David Cronenberg Remembers His Sister Denise, Costume Designer on ‘The Fly,’ ‘Dead Ringers,’ and More

Along with films like "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises," Denise Cronenberg also created costumes for "The Incredible Hulk" and "Dawn of the Dead."
Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by ITV/Shutterstock (767271rx)'Dead Ringers' FilmJeremy IronsGTV ARCHIVE
"Dead Ringers"

News broke on Thursday that Denise Cronenberg, an award-winning costume designer and sister to filmmaker David Cronenberg, died on May 22. She passed away in Ontario, Canada, at the age of 81. Her career as a costume designer launched on her brother’s 1986 horror movie “The Fly,” starring Jeff Goldblum, after several careers, first as a ballet dancer and then as a fashion designer.

After “The Fly,” Denise Cronenberg went on to costume many of her brother’s films, including “Naked Lunch,” “M. Butterfly,” “Crash,” “eXistenZ,” “Spider,” “A History of Violence,” “Eastern Promises,” “A Dangerous Method,” “Cosmopolis,” and “Maps to the Stars,” his last feature as a director. On his 1988 “Dead Ringers,” Denise Cronenberg created the blood-red, religiously charged medical robes that Jeremy Irons’ twin doctors wear in the operating theater.

“We tried out the 100-per-cent accurate version of what doctors would wear, but that was boring,” David Cronenberg told The Globe and Mail. “It was one thing if you were doing a TV show, but this was different. The twins viewed their roles as doctors as almost a religious thing, with an element of spirituality and philosophy. As soon as I said that to Denise, she immediately understood what I was talking about and what we needed.”

Along with her brother’s movies, Denise Cronenberg also devised the wardrobe for films such as “The Incredible Hulk” and 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead.” Cronenberg was self-taught in the art of costuming. ““Any time you work with the same people…the shorthand is great, because you already understand each other’s temperaments and rhythms, and don’t have to learn it all while making the movie,” David Cronenberg said. “But if it’s a family member, it’s even deeper. And I actually like nepotism myself, because the more allies you have the better off you are.”

Denise Cronenberg, throughout her career, received six Genie Award nominations in Canada for her films with her brother, as well as her costumes on the 2011 film “Resident Evil: Afterlife.” From the cracked 1950s universe of William S. Burroughs in “Naked Lunch” to the early 1900s world of Freud and Jung in “A Dangerous Method,” Cronenberg ably traversed times and tones, as well as genres.

“I don’t think that she got the recognition she deserved, and I’m quite sure that she felt the same way,” David Cronenberg said.

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