The story was moved up in time from 1902 to 1910, in part at the behest of costume designer Sandy Powell. Fashion evolved significantly between those two years, and Powell felt that the 1910 silhouette would help set the film apart from the films made by Merchant-Ivory (which are often set in the 1900s).
Some of the distinctive pleated gowns worn in the Venice scenes are designed to look like gowns produced by the Italian designer Fortuny. Fortuny pleated gowns were popular among wealthy European women in the early 1910s for their simplicity, form-fitting design and Greco-Roman influences. The gowns in this film, however, were created by contemporary husband and wife team Charles and Patricia Lester, who create modern gowns with a similar pleat.