The Last Voyage of the Demeter boasts some of the most impressive production design in years. Set on a boat named the Demeter just a few years before dawn of the 20th century, an entire authentic 19th century boat was built just for this movie. Enhancing that authentic setting were the exceptionally crafted costumes, designed by legendary Italian costume designer Carlo Poggioli. The artist’s career has seen him work on movies such as Van Helsing, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, as well the endlessly epic 3D action movie, Ninja Assassin.
Now Poggioli’s latest outing puts him back into the world of vampires with The Last Voyage of the Demeter. MovieWeb recently sat down with the film’s endlessly delightful costume designer to discuss his work on the latest entry into the vampire movie sub-genre.
Why The Last Voyage of the Demeter?
“I got the script, and I was really enthusiastic about it,” exclaimed Poggioli on what drew him to this vampire epic. “I found it very interesting, because this atmosphere was very interesting. And I thought immediately that [it] was nice to design the costumes, even if it is set in the boat.”
Poggioli continued by discussing the difficulties and challenges he faced working on The Last Voyage of the Demeter in particular. “It’s unbelievable, because even if you see just a few characters there, it was [still] a lot of work,” said Poggioli. “Because each of them [has] so many doubles, and triples. And so [that] was a big challenge, and also to describe the atmosphere that was in the script.”
The Last Voyage of the Demeter boasts an exceptional set of diverse characters, but in the port of Varna scene at the beginning of the movie, the diversity was only enhanced. This in turn excited Poggioli, as it allowed him to investigate and research ideas around the diverse groups of people that would be at that Bulgarian port at the turn of the 20th century. Poggioli said:
“We had the Varna scenes, [which] was a big point to the exchange of commerce in Bulgaria. And I love the idea to describe this situation, that was the exchange, and the mix of the academic people. So we were studying who was there at the beginning of the film. So to tell the story where the story starts, it starts from a big mix of people, Turkish, and Bulgarian, and Greek.”
“And so I was lucky,” continued the designer, because he’d shot films in those places before. “So I had many, many books that were telling me the story of these people […] Instead of going on the internet, where everybody [goes] to research, I had already many books that I bought during my trips in these countries.”
Take note, artists:
To spend the money and buy the book, it’s very important […] Sometimes you say, you can find everything you need now. But I was lucky, because in all my life, I went to buy some special books about costumes.
Poggioli then carried on by discussing the little details he gave each character to reference their ethnicities in different ways. “It was interesting to describe the different people that were in this boat. Even if André, the director, asked me to not describe too much [about] the ethnicity of each of them. But it was just in some detail,” said Poggioli. “For example, just the difference of the boots. The Russian guy has boots instead of shoes, [and] the Romanian guy has a particular boot. So it’s just in the details that we can discover where these people are coming from.”
From there, the issue was making the details even more detailed. “The biggest challenge was to make the costume in that sense,” said Poggioli. “For example, the sweater, we did the oldest sweater by hand, like [how] they were in that period. And also the coat that we made, it was exactly what they were wearing. It was like a linen covered with wax. So each costume was made with this intention to make it realistic.”
Carlo Poggioli Returns to the Vampire Sub-genre
The story of Dracula is deeply entrenched in the pop culture lexicon. Almost everyone, no matter their race, culture, or gender knows who Dracula is, which fascinates Poggioli. “The story is an iconic story, it’s an unforgettable story that all of us, we know,” proclaimed Poggioli. “It’s so strange, but in all over the world, they know who Dracula is, like a story from Shakespeare, like Romeo and Juliet,” explained the designer. “And that was the challenge to describe this atmosphere.”
After all, there have been so many variations on Dracula, that it can be difficult to create a distinct one. As previously mentioned, Carlo Poggioli has an expansive and impressive filmography under his belt, specifically his work on other vampire movies like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Van Helsing. So, when asked what keeps drawing him back to this blood-sucking subgenre, Poggioli said:
“When you start to do a film that has such a story behind it, you have to find a new way to tell the story. And of course that depends a lot on the script, because there are different points of view, and I had to follow the point of view of our director. Sometimes, it was very difficult to understand because, for example, I think that in the boat, everything was so dark. So when I watched the screen test, I’d think, ‘Oh my god, I have to make some corrections, because otherwise we cannot see.'”
Tthe lack of lighting presented a great challenge to him. “It was the real light of the time,” said Poggiolo. “I had like 15 people aging the costume, and it was very important that in each costume, you can see what the sun [did to] these people working [during] the day, like, what the sea was making of everything […] the costumes, they were made like a sculpture, to keep the light like in reality.”
As a result of this and an overall astounding production, The Last Voyage of the Demeter remains one of the most realistic and historically accurate vampire films of all time. It’s currently in theaters from Universal Pictures.