Tyranny of Style

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  • Cleopatra - Golden Anniversary

    This week, 20th Century Fox released the 50th Anniversary Blue Ray/DVD set of the epic Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor.  In honor of the film's Golden Anniversary, we look back at one of the film's most iconic (and expensive) costumes.

    Elizabeth Taylor's Gold Ceremonial costume with gold metallic dress; tall, Sobek-style headpiece; and ornate Phoenix-inspired cape is featured prominently in the film as Cleopatra dramatically rides into Rome, as well as in her "final farewell."  Images of Taylor in this costume were also used heavily in marketing material.  It is truly the pinnacle of the last pharaoh's opulent style in the film.


    Right to Left: Cleopatra Gold Ceremonial costume, full, seated on thrown; Cleopatra portrait image, featuring beautiful leaf details on dress; Cleopatra headpiece detail with intricate metal work and beading.

    In 2012, Cleopatra's Phoenix Cape went up for auction at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. The anonymous seller had acquired the cape from Western Costume in the 1970s.  The cape fetched an astounding $59,375.

    The auction site's description included construction and material details; "Crafted to resemble the wings of a Phoenix, ornate piece is made of very thin panels of gold-painted leather adorned with hand-stitched gold bugle beads, seed beads, and bead-anchored sequins, visible areas of mesh lining offset each beaded panel, two hidden hook-and-eye closures sewn along the front. Cape's Wingspan: 124" with 62" from the center seam to each tip." 

    The images below reveal the incredible craftsmanship of this garment.  


    Cleopatra Phoenix Cape, front.

    Cleopatra Phoenix cape, back.

    Cleopatra Phoenix cape, full wingspan. 


    Celopatra Film Costume Facts

    • Costume Designers: Renie Conley, Vittorio Nino Novarese and Irene Sharaff
    • Awarded the Academy Award (Oscars) for Best Costumes (Color) in 1963.
    • Elizabeth Taylor's costume budget alone was $194,000. Adjusted for inflation, that is roughly $1,440,000 today.
    • Elizabeth Taylor completed 65 costume changes, which at the time gained her the Guinness Book of World Record title "Most Costume Changes in a Film."
    • An estimated 26,000 costume were created for the movie.
    • 8,000 pairs of boots/shoes were used for the army of extras.