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’30s Glamour & Megawatt Tiffany Diamonds: An Investigation Into The ‘Death On The Nile’ Costumes

Anyone who has ever read Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile will recall that a string of pearls – stolen from heiress Linnet Doyle – plays a key role in the 1937 novel, which revolves around a series of murders on board an Egyptian steamer known as The Karnak. When Kenneth Branagh signed on to adapt the Hercule Poirot classic for the screen, however, he decided to up the ante on jewellery.

In lieu of a delicate pearl necklace, costume designer Paco Delgado sourced the 128.54-carat Fancy Yellow Tiffany Diamond (famously worn by Audrey Hepburn to promote Breakfast at Tiffany’s) for Gal Gadot to wear as Doyle. Typically held in a locked display cabinet at the brand’s Fifth Avenue flagship, the cushion-cut stone remains one of the world’s largest yellow diamonds more than 100 years after being discovered at South Africa’s Kimberley mine.

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“It felt surreal,” Delgado says of gaining access to the stone for production. “It’s such an emblematic piece of jewellery. For security reasons – and because of the nature of the plot – Tiffany & Co made various replicas for us for the film. The level of security required to protect the original is just remarkable. It’s really a star of the production in its own right.” Beyond the statement piece, the Oscar-nominated designer also trawled through the brand’s archives from the period – ultimately sourcing contemporary Tiffany jewellery that imitated their Art-Deco splendour.

“[As prime suspect Jacqueline de Bellefort] Emma Mackey wears a number of Tiffany Victoria designs, which really worked with the ’30s jet-set costumes in the film,” he explains. “Annette Bening’s character Euphemia also wears a lot of Jean Schlumberger designs for Tiffany.”

And while securing access to some of the world’s most remarkable diamonds proved logistically difficult, it’s by no means the only challenge Delgado faced while working on the production. “The film has 14 main actors – all of whom have about a dozen looks for the film,” he tells British Vogue enthusiastically. “These characters are really the ’30s equivalent of the jet set, and going on a holiday cruise down the Nile would involve wearing one outfit for breakfast, then another for lunch, and then if you had an evening dinner or ball, you would change again.”

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A major source of inspiration for the looks? The Vogue archives from that period, when the magazine ran dedicated issues on cruise fashions each year. “The ’30s were such an incredibly modern period fashion-wise – much more so than the conservative ’40s,” Delgado points out. “The quality and draping of the fabrics is really what makes the clothes feel ‘of that time’, and I was lucky enough to have an entire team dyeing and cutting and embroidering with me to make sure our pieces were as realistic as possible.”

In the initial stages of designing the costumes, Delgado even developed a grid system to keep track of who appeared on camera together when – helping to ensure that the total of 150 looks he produced worked harmoniously together on screen. One noticeable upshot of his military-grade planning: the film begins with the entire cast in a light palette that gradually darkens as Christie’s mystery becomes more and more intense. “By the close of the movie,” he notes ominously, “everyone is dressed in black.”

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