Satine and Christian embrace in her chambers while Toulouse-Lautrec peers down at them from outside a heart-shaped window, in a scene from Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge! Red Satin Dress

Costume makes the courtesan

As Worn By Nicole Kidman in the Film
 Jennifer Coombes

Main Image: still from Moulin Rouge! (2001). Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

‘Red Satin’ is the gown worn by Nicole Kidman as Satine in the elephant love medley scene early in Baz Luhrmann's celebrated Moulin Rouge! (2001, Australia):

Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor in a scene from Moulin Rouge!, 2001. NFSA title: 639675. This scene perfectly encapsulates the film's central dramatic conflict and illustrates the film's unique use of popular music to propel the story. The two lead characters exchange snippets of lyrics to argue the case for their meaning of 'love'. It's a clever device as it compels audiences to suspend reality in what is a fantasy love story. They can enjoy spotting references to songs 'Love is Like Oxygen’ (1978), 'Love is a Many-Splendored Thing’ (1955), 'Up Where We Belong’ (1982), 'All You Need is Love’ (1967), 'I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ (1979), 'One More Night’ (1985), 'Pride (In the Name of Love)’ (1984) and 'Don’t Leave Me This Way’ (1975).

The most beautiful woman in Paris

Satine, a beautiful courtesan, is introduced as ‘the sparkling diamond’ in an extravagant dance sequence early in the film. Of her character, Kidman said: ‘I like the conflict that she has, she’s a woman trapped in this world and a survivor … The one thing she’s not allowed to do is fall in love … I’m always trying to find the truth of the character.’


The red dress worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge!, photographed from the front
Front view of the red satin dress worn by Satine (played by Nicole Kidman) in Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, Australia, 2001). NFSA title: 1448192

Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! is a glorious mix of historical detail and fictional extravagance. Costume designers Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie had to create over 400 costumes that evoke the voluptuous heady world of nineteenth century Paris.

In a 2001 interview with The Guardian, Martin said: ‘We needed to make it clear this is the most beautiful woman in Paris … with the costumes’ signs and symbols that that’s who she was. We looked to Hollywood glamour heroines like Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo … Their wardrobes tended to be very graphic, unfussy, dramatic in their colour choice. We then used that.’ 

The outfit (pictured left) is made of red silk satin bodice and matching red satin skirt, lined with black polyester. 




Back view of red satin dress worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge!
Back view of the red satin dress worn by Satine (played by Nicole Kidman) in Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, Australia, 2001). NFSA title: 1448192

The costume continuity polaroids displayed in the Starstruck exhibition next to the dress beautifully demonstrate how costumes go hand in hand in the creation of film still portraits, enabling a process of transformation of actor into character.

Nicole Kidman admitted in a publicity interview after the film’s release in 2001, ‘As I stepped into that character I was able to do it … as soon as I became Satine it was much easier, I put on the top hat and the costumes and the heels … I would lose my inhibitions.' ­

Catherine Martin has said the whole reason she went into fashion design was that designing clothes for the cinema ‘is to create a whole world within that context and that is what is so exciting’.

While she was initially daunted by the level of complexity required for the film, she rose to the challenge and won the Academy Award for best costume design.

With Angus Strathie, she successfully created an extravagant Bollywood-inspired tribute to the Moulin Rouge through sequins, satin, feathers, beading and silk.