Joaquin Phoenix’s Napoleon hat is made out of a tree

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The emperor’s iconic headgear provided a unique challenge for costume designer David Crossman.


How do you make an authentic 18th century hat without using any wool? That’s the problem Napoleon's costume designer came up against when starting work on Ridley Scott’s new biopic.

In an interview with the New York Times, designer David Crossman said he had a “mini panic” about the emperor’s iconic hats. Star Joaquin Phoenix is a committed vegan, and so the era-appropriate wool felt hat wasn’t going to be an option.

“Immediately, I just felt it’s going to be a problem of what to make the iconic hat out of because it’s all going to be about the hat,” Crossman said.

Luckily, the team found a suitable replacement in an unlikely place – Ugandan tree bark.

Read more: Bonnie And Clyde, Napoleon, and the problem with historical accuracy

“I thought, ‘oh good, we’re out of trouble,'” Crossman said. “I was just so worried it was going to be some polyester synthetic thing. But what it actually gave us, as well, was a lot of lovely surface texture on the hat.”

Giving some more intriguing insights into the film’s hat designs (they really thought this one through), Crossman describes what he found through research at the Musée de l’Armée in Paris, confirming what we’ve suspected all along: the bigger the hat, the more important the wearer. In the final film, Napoleon’s hat choices get bigger and more extravagant as his power grows.

Getting the Emperor’s hat an authentic size, then, was very important. “I’ve seen lots of very nice Napoleon iterations, Bill And Ted included, but I’ve never seen the hat portrayed as this big,” Crossman added.

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