At this point, it’s fair to expect anything when it comes to The Young Pope. Once a show set in the Vatican introduces a kangaroo, nothing is really off limits. So in Sunday’s episode, the fashion-focused montage set to “Sexy And I Know It” was a moment of welcome—but not surprising—absurdity. It also showed off the work of Carlo Poggioli, who co-designed the show’s lavish costumes along with Luca Canfora.
For last night’s hour, one of Poggioli’s tasks was recreating the papal tiara that is currently housed in D.C. Pope Paul VI, who was elected in 1963, stopped wearing the headpiece. According to a New York Times report from 2014, that was “to show that the authority of the pope is not tied to temporal power,” or the power that the pope exercises in the secular world. In the world of the HBO series, however, the conservative Lenny Belardo is insistent that the towering crown be returned to Rome, and when it finally arrives, he dons it to make his address to the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. It took over a month to build the replica. “We tried our best to make it lighter,” he says. ”We were using metal and stones, but the shape was made in a lighter material.”
Complicating matters further was director Paolo Sorrentino’s desire to get an overhead shot in which Lenny—played by Jude Law—stares up at the famous ceiling before delivering his harsh, authoritarian, isolationist remarks. “Sorrentino came to me and said, ‘You know, Carlo, I want Lenny—when he goes in the chapel he has to look at the Michelangelo painting. Can he do that?’” Poggioli recalls. “I was so scared. I had only one [tiara].” Poggioli’s only extra wouldn’t look realistic for close up shots. Law, however, made it work. “He did the scene so many times, and [it] never fell down,” Poggioli says. “He’s an extraordinary actor. I don’t know many actors who could act with all these heavy things—with the tiara, with the jewels.” According to the designer, Law actually insisted on wearing all the garments in between takes: ”He said, ‘No problem. It helps me to understand how the popes are suffering.’”
To research, Poggioli visited the Vatican Museum, though he says he’s exposed to a wealth of material simply by living in Rome. Sorrentino’s directive was that the costumes should evoke medieval styles. “It was important for me to show the power of the Church,” he explains. In part that meant getting glitzy: Swarovski was a sponsor, so bling was easy to come by. Poggioli also aimed to show a “transformation” as the episodes unfold. At the outset, Lenny is “dressing like all the other popes.” But as his strict views emerge, he reverts to more traditional garb.
As Lenny prepares for his address and the discordant sounds of LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It” blare, he selects what he’s going to wear to terrify his fellow men of the cloth into following his mandates. He ultimately chooses embroidered shoes over the Christian Louboutin leather slippers that Poggioli says were called “the Ferraris” on set. He also puts on a red mantum—a type of long robe that is also seen as a relic of an earlier period. (Before he resigned, Benedict XVI had also taken to wearing it once again.) For the ornate vestments, Poggioli was inspired by the works of painters Giotto and Raphael.
But not all of the costumes are steeped in history. Diane Keaton’s Sister Mary has a rather irreverent tasted for her off-hours garb: A shirt that reads, “I’m A Virgin, But This Is An Old Shirt.” “We were discussing with [Sorrentino] which kind of shirt we could shock people with, so I brought some hippie shirts and some flowered shirts that also were very funny,” Poggioli says. “At one point, we found this one that is very funny.” Keaton apparently “loved it.”