Durran also used a subtly shifting color palette to mark Kitty's gradual maturation in the film: “She starts off with an absolutely childish palette – all pale blue, pale pink, white – but as she changes in the movie, she evolves into a kind of champagne beige by the time she's a married woman.” 

Kitty's costume transformation as clearest in the film; by contrast, Anna's succession of outfits is intentionally irregular, styles and hues morphing with her moods and fancies. “Anna definitely doesn't really follow a linear pattern,” Durran says. “She refers back and forth to herself, I think. She dresses at the beginning of the movie, and she dresses again at the end, and it's a kind of mirror image of the events. The black dress that she wears to the ball, I mirrored in the white dress that she wears at the opera. So at the two social events that mark her, she's wearing the same thing – but one is black and one white.” 

But it's not just the women who get all the dress-up fun in Wright's film; in particular, Aaron Taylor-Johnson's young, callow Vronsky seems at least as much in love with his dashingly uniformed image as he is with Anna herself. In designing his character, Durran was inspired by the rough shape of 19th-century Russian military wear, but with a degree of stylized improvization. 

Fastidious historical accuracy wasn't of paramount importance: though the ornate white dress uniform he wears for much of the film would really have been reserved only for rare occasions, Wright thought it defined the character well. “Joe was very specific in wanting Aaron's uniform to be white, which caused me almost more problems than anything else in the film!” Durran remembers. “Because you can't actually buy white wool. It's really impossible. You can only buy cream wool, so I had to end up using more of a woman's wool that was really not very good for suiting. It wasn't heavy enough. It was just a bit of a nightmare.” 

Durran was already working a highly stylized mode before Wright dropped the news of his intention to set the action in a mostly theater-based context. While that obviously had a dramatic impact on the production design – as you'll surely read in Gerard's interview with production designer Sarah Greenwood next week – it didn't greatly affect the individual costuming concepts for the film, though Durran believes the crowd costumes became bolder than they would have been in a more naturalistic context. 

Still, the shift presented less tangible challenges for Durran. “It sounds silly, but I found it very difficult to imagine the costumes when I didn't know where they were going to be,” she says with a laugh. “It's kind of stumbling block, because when you imagine things, you always put them somewhere – you don't imagine them in the ether. So I couldn't quite get on with it as fast as I would have liked.” 

This is Durran's third time working with Knightley, and in addition to now conceiving designs with the actress's very particular frame in mind, she's found the ongoing relationship a personally rewarding one. “I think she trusts me more, and I kind of trust her more,” she says. “It's just a more equal collaboration. We've both learned more about costume in the time that we've been working together, and we know we're better at interpreting what Joe wants. She was absolutely the most conscientious at going back to the text and finding motivations for Anna, but she'll also just go with something that Joe and I want, and see where it takes her. She doesn't bar any kind of creativity.” 

Though her period work with Wright has earned her the most acclaim and exposure in her career, Durran's work in more contemporary spheres is no less accomplished. A regular collaborator with Mike Leigh, she won a BAFTA for “Vera Drake” and created the gaudy, character-defining thrift-store ensembles for Sally Hawkins in “Happy-Go-Lucky.” Last year, meanwhile, she deserved more awards attention than she got for her remarkable costuming of the 1970s-set “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” – a veritable gray rainbow of men's suiting that she describes as “a learning curve,” having never previously worked on a film without a female lead. 

Durran enjoys hopping between period and contemporary work in this fashion, and says she doesn't actually see a vast difference between them. “I just really enjoy working with directors, and I really mind what it is that director decides to do. I like getting inside their vision. It really doesn't matter whether it's period or modern.” Or, indeed, somewhere in between -- as is the case with “Anna Karenina”'s exquisitely adaptable magpie wardrobe.

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Guy Lodge is a South African-born critic and sometime screenwriter. In addition to his work at In Contention, he is a freelance contributor to Variety, Time Out, Empire and The Guardian. He lives well beyond his means in London.