Clothes on Film Mon, 19 Feb 2018 16:48:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Clothes on Film 32 32 5750550 The Last Jedi: Interview with Costume Designer Michael Kaplan Sun, 24 Dec 2017 11:36:06 +0000 MINOR SPOILERS

There are already lots of good interviews with Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) costume designer Michael Kaplan on the internet (we recommend this one in particular), so for Clothes on Film we kept it brief and fresh. We caught up with Kaplan, who is also responsible for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Star Trek (2009), Fight Club (1999) and Blade Runner (1982), for a little chat about what’s new for episode 8 of the ever evolving space saga.

Clothes on Film: Let’s kick off by asking you about the best new costume in the film, the Elite Praetorian Guard…

Michael Kaplan: They are my favourite costumes too! I created a mood board with all the elements I was thinking about – mostly shiny, red, candy apple muscle cars from the early 1970s. We incorporated the bends, the vents, etc. I loved the final, completed design arrived at, but that was just the beginning. These guards (all stuntmen) would be doing a lot of heavy duty fighting and needed to have total range of motion full visibility. My brilliant team dealt with the many demands and hurdles and achieved a beautiful suit of armour. Even though there are no indications of eye holes we created a pattern of tiny ‘sawline’ slits in the helmets which worked beautifully.

The Elite Praetorian Guard, all of whom were played by stunt performers.

CoF: Was your approach very different for this film with new director Rian Johnson?

MK: A new director and new script will certainly change a lot of things, but my approach is always the same; study the script and support the director and his vision. Rian and JJ (Abrams, director of The Force Awakens) had very different sensibilities and each had his different take on Star Wars. Still, I needed to do the best I could possibly do in capturing each director’s vision. I actually loved seeing and creating through their contrasting views of the same world.

CoF: Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma got a notable suit upgrade. How did that come about?

MK: In The Force Awakens, Captain Phasma’s character was created and cast very late in the process. We rushed the production of her armour, completing it just in time for filming. With The Last Jedi we knew Gwendoline and Phasma were returning and I wanted to finesse her design and finish. The new Phasma is actually plated with real silver.

CoF: So what’s happening with John Boyega as Finn now? Did he basically just keep Poe Dameron’s outfit from The Force Awakens?

MK: Poe’s jacket was ripped in the last episode. Finn has had it repaired with inter-galactic staples. The rest of his costume is Rebel donated.

Vanity Fair shoot for Canto Bight by Annie Leibovitz. Costume designer Michael Kaplan admitted disappointment that more of the outfits were not featured in the final cut.

CoF: The casino sequence on Canto Bight is a tour de force of alien black tie. Were you disappointed it didn’t get that much screen-time?

MK: I actually was disappointed. My brilliant team and I spent months working on that scene. I hand picked each extra and custom designed their costumes. Besides the seamstresses and tailors we had a millinery department, a jewellery department, glove makers all on the lot at Pinewood Studios. It was like MGM in the 1930s. There were so many wonderful characters in that scene that went unseen! Rian told me, every second he needed to cut out of that sequence was painful.

CoF: We had a specific question from Twitter about Lily Cole’s ensemble in the casino sequence – can your explain your inspiration for her?

MK: I was inspired by Lily’s distinctive beauty as well as one of my favourite Broadway Costumes in Nine, by the brilliant William Ivey Long. Her hair was inspired by a photo of Jean Shrimpton from the 60’s.

Lily Cole in her ‘Nine’ inspired costume for Canto Bight and Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Hondo. Kaplan did not deliberately reference her look in the novel ‘Leia, Princess of Alderaan’.

CoF: Another one from Twitter – Did you create Vice Admiral Holdo’s costume in line with how her character appears in the new book ‘Leia, Princess of Alderaan’ by Claudia Gray, or were you not aware of the text?

MK: I’m not aware of that reference; did I unknowingly plagiarise? (Editor’s note: honestly no clue. Anyone?)

CoF: Tell us about Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker’s new ensemble seen on Ahch-To with the ‘messenger bag’.

MK: Beside Luke’s ceremonial robes at the end of The Force Awakens and the start of The Last Jedi, I thought he needed some practical garb for the island’s terrain and weather conditions. Hence the shorter tunic, the hooded leather rain poncho and his foraging sack.

Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma encased in REAL silver.

CoF: The ‘fish women’ on the island are hilariously relatable. How did you approach designing their look?

MK: They are called ‘Caretakers’ as they are there to take care of Luke. My intent was to costume them in a way reminiscent of Elizabethan nurses or nuns.

CoF: Interesting that you dressed Luke in black for the final battle with Kylo Ren. Was this in homage to his outfit in The Return of the Jedi (1983)?

MK: It was a bit of his Return of the Jedi look mixed with a tad of Clint Eastwood.

The Caretakers (not ‘fish women’) with a costume based on Elizabethan nurses.

CoF: Daisy Ridley as Rey wears not just light grey but also dark blue for her confrontation with Snope – was this a nod to her channeling the light and dark side of the force?

MK: No. I just thought Daisy would look beautiful in that shade of teal blue.

CoF: Finally, what about the many fashion tie-ins I’ve seen pop up for The Last Jedi. Companies like Rag & Bone, Clarks, Matchless putting out clothing ‘inspired by’ the films – have you ever been involved with any of these?

MK: None of these tie-ins were directly based on any of the specific looks in the two Star Wars films I designed. To my knowledge, they are generally Star Wars inspired and I was not involved.

With thanks to Michael Kaplan.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is currently on general release.

© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.

Homecoming: Betsy Heimann on Costuming Godless Fri, 15 Dec 2017 06:36:54 +0000 MINOR SPOILERS

At a pivotal juncture during the Fathers & Sons episode of Godless (2017), the camera tracks into a pink ribbon tied on the back of young woman’s hair; a woman who is suffering from the onset symptoms of smallpox and unlikely to find recovery. Later in the episode we pan across dozens of freshly dug but unnamed graves each with it’s own crucifix. We don’t see the woman again, but on one of the crucifixes is tied a pink ribbon. Such is the power of even the slightest costume and accessory details in Godless, the narrative is informed by their very presence.

Costume designer for Godless was Betsy Heimann. Perhaps best known for costuming Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Almost Famous (2000), she is extremely well respected in the industry. Godless is some of Heimann’s most complete work yet. The western era in question, 1884 in Colorado, is well documented historically. This is a good and bad thing. Godless is not a docudrama; it is fiction. A classic Wild West revenge saga played out over vast plains and pocketed towns. Heimann needed to recreate the reality of the era while at the same time nodding toward genre signifiers that we as viewers expect to see.

Costume sketch for Jeff Daniels as murderous preacher Frank Griffin in his short, post arm amputation coat alongside how it appeared on screen.

Samantha Soule as typically well turned out and feminine Charlotte Temple. Soule had the most costume changes in the show.

The ‘hook’ of Godless is that La Belle, the main town featured in the show (and it really existed), is almost entirely populated by women. This is because a mining disaster claimed the lives of most of the men. Husbands, sweethearts, sons and fathers – all gone in an instant leaving the town’s women to take over their every role (two lawmen are about the only able bodied males in the town, and one of them is seemingly losing his sight while the other is barely out of his teens). What women wore during this era is certainly researchable, their home dresses, Sunday Best and suchlike, but what they would have worn to work in a more manual role, far less so. Women did undertake manual labour, though these jobs were typically fulfilled by men…unless of course these men became sick or absent.

Clothes on Film chatted to Betsy Heimann about costuming the world of Godless and some of the subtle character and period details she scattered across the landscape.

I knew myself how I wanted Godless to look” explains Heimann. “What I needed to compile was a reference for my writer/director, Scott Frank. So I started with the mine and then the women. I located a reference for the Chrisman sisters and then I found some shots of women ranchers. On one picture I found this woman rancher wearing these four button pants and her blouse with the bandana tied and slung to the side, which became a reference for Mary Agnes’ top half, and the bottom half became my inspiration for Alice’s riding pants.“.

Sketch for Merritt Weaver as Mary Agnes McNue in her red patterned shirt and scarf alongside how it appeared on screen.

Kim Coates as Ed Logan. According to Heimann, he was the only actor who could ‘pull off’ a bowler hat.

The Chrisman sisters, all real-life single women who lived in Nebraska during the late 1880s and ran their own homestead claim without men (read more), also provided inspiration for one of the most immaculately attired characters in Godless, Charlotte Temple (Samantha Soule), specifically their love of bold prints. “Charlotte had, like, 25 changes” expands Heimann. “I got to make all of those different dresses. I got the silhouette from an old photograph of a woman sitting looking at herself in the mirror. There was a blouse I made for Charlotte that we pleated in the front and the back and vertically in the yoke. She was always fancy“.

Charlotte, however, was the exception – desperate to attract an eligible man she felt she had to dress this way. The remaining women of Godless were unique in their attire because they did not have clothes for manual labour, not really, so Heimann added in appropriate touches she discovered during her research. For example, the women building the church who tuck their skirts into their belts. This was taken directly from a photograph of female miner of the era (very rare) doing exactly the same thing. “It was hard to get this to look natural” Heimann notes. “You think, ‘how do you know for sure when it looks like a costume or not?’. You always start with the hat. You find the hat that works for that actor and that character, and then you dump it in a pail of water, beat the crap out of it and lay it out to dry in the sun. Different guys can tolerate different hats. Like Jack O’Connell could not take a high crown, but when Kim Coates walked in for his fitting I said to myself ‘it’s the bowler’. Scott does not like bowlers but I said ‘it’s the evil McCabe and Mrs. Miller!’“.

Sketch for Jack O’Connell as Roy Goode in his green polka dot overshirt alongside how it appeared on screen.

Sam Waterston as Marshall John Cook in his duster coat seen during the opening of An Incident at Creede.

Kim Coates plays mining company security agent Ed Logan, and brings much of his own demeanour to the role. “Kim was very inspirational to me. The thing is, you have to know that when you do a western it’s every boy’s dream, so when they put these clothes on, and I had very specific looks for each of them, it’s suddenly ‘Oh my god, this is the best costume I’ve ever had!'”.

For Betsy Heimann, Godless was an opportunity to put into practice skills she has spent a career honing; skills taught to her by Luster Bayliss, legendary costumer for most of John Wayne’s westerns. “My first job in the industry was working with Lester Bayliss on Tom Horn (1980). Godless was full circle for me. I was able to take everything that Lester taught me and combine it with everything I’ve learned over these many years. It was a homecoming“.

Sketch for Michelle Dockery as Alice Fletcher in her overalls (dungarees) alongside how they appeared on screen.

Christiane Seidel as Martha in her specially made wedding dress worn for the climatic shoot-out scene in Homecoming.

This idea of what the American West actually looked like in the 1880s versus what we expect to see thanks to cinematic tropes is not something that Heimann considered. Paramount to her was that everyone in the cast looked real and believable and distinctive, without in any way drawing attention to themselves. That is why you won’t spot a lot of duster coats in Godless, itself more of a stagecoach riding garment that was often made of linen and only provided limited protection against the elements. In fact you will see only one, on Sam Waterston as Marshall Cook. “I knew he could rock a duster coming out of all that haze and smoke. I loved the colour – there is a little bit of yellow in there to be optimistic before he’s let down at the devastation he sees“.

The colour yellow is also used for the dress worn by Alice (Michelle Dockery) in her flashback rape scene during Fathers & Sons. This was actually indicated in the original script and provided stark contrast between the colour’s normally optimistic connotations and its flip-side as acidic and draining. Within the context of Godless, Alice’s fiance had sent this yellow dress so he could recognise her on their wedding day. Costume then, adding another level of poignancy to an already hugely powerful scene.

Sketch for Mary Agnes wearing her husband’s clothes and how the outfit appeared on screen.

Brian Lee Franklin as Amos Green wearing his ‘snake scarf’ (it was a real snake). Notes Betsy Heimann, “All of the guys in Frank’s gang have their weapon of choice, like Dyer Howe with the knives, who had this sort of Pancho Villa style dagger vest which you can’t really see that well. Amos’ ‘thing’ was the snake”.

Clothing is referenced a few times in the dialogue of Godless, not least in the first episode when Sheriff Bill McNue (Scoot McNairy) notices Mary Agnes (Meritt Weaver) wearing her dead husband’s shirt and pants. “With Mary Agnes there was a little bit of softness to her that I could bring, like that little ruffle shirt she had on” explains Heimann. “I also thought it would be nice for some of the women in the shoot-out at the end to be wearing their husband’s pants or shirts“. This was not the case for all of the female characters in the finale. Martha, the occasionally naked German artist hiding out in La Belle, is wearing all her finery. A costume discord that works beautifully in context. “That’s Martha’s wedding dress. You can see this in the photograph that the Pinkerton detective hands around. I really didn’t want to find a way to ‘dress up’ the period, that was just boring to me, so I suggested to Scott that if I could make this dress then she could do the shoot-out wearing it. He loved the idea“.

A quiet but significant character transformation takes place for Roy when he puts on clothing belonging to Iyovi’s (Tantoo Cardinal) deceased son and essentially reclaims it as his own. For Iyovi all memory and meaning of this distinctive outfit is now conferred on Roy. “I researched the Paiute tribe and found out they worn these printed shirts” Heimann confirms. “There are three different tribes in the show and they all dressed differently. But I know the print for Roy would be authentic Paiute and I really fell in love with that green cotton. I just wanted it look very different to Roy as the ‘outlaw guy’“. The semblance of the ‘outlaw guy’ generally conjures up a mythical, Hollywood created figure emboldened with masculinity and mystery. It’s an essential western motif. This is also why you will see no union suit underwear in Godless (period correct as this all-in-one under-suit was not popular until the early 1900s. “Jeff Daniels and Jack O’Connell are not going to be running around in union suits. It becomes comedic. Can you imagine Frank’s manic episode in the camp? Wandering around in front of his gang in a union suit?“. Heimann delved into every single aspect of costuming with Godless, from coats to drawers. “Oh the female cast had it all on – the bloomers, the corsets“. It’s about gait and posture too; nothing makes someone stand up straight like a tightly laced corset.

Sketch for Frank’s long green frock style coat and how it appeared on screen.

Rob Morgan as John Randall (far right). The town of Blackdom was entirely real and populated by black ex-Civil War soldiers.

Beyond La Belle, Heimann had to create another functioning and very real town, Blackdom, which is hardly seen in Godless but vitally important as narrative set up and as historical reference. “I researched Blackdom and the Buffalo Soldiers” she notes. “I’m pleased to say that when the actors showed up and saw the level of scrutiny I had undertaken, they relaxed. These were fighting guys turned farmers and I considered it was important as homage to show this“.

One of the ways Heimann holds onto the Buffalo Soldiers’ past is to have Rob Morgan as ex-soldier John Randall wearing his military coat at the dinner table. Roy’s beaten hat is another example of this backstory concept. “These boys do not know how to handle their headwear” explains Heimann. “They are always playing around with them and Jack played around with his hat so much it got a hole planted in it! We decided to just leave it there“. Clothing, as with life, collects nicks and dents, patches and tears.

Betsy Heimann based the look of Whitey Winn (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) on Steve McQueen’s character in Tom Horn (1980), the very first western she worked on. Heimann even tracked down the original shirt worn by McQueen in Luster Bayliss’ archives to use as a reference for Whitey’s.

Scoot McNairy as Sheriff Bill McNue. Several members of Frank’s 30 strong gang lead by Keith Jardine as Dyer Howe. Heimann made all of the principal costumes, down to around 230 of a cast of over 400. Including stunt and riding doubles, she sometimes needed four alike of the same outfit.

Betsy Heimann fashioned a distinct land in Godless; it is familiar and known yet fresh and expansive. Driven by staunch authenticity and a career understanding of the western genre on screen, she has contributed to making this show a sweeping, epic dedication to a time populated by heroes, villains and those just trying to survive.

With thanks to Betsy Heimann.

Costume sketches by Gina Flanagan.

Godless the complete series is now streaming on Netflix.

© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.

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The Post Trailer Debuts: Ann Roth sets the Tone Wed, 08 Nov 2017 12:16:12 +0000 Costume designer Ann Roth, arguably one of the greatest of her craft still working in Hollywood, has costumed director Steven Spielberg’s latest The Post, and by the looks of this first trailer we are in for a muted treat:

What we have are gentlemen sporting classic collar points with moderate spread, sometimes short sleeve (always with a chest pocket – a very American touch) and medium breadth neckties. The occasional kipper, but this 1971 is a very different world than, say, The Deuce (costume designer Anna Terrazas).

Most of the male cast are are old school in their style of dress. The 1960s is far from leaving their wardrobes.

As Kay Graham, Meryl Streep gives perhaps the broadest hints as to the film’s era. She is an a position of wealth and power, which would have afforded her the latest fashions – as comparatively conservative as they seem here.

The seventies may have ushered in increasingly wide flared trousers and oversized lapels but it’s doubtful we’ll see much of those in The Post. Suits were purchased to last, so likely several years before, meaning most of the costumes will be rooted in the late 1960s. Consider the same situation with Mad Men (costume designer Janie Bryant) – most of the clothes in the first season looked more like they were from the 1950s rather than 1960, which is when the season was set. Of course they do. Trends do not turn on the decade and they do not turn in different locations all at once.

Blue seems to be a dominant colour for the costumes (and sets) in The Post, which has connotations of contemplation and powerlessness.

Women in the trailer are predominantly wearing subdued colours, befitting status and the tone of the movie. Most era specific fashions are reserved for Meryl Streep as Kay Graham, publisher of The Washington Post. Ann Roth is the master of defining periods – think of her work on Klute (1971) and Working Girl (1988) – a veteran pro who dresses characters, not stars. On this first look alone we are in for costume lesson in how to whisper not scream an era. It’s political 1971; blue and grey toned and devoid of flounce.

The Post is released on 22nd December in the U.S. and 19th January in the UK.

© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.

The Passenger: Always at Odds Thu, 02 Nov 2017 00:36:19 +0000 Filmmaker Nic Fforde discusses how he come to realise the importance of costume design in his projects.

Stories in films are all familiar to us in some way, no matter how remote the setting. The hell that unfolds aboard the Nostromo in Alien, LA’s icy criminal underworld in Heat or Rope’s Ivy League dinner party – a good story well told will whisk you away to its own self–contained world. All the tools of filmmaking are there to help create these worlds. What part does costume play in all this?

My day job is to make films for advertising. We work on low budgets with small documentary crews. Whatever our subjects decide to wear on the day is usually fine and feels natural. Costume is something we don’t need to spend loads of time on. That’s all changed with my latest project – a fictional short film set in the 1970s. I hadn’t considered the impact of costume on character development before I started this project. But now, the question of costume is a very big one. To begin my research, I sorted my DVD collection into films that I thought would be helpful. At first, The Passenger (1975, costume design by Louise Stjernsward) didn’t strike me as a film that could teach me about costume in the same way as Harry Caul’s translucent raincoat or Jack Carter’s bespoke suits.

“Alright! I don’t care anymore!” yells David Locke, at the sky, after ploughing his Land Rover into a sand dune.

It stars Jack Nicholson as David Locke, a reporter who is fed up with his job, his marriage and his friends. After a particularly gruelling day in the desert he finds a neighbour at his hotel dead. In that moment, he decides to switch identities with David Robertson and leave his old life behind.

Locke finds Robertson dead in his hotel room. He decides to switch identities.

Locke follows the engagements in Robertson’s diary. He discovers that the good–natured and friendly Robertson was an illegal arms dealer, helping rebels fight a dictatorial government and making some very dangerous enemies in the process. Now Locke has been irrevocably identified as Robertson and has brought those realities into his life.

Locke as Robertson with some friendly clients, who have rather less-friendly enemies.

Locke is ill equipped to deal with this scenario. He’s used to working with words and images, not guns and ammo. Just as his responsibilities as a reporter and a husband made him feel trapped in David Locke’s life, he’s now trapped in David Robertson’s. In his old life, Locke reported on the good and the bad in the world. Though he travelled to dangerous places, he’d rarely be in danger. He would visit warzones as an observer, not as a participant. His words could never change anything in the way Robertson’s weapons can.

The real Robertson on the right in his breezy shirt. Locke with sand-tourist trousers.

We are introduced to Locke in the desert. He sweats and toils in clunky cargo trousers and a check shirt knotted at the waist. Robertson by contrast is at ease in linen trousers and a floaty, unbuttoned shirt. Maria Schneider’s flowery dresses and flowing hair also tell us of her relationship with the landscape, where Locke has none. Through Locke’s outfits we see a man who is always at odds with his environment, never part of it.

“What are you running away from?” asks Maria Schneider as ‘The Girl’, her flowery dress complimenting the trees as she looks out at the road behind.

As his colleague notes, Locke’s ability to detach himself from the world made him a great reporter. His place was always on the side-lines, never in the mix of the action. But even as Robertson he’s still helpless to engage with reality. It may say Robertson on his passport, but Locke will always be David Locke. However hard he tries, he can’t escape himself.

Even in his home city, Locke seems apart from his environment.

As a cinema audience, we’re lucky to be taken away to the worlds that great stories offer us. For just a few moments, we can be placed in the middle of someone else’s life and totally forget our own. Like David Locke, we can be tourists of other worlds, observing from the side-lines. That we don’t have to engage with their everyday realities is a wonderful luxury.

A rare moment of freedom.

The immersive quality of the great films we love is down to great storytelling. Every person involved in the production of a film will have to make decisions that ultimately serve this aim. An editor once told me that he felt his best work was done when nobody noticed it. I believe this is true across the whole film production process. If our characters’ clothes aren’t right, we put the hard work of every other department at risk. If the audience pick it up, we have failed as storytellers. And we don’t want that. We want to remain in that little self–contained world, where we can achieve the impossible dream that David Locke strived for.

By Nic Fforde.

Nic’s short film Ralph Styles Ultra is on Kickstarter.

© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.

Murder on the Orient Express: Interview with Costume Designer Alexandra Byrne Thu, 02 Nov 2017 00:26:03 +0000 Clothes on Film were fortunate enough to be invited to a display of costumes from the latest adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express (2017), plus interview its costume designer Alexandra Byrne. An Oscar winner for Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2008), and well known for her period design work, since 2011 Byrne has become connected to the world of Marvel, her most recent project being Doctor Strange in 2016. Here she chats candidly about recreating the (mainly) glamorous side of the early 1930s and the challenges that faced her and her team.

Alexandra Byrne on shooting in 70 mm:

“Director Ken (Branagh) and I did Hamlet (1996) together which was shot in 70 mm. It just means you learn the hard way – the camera sees EVERYTHING. Every stitch, every pile, every detail. Another challenge was that in the story the characters are stuck in an avalanche which meant shooting against a white background so that changed how all the colours and the silhouettes read. We watched the rushes every day though so soon my eyes tuned into the 70 mm. It’s mostly something that came subconsciously in the end.”

Michelle Pfeiffer in costume as Mrs. Hubbard and her actual dress and accessories.

On detail:

“It’s worth pushing for that extra bit of perfection because I knew the audience were going to see it. Men’s shirt collars were a nightmare. You might start off with a perfect look in a fitting but by day 22 the shirt has been washed x number of times and it doesn’t quite sit the right way anymore. I think it was it was under particular scrutiny with Ken playing Poirot because one of his obsessions about the character was symmetry. His shirt collars and ties became a real challenge.”

On set:

“I was on set when we were establishing a new costume, or a new look, or if there was a big crowd, but once we have done the first setup on a scene I had the luxury of walking away and leaving it with my amazing on set crew. They bring a different skill and there is a different eye looking at what I’ve designed and the storytelling – they approach it from a very practical point of view.”

On ‘cheating’:

“There is always that judgement on whether you cheat something for a close-up and how far you can cheat it. I might have set something that just doesn’t work in this way because of how it’s cropped and just want to tweak it. The audience should never notice this but it will look better on the screen. I will put my hand up and say we cheated completely on the shoes. We had a budget; we had to decide where to spend our money and we could have spent a fortune having replicas of period shoes made and in 80% of the shots we would not have seen them. It’s not the best way to spend your money. Through the internet we found small Italian and Spanish shoe manufacturers which, give or take, we could get away with it. They would cost maybe 195 euro as apposed to 2,000 euro to have the shoes made.”

Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff and close up sleeve detail of her costume.

On research:

“I use the internet. Most of the pictures on my mood boards come from the internet. At the moment I am doing an Elizabethan film and I immediately pulled out my boards I’d done on The Golden Age. All of that research was done pre-internet and I know how hard it was to find these images. Now I’m doing the same period with the internet I am just inundated with images. I still use books because the internet is very much the ‘destination’. With books I can flick through and there is the surprise at finding something amazing. I don’t think you can ever have too many images. I am distilling my take on a character for the boards in how I chose to present them to other people. Why I like mood boards is that I can then share them with the director, production designer, hair and make-up and it becomes very much an ongoing process. I go far and wide with my research. I always cut off the label, the caption, because I just want it to be a collage to do with that character.”

On original garments:

“I start to put together a rail of clothes for the actors. Whether it is the right size, the right colour, but we made the majority of the clothing. What we didn’t want was a jolt between new and faded, older pieces. Willem Dafoe as Gerhard Hardman wears an original period waistcoat at one stage. When I find something in a fabric that I just can’t replicate I’m always keen to use it.”

On favourites:

“The character that blossomed the most was the Linda Arden (aka Mrs Hubbard, played by Michelle Pfeiffer). Just the balance of this who Agatha Christie described as “walking too loud”. How you make that character likeable and credible. She’s a Broadway actress masquerading as a tourist. And of course dressing Michelle Pfeiffer was a joy.”

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot’s dinner suit as seen in the film and the costume on display in close up.

On outfit changes in the 1930s:

“How many times a person changed depended on the class and where they were from. In my research I found that American and European clothing etiquette is all completely different. Someone like Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) would change several times in a day. She is a woman that has worn corsets all her life – she would dress for breakfast and then lunch and perhaps loosen her corset for a tea gown in the afternoon. This is why she has a maid with her all the time. There was not leisurewear back then either, no tracksuits. An English man for example would do his gardening in his worn out suit – that would be his leisurewear. Actually we used 23 hire houses on this film! Normally I’d use maybe 4 or 5.”

On historical accuracy:

“Well, people have modern bodies but we are trying to give them the look and feel of the 1930s. I always stay in the essence of the period. This is going to be a 20th century audience watching the film; I think they will look at this knowing exactly when it was made.”

On fabric:

“For suits, in English tailoring, it was usually an 18oz cloth which today feels very spongy and thick, whereas the weaving in the thirties was a very dry, flat weave. For the Poirot character we had the cloth specially woven by a factory in Scotland. The drape and behaviour of that cloth does underline the character. There are some actors who I have worked with that really suffer with the heat and struggle to get comfortable and can’t function. With one particular actor we even built in ‘Cilo (ice) packs’.”

Assorted costumes featured in the film.

On the superhero and period genres:

“It’s just the same. They both have pluses and minuses. People are very derogatory about the clothes in the superhero genre but the clothes in some of those films are absolutely beautiful. Doctor Strange was the kind of coming together of my worlds; it meshed both the superhero and period genres.”

On contemporary:

“I do love contemporary; it is very underrated and difficult to do well. People forget that there is a lot of contemporary in the superhero movies, too. It can get difficult when actors bring their own inhibitions. Just take jeans for example – everybody has found the type of jeans that they like wearing so if a costume designer feels that a particular character would wear a different type of jean then that takes quite a lot of working into for an actor. Plus it is not just a pair of jeans; they have to have the right amount of wear on them for what we want.”

On author Agatha Christie:

“I read the book (for the first time) in one sitting. She gives a lot away about the clothes. We tried to adhere to that; what she was saying and what she wanted and whether this would be relevant to the costumes and the story we were telling. Ken wanted me to do a ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ backstory for each persona because these people are not who they say they are.”

Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham’s check skirt was very much a collaboration between Alexandra Byrne and the actress, figuring out exactly how long her ‘stride’ should be, the length, etc.

On process:

“I do love the research and creating the boards, but I also love the moments in fittings when something unexpected happens. Also moments like finding something in a market that is a great source for your character. It’s just an amazing journey with so many phases. And I do like seeing the film at the end!”

On truth:

“Some of the characters are masquerades. I did not drop any costume hints but I tried to stay true to who that character actually was. How this person might have got those clothes together, what their information would have been, where they accessed this, the budget and resources they had. Rather than lay out clues, for anyone watching who is going to be forensic about it they can go backwards and put the character’s process together and it’s credible. I started with the character’s backstory so I knew who they were and then in my mind I tried to attack how an audience would ‘read’ them – their first impressions.”

Alexandra Byrne drew discussed the difficulties of shooting against a bright white background – that certain colours (without correction) can read very differently on screen.

On actors:

“Any time I was making anything it was collaboration. I work closely with them. With Daisy Ridley’s skirt we need to work out the size of the stride, how she could move in it, because ultimately she’s the one who has to wear it on screen. This is another example of how I might cheat something. For an action sequence I might have a second skirt that is easier to move in. Sometimes there will be stunt pads that need to be incorporated and we change the tailoring to suit that. And because of the way it is cut, I am relying on a actor moving not to show this.”

On becoming a costume designer:

“I’m old enough to say the progression has completely changed. The most important thing, if you want to create your work, is to keep designing. You need to pay your rent, but do something that is connected with what you want to do. It is possible to get ‘ground down’ on your way through to where you want to be that this individual talent can be lost. Keep designing.”

With thanks to Alexandra Byrne.

Murder on the Orient Express is released on 3rd November.

© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.

Brigbsy Bear: Interview with Costume Designer Sarah Mae Burton Mon, 14 Aug 2017 09:36:15 +0000 Brigsby Bear tells the bizarre yet charming tale of a young man, James Pope (Kyle Mooney), who was kidnapped as a baby and subsequently released into the world many years later with no knowledge of it beyond a non-existent kids television show. The film evokes a nostalgic view of the 1980s and, while is contemporary set, gently embraces that period in terms of its aesthetic.

Costume designer for Brigsby Bear, Sarah Mae Burton, experienced in both television and film, has created a familiar yet distinctive vibe that feels entirely believable. Here she talks exclusively to Clothes on Film about her process:

Clothes on Film: James Pope’s world for twenty five years seems very much grounded in the 1980s. Was this the idea, to give him this retro look throughout?

Sarah Mae Burton: The family that “abducted” him would have gone into the bunker in the late 70’s / very early 80’s, and so I thought that their clothing would pause in time there. In an effort to preserve the world they have created for themselves, I thought they would provide James with clothing that was similar to theirs’. As he grew up and time moved on, they would have to incorporate other items from more modern times, but even those few things would not want to stray too far outside of the world that they had convinced James didn’t exist any longer – these were just relics of another time, when people were able to live above ground. The director Dave McCary and I agreed we didn’t want it to feel like a perfect period film, so his looks harkens back to another range of time, rather than a year or two, specifically.

CoF: It does seem as though James understands that clothes serve a purpose as a ‘uniform’. He realises that he needs to wear a smart shirt when me meets Arielle Smiles for example and refers to Detective Vogel’s gun and holster as his ‘soldier attire’. Did you design his costumes in this way, to reflect this understanding?

SMB: Yes, I thought when he went to meet Arielle, he would want to “dress up” a bit. We used a shirt that we hadn’t seen anywhere else in the movie – as if this was his single option from life in the bunker for more formal occasions. There were a lot of gold tones in the diner, and the yellow stripe of his shirt lived nicely in this environment, and I thought helped him fit in more in this world – that by taking a step into this world where the only other person who understood Brigsby was, he might fit in slightly better than he had otherwise.

Kyle Mooney as James. Costume designer Sarah Mae Burton specifically chose James’ blue ringer tee as something that could conceivably have been a promo item from a real television program of the 1980s.

CoF: Where did you find your inspiration for the young Smiles Sisters’ striped dresses in the opening Brigsby Bear scene?

SMB: I looked at vintage sewing patterns, thinking that the costumes would have likely had to have been made by James’ mother or father in the bunker. I wanted there to be a close link between their costumes as children, and that of the teens, and was lucky to find fabric that was close, but not exactly the same – as it wouldn’t have been able to be exactly the same, had they really been making these clothes 15 years apart. I liked the idea of maintaining the turtleneck between both the kids and teens Sisters’ costumes, something that would have been popular at the time for the children in the early 80’s, but sort of out of place and unusual for a teen girl “superhero” type in more modern times.

CoF: How involved was director Dave McCary in the costume process?

SMB: Dave was a great collaborator. Both he and Kyle had done extensive research on children’s television programming and had been living in the world of Brigsby for long before I came on. They were both great resources and inspiring to come up with continually creative ideas for Brigsby’s world. In regards to the other characters, we would review fitting photos together, and pick what suited best, given the environment where the scene took place, and what other characters may be wearing.

CoF: Everyone else in the story, specifically Pope family, have a very ‘normal’ look costume wise. Was this your intention, to create contrast with the apparent oddness of James?

SMB: Yes, I wanted the worlds to feel distinctly separate. I wanted there to be a subtle discomfort to the way James might feel or look in his “new” life. I also tried to use colours that were foreign to the world he had previously inhabited – which was rich in tones of the late 70s. Using more vibrant modern colours for his new “mom” and muted tones in other places, I thought it could help James to feel like an island of his own in this world.

Unused outfit designs for the character of Brigsby Bear by Sarah Mae Burton. Also see main image.

CoF: How did clothing Brigsby Bear himself work?

SMB: The bear was fabricated by Stoopid Buddies in LA. When I was brought on, Dave McCary and Kyle Mooney had been working on designs of the bear itself for about a year. The production designer (Bandon Tonner-Connolly) and I were consulted to help final decisions, that eventually resulted in the final bear.

I was responsible for all of the costumes the bear wears. We discussed many options and ideas for Brigsby’s signature costume – there were versions of overalls, a vest, a jumpsuit, a t-shirt and shorts, and through many designs, eventually decided that he would have a signature t-shirt with his “logo” and then alternate costumes for his different adventures.

CoF: And finally, who came up with the Brigsby Bear t-shirt designs?

SMB: This was a collaboration between the director, our lead actor, the production designer and myself. I had picked out the blue ringer tee, as it felt of another time, and like it would fit well into the world of “Brigsby” — as if there had a been a real show in the late 70’s / early 80’s, this could have been what the promo shirts looked like.

The bear graphic was actually drawn by one of our interns, who was really talented. We went back and forth about how to design the lettering for “It’s Brigsby!” and I had suggested iron on letters. This shirt was shot on the first day of shooting, and so the night before I ironed on the letters in my hotel room. As luck would have it, the set of letters I had was missing some that I needed, so I had to cut up other letters and piece them together to make what I needed. Sony had inquired about making these as promo tees, and I got a lot of emails about what format the lettering was in — since it was so handmade, it would be hard to actually execute a reproduction!

With thanks to Sarah Mae Burton. Ms Burton also costumed The Big Sick which is currently on general release in the UK.

Brigsby Bear was released in the U.S. on 28th July and is released in the UK on 8th December.

© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.