Prince of Persia_Penny Rose_make-up © 2010 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Prince of Persia: Interview With Costume Designer Penny Rose

Penny Rose, costume designer on video game adaptation Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time talks us through her intentions for the movie, including 800 year old embroidery patterns and priests dressed in bedspreads.

Penny Rose has been costume designer on nearly forty films. As evidenced by her CV that includes Shadowlands (1993), Evita (1996) and The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (2003-07), she prefers period/fantasy to contemporary and typically favours bigger budget Hollywood productions.

Her team for Prince of Persia swelled to seventy five incorporating jewellery, armoury and boot makers, three seamstresses, two craft makers, a five strong design team and chief cutter, among others. Listing Zulu (1964) as the one picture she would’ve loved to have created costumes for, Rose evidently revels in a large scale challenge. Here she explains exactly what those on Prince of Persia entailed:

Many of the costumes were made in Morocco, what trials did that create for you?

Penny Rose: We had a factory in Morocco employing 80 people including tailors, seamstresses, dyers, breakers-down, a boot maker, hat maker and jewellery maker. Overall, we created 7,000 costumes and it was a very big operation. The Moroccans are very clever. They make lots of films and have the skills, they just need guidance.

How did you come up with the ideas for the costume designs when the movie is essentially a fantasy?

PR: Prince of Persia is set in year 500, so we have a team of researchers who for six weeks put together mood boards of pictures that give me a flavour of the period. You need something visual and they also put together boards showing every different kind of head-dress. We were filming in 45 degree heat, so people have to have their heads covered. We made a huge cross-section of these. It may be a fantasy but we do thorough research. I think in order to create fantasy you have to have a starting point and then just let the boundaries go a little bit. We are also making a Disney movie and the audience tends to be young. I have to appeal to 15-year-old boys and the costumes must identify with them. The armour particularly, and the big belts, that captures their imaginations. We won’t be selling the costumes, but there will probably be a lot of these ideas seen at Halloween after the film comes out.

Where do you find the vast selection of materials used to make the costumes?

PR: My design team and I, there are four of us, set off shopping across the world. We send somebody to Thailand, someone to India, somebody to Turkey and I do Paris and Italy. I also bought from a lady in Los Angeles whose husband is the Afghan Cultural Attaché. She produces wall hangings that I turned into costumes. In a thrift shop in New York, I found an Indian wedding shawl and it had a matching skirt. Someone then laboriously cuts out pieces of it and this goes to make the decorations on costumes. I might pay 100 dollars for that shawl and skirt but by the time I’ve used various elements of it, and dyed it, it might be on five costumes, you’d never know.

It’s much cheaper than our other method which is laser computer embroidery that scans the original and matches the colour. It then reproduces the pattern on my material ready cut in the shape I need. The reason I do this is when we need multiple outfits, it is faster with the computer machine than by hand.

Do you have an idea in your mind who would look good in what material as you buy it?

PR: I don’t decide a costume and then go to look for the textiles. I buy all the textiles I think will be useful and then when we have the actors in a room, we decide what to put on whom. I find it difficult to design the costume until I know who has been cast.

The inspiration for Fred Molina’s costume came from a book called The Orientalists. It is a real tribe of desert people. In India we bought bed spreads and throws made of four different Saris, and cheese-grated it to give a costume that looks like a Nomads’ one. The effects of each layer came through. It was very difficult to do because Fred needed six of those. It was a complex mathematical process to get six costumes from 20 of the spreads. Each was cut into strips then all the strips were matched because for continuity on film, everything has to be identical.

How did you define Jake’s look as the Prince of Persia?

PR: When it came to Jake’s costume, I found an original piece of Persian embroidery probably seven or eight hundred years old. We used it as inspiration to create his signature coat. It took a week for each one to have the material made. But with all the action, smoke and stunts, it has a great identity to it and you will know it is Dastan in that scene.

What’s the biggest difficulty in creating such a massive selection of costumes, each with different looks?

PR: The Breaking Down department is one of the most important on the whole film. We had 24 people working in it dyeing clothes and breaking them down. Nothing we use is ever as it is made; it has to be absolutely wrecked by hand. Fred Molina’s costume has an element of once glamorous about it so it must be broken down.

Tell us one trick of the trade you used during filming?

PR: I bought a job lot of white bedspreads from India, about 50 of them as they were slightly damaged. They became the Priests clothing in various different tones of mushroom.

How do particular colours influence the costume design?

PR: We decided early on that it would be helpful to the audience if we made the Princess’s home city of Alamut in cream. They are religious people, so through the colour you know who they are. When you have the fight scenes with the Persians, you know who is on which side from what they are wearing.

How did the costume process work differently from the process on Pirates of the Caribbean?

PR: We really manufactured this whole show with a lot less rental costumes than on “Pirates”. With Morocco, we will always be able to manufacture and not rent. We had a couple of thousand more self-made costumes.

Do you have a favourite costume?

PR: Yes, Dastan’s spiral coat. I was like a terrier, so determined it would have a very special identity. It is the plainest and least leathery but it is quite iconic and Jake loves it, so we are both happy. Before I met Jake, I wanted to use it and felt it was a good hero fabric, but if he hadn’t liked it, I’d have gotten rid of it. It is vital to me that the actor likes what they are wearing and feels comfortable in it.

Was there any inspiration drawn from the video games when designing the costumes?

PR: Our clothing is a nod to the games. When I did Evita with Madonna, I made a great point of not seeing the stage play. I wanted to go off on our own little route with no influences. The game in this is obviously what the film is spun from but inspiration is not the word I’d use. But it is a guideline. When you’re working from a video game, the characters are one-dimensional. Although they move within the game, there isn’t any textile flow. So I felt it important to add that to it. With Jake’s leather vest, he wanted it shortened because he felt it would get in his way. I stood my ground on that. When you are moving you need the length and flapping, it looks dramatic. If I’d have shortened it, then he would have been just another guy with long legs on the move.

With thanks to Penny Rose.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton is released on 21st May in UK and 28th May in the U.S.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.

  • jordan

    hello!

    i am a huge fan of the Prince of Persia video game series and a big fan of the movie, and i was wondering if replicas of Dastans stage costumes existed because i would love to have one, thank you and i look forward to hearing from you about the costumes.

    thank you again!
    Jordan

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      There was an official replica dagger produced in limited numbers, I know that. There was talk of replica costumes too but I’ve never seen any. I’ll try and contact someone at Disney to confirm for you.

  • camille

    y aura-t-il un second prince of persia?
    moi en tout cas j’ai une idée pour un second film.
    si vous êtes intéressé, pouriez vous me donner une adresse postale ?
    merci

  • Boris

    Hi there!
    I also have interest in Dastans’s costumes, espessially in the one with the spiral coat… so are there any replicas, and can I get information about that, too? Thnaks very much!

    Greetings,
    Boris

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      Been looking into this. Seems it’s extremely unlikely Disney would have made any official replica costumes for adults. Still trying to get confirmation on official kids costumes though. As for fan-made ones, that’s just a case of trawling the net for the best it has to offer.

  • Sanna

    I recently watched the Prince of Persia and I love to costumes. I would love to wear something like this on a regular basis. Obviously, that is a little unlikely as the costumes are quite dramatic, but I was wondering if you know of any website which sells Persian-inspired clothing. Any help would be appreciated.

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      I’m afraid I do not know of any websites that deal specifically in Persian inspired clothing, though there are several around that sell so-called ‘ethnic’ styles. It depends on where you live of course, but some local markets (particularity in London) are a haven for indigenous clothing and cloth. Sorry I cannot be of more help, but maybe someone else out there can point you in the right direction..?

    • jams

      Go to Google and do a search for “Society for Creative Anachronisms Persian garb”. :)

  • Sanna

    That’s all right. Thank you for the help! I shall keep my eyes peeled.

  • Joni

    A random question about/for Penny Rose–I know she did work on the film “Strapless” with Blair Brown. I need to find the designer of the dress that Ms. Brown wears in the final scenes–it was featured in British Vogue in 1990, I believe, and I’ve lost the information–can’t scare it up anywhere. I’m the costume designer for a community theatre in Iowa, by the way (not as hokey as it might sound). Thanks so much–I know it’s a bit of a stretch, perhaps!

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      I don’t know about the dress myself (haven’t seen the film), but hopefully one of my readers can help you…

  • max phokou

    penny rose i am so desparate to get a costume identical to the one out of assassins creed 2 in white and i no you are the only 1 one who could produce such a masterpiece and i have 3000 pounds, could you design me one and i garentee you will make millions of pounds once word gets around of the pure quality of. so penny rose my challenge to you , design the ezio costume for me ?

  • J.M

    Did penny say anything about Nizam’s (Ben Kingsley’s) Costume?

  • dino

    fantastic…m from malaysia..wanna be a good costume designer like u..do u have any advise or i can learn from u..

    tnks

  • Mik Spurgeon

    Hello, I am a costumer and have been for years. I pride myself on having very accurate reproductions of costumes appearing on film. There is one that I have done that is giving me some trouble though. Penny Rose was the costume designer for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and I wanted to ask if she could provide any information about the sash that Orlando Bloom wore as Will Turner throughout the movie. Where it came from, style of sash, manufacturing process… anything would be helpful. It is the only part of this costume that I can not seem to source. Thank you for your consideration.

  • Katherine Koch

    I was very inspired by the textile used for the tent in the scene where the princess tells Dashtun the story of the little girl. It has a white background with black design. It is lovely and I would like to study the design. Does anyone know where I might be able to learn more about that textile? I’d even be happy with a link to an online photo of it. I would love to know the designer’s name!! Not even sure what to use as search words. I tried “Prince of Persia sandstorm” and found one photo of it but it doesn’t really show the pattern. Any suggestions?

  • Z.P

    Hello there,

    I know it may be confidential but i need to do an assignment on a designer and i would love to do Penny Rose, the problem is i can find any information. i was wondering if she had an email adress were i could ask some questions or something?

    Thanks!

  • SADAK

    the WORST costumes in costume making EVER! its a such waste of a big budget and so less knowledge about costume in general, for the 47 Ronin its just SAD how bad it is!

    Penny Rose GO BACK TO SCHOOL!