of it are autobiographical,” he said.

Earlier this week, French actress Juliette Binoche was also honoured with a Donostia award for her acting career.