"She felt sleekly impregnable, slippery and secure; it was a mermaid who rose to meet her in her own full-length mirror." -Atonement (Ian McEwan)
“Joe said the dress had to be green, we really didn’t know why.” -Jacqueline Durran (costume designer)
A complex amalgamation of silk, organza, and chiffon in various greens, Cecilia’s dress was meticulously designed by Jacqueline Durran with considerable input from director Joe Wright. The striking color was achieved by layering several fabrics as Durran could not find an existing hue to suit her purposes. This method of construction also served to allow the gown to shift shades between scenes and reflect Cecilia’s emotional state, from anxiety about Robbie’s arrival (a brighter green) to lustful ardor during the library sex scene (a darker jungle green.) Other notable design techniques included incorporating a ‘30s-style knot to represent Cecilia’s virginity, and cutting slits in the dress so that Cecilia would disturbingly resemble a pinned grasshopper while engaging in her passionate rendezvous.
Durran had full knowledge that the dress would not be a faithful representation of the era’s fashion trends, working under Wright’s instructions to avoid a stuffy, dated look. Instead she focused on the inconsistencies of the character’s childhood memories, which allowed her to create a less historically accurate and more fluid look that emerged as a combination of ‘20s and ‘30s designs.
In order to make actress Keira Knightley appear nearly naked whilst wearing the gown, the fabric was kept as fine as possible–so fine, in fact, that it tore several times while filming. Four of the widely-hemmed, flowing skirts and ten of the bodices were kept on hand for reparations.