The Timeless Costumes of Solaris

On Film / Short Takes — Oct 21, 2015
Solaris costumes

In the decades since Solaris’s 1972 premiere, the qualities that made Andrei Tarkovsky’s psychological sci-fi masterpiece so fascinating—from its sweeping cinematography and space-age production design to Eduard Artemyev’s synth-heavy score—have been endlessly dissected and examined. Yet one of the less studied parts of the film has been its costumes. In Solaris, leather jackets, canvas trousers, and industrial suede dresses substitute for space suits—but have you ever wondered why? Over at The Calvert Journal, an online publication that covers Eastern Europe, you can read an extended excerpt from the book Costumes for the Films of Andrei Tarkovsky, which was published in June by Cygnnet and is due out in a new edition in January. The book compiles notes, sketches, and photographs from Nelli Fomina—who was Tarkovsky’s costume designer on Solaris, The Mirror, and Stalker—detailing Fomina’s unique experiences on set to provide an intimate look at the production of Tarkovsky’s films. Read a few snippets from the excerpt below.

Originally Tarkovsky had wanted “space age” costumes to be used for Solaris, since the film takes place in the future. Andrei, however, was not satisfied with the plans the first costume designer had come up with: she had used “futuristic designs” from the “House of Models,” which designers saw as pointers to fashions of the future. In Mosfilm’s footwear workshop, square-toed shoes with incredibly high platform soles had been made for the film’s main character, Kris Kelvin. They horrified Andrei.

The director’s diary for September 7, 1970 contains the following brief entry: “There’s nobody I can work with. I’ve got rid of the executive producer and the costume designer as well. Who’s going to replace them? The studio’s got nothing to offer.” Later, on September 21, he noted: “We’ve found a costume designer . . . N Fomina. Armed with sketches from Mikhail [Romadin], I think she’ll cope” [. . .]

Tarkovsky told me straightaway that there was no need to make any spacesuits for the film, because “in 30 years' time people will laugh at us.” That was a correct decision on his part. In 2011, when I was giving a master class in Moscow, a young man asked me where we had found the string vest which the hero had worn. It meant that even after all those years the costumes for the film did not seem out of date [. . .]

Andrei used to say: “It’s not simply a matter of dressing an actor—the key thing is that what he’s wearing should correspond to the image of the character.” Through costumes the designer helps to express the nature of a character, to reflect the times and places in which the action unfolds. As the script evolves, so too must the costumes.