Sleepy Hollow_Tom Mison coat top_image credit Fox © 2014 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Sleepy Hollow: Q&A with Costume Designer Kristin M. Burke

If you watch supernatural cop show Sleepy Hollow on Fox (Universal in the UK), you will definitely know who Kristin Burke is. Her sartorial contribution to the first season has ingrained the series with a handsome, consistent, yet oddly plausible look. We say ‘oddly’ because the show is, for want of a better term, completely batshit crazy; a mix of 18th century drama and modern day X-Files, involving headless horsemen, a tree monster, deadly black vein disease, and all manner of creepy mythology based beasties. It’s terrific fun.

Kristin M. Burke is what we would politely call a veteran costume designer, over 50 films to her name, although not someone especially used to working in television. Her big screen credits include The Cooler, Running Scared, Paranormal Activity 2, Insidious, The Conjuring, and Insidious 2. Kudos for spotting the trend – there are several horror titles in that list. The genre it seems finds KMB mainly through her long standing professional relationship with director James Wan. While Sleepy Hollow is not exactly horror, it’s not for kids either. The blend of period and contemporary costume is likewise right in Ms. Burke’s ballpark. She just ‘gets’ that world and how to make it as believable as possible.

Clothes on Film caught up with Kristin M. Burke just after the finale of Sleepy Hollow had screened in the U.S and the show was due to recommence at episode 10 (of 13) in the UK. She has already taken part in the most in-depth interviews ever for The Go Fug Yourself team, but we endeavoured to uncover at least something they hadn’t. You will notice we saved the irksome ‘Ichabod in modern clothes’ issue until a few questions in. That was deliberate.

Nicole Beharie as Officer Abbie Mills and Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane. Costume designer Kristin M. Burke claims she would love to make Mison “into a grunge rocker” on a future project, adding “he is such a delightful man”.
Nicole Beharie as Officer Abbie Mills and Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane. Costume designer Kristin M. Burke claims she would love to make Mison “into a grunge rocker” on a future project, adding “he is such a delightful man”.

Clothes on Film, Christopher: When we chatted a few years ago you mentioned a desire to get your teeth into something really ‘period’. Is Sleepy Hollow fulfilling that desire?

Kristin M. Burke: It’s delivering a bit of a hit to the veins, for sure. I’d love to do something like a western, or a period musical, or something very specific and detailed, irrespective of era. I just like to lose myself in another world and start creating from that space. That is what I am best at, and that is what I want to do with my time.

CoF: Sanja Hays set the costume palette for Sleepy Hollow in the first episode. Do you wish you could have costumed the pilot? Would you have done anything different?

KMB: I am really glad Sanja designed the pilot because I learned from her in that sense. I got inside her aesthetic and the direction of the show. We speak the same language (of costumes) and so I was able to learn a new dialect, if you will. Pilots are very, very difficult and frustrating to design. People in key creative/executive positions are trying to figure out what works, what magic alchemy will make their show a hit. As a costume designer, you get pulled in many directions trying to create that magical “Je ne sais quoi”. On a pilot, there’s not a lot of space to do anything different, really – its a collaborative effort to find the “look”, and the “look” sometimes finds itself!

CoF: How did you research those crazy demons and monsters? Such as where did the Sandman’s hakuma style long skirt come from in episode 3, ‘The Triumph of Evil’?

KMB: We have a lot of phone calls and photo sharing. I don’t know WHERE these guys get their reference photos, but it’s like, Satan’s tumblr account or something. They email us the most crazy disturbing images, like, “Hey, can we do this?!” It makes me giggle! Len Wiseman was the one who asked for the long Japanese-style skirt on Sandman. We made that in our tailor shop; it was a fun one!

CoF:…and the tree creature in episode 9, ‘Sanctuary’ – was that more of an FX creation?

KMB: Yes, the vine creature (incidentally played by the same guy who played Sandman, Marti Matulis) was a creature FX costume. It was sculpted, cast, and fabricated in LA.

Marti Matulis as the Sandman. According to Burke, reference photos must have come from “from Satan’s Tumblr or something”.
Marti Matulis as the Sandman. According to Burke, reference photos must have come “from Satan’s Tumblr or something”.

CoF: Your costuming of Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) is functional cop attire yet flattering to her body type. I love all her heeled boots and short quilted leather jackets. Where are they from? And I have never seen anyone look so good in a brown police uniform.

KMB: Nicole is a very beautiful woman, and she looks good in almost anything! The police uniform was custom made to fit her better. The other (regulation) options are really no good for the female body. It’s tragic, and my heart goes it to women in law enforcement. Maybe we should start a line of flattering uniforms that conform to regulation? Just cut better, in better fabrics?! Hey now, I’m getting some ideas!!

Her boots are from everywhere really. I’ve bought her boots everywhere from Barney’s NY to JC Penney. Her leather jackets are all purchased online, and we’ve used All Saints, Superdry, Akris, Vince, Joie, lots of different designers. Abbie has a leather jacket addiction… And she’s not seeking help anytime soon.

CoF: I also like Jenny Mills’ (Lyndie Greenwood) semi-militia styled outfits – lots of layered greens, ribbed sweater, even a camo pattern hoody…

KMB: I’m glad you could read the camo pattern in that hoodie. It was very subtle and dark, so you must have a very high def TV! Lyndie Greenwood is so lovely, and she has so much femininity to her. She’s going to look pretty, no matter what we put her in. So we could go a little harder with her look, in terms of the silhouette, fabric choices and color scheme. If we misstep even a little bit, she looks very fashion-y and too hip and beautiful. We need to keep her a bit more edgy and simple. We get her stuff online as well, and we also visit Sears in Wilmington for her basics. Her character doesn’t really have a job or money or anything, so most of what she has is either cheap, second-hand, or stolen.

Katia Winter as Katrina Crane. Burke notes that Winter’s ‘purgatory dress’ was designed for the pilot episode and deliberately “leaned more “toward ‘fantasy’ as opposed to period”.
Katia Winter as Katrina Crane. Burke notes that Winter’s ‘purgatory dress’ was designed for the pilot episode and deliberately “leaned more “toward ‘fantasy’ as opposed to period”.

CoF: How about ethereal Katrina Crane (Katia Winter), where did her inspiration come from?

KMB: Katrina’s black “purgatory” gown is from the pilot. It’s a look that leans heavily toward “fantasy” as opposed to the period, but she is, after all, a witch! Her backstory costumes have been very diverse: Quaker, nurse, noblewoman, widow… We go with the scripts and try to make it all happen! Katia is a real sport and she wears the period silhouette so well; she’s built for it! We are always excited when we get a new opportunity to do something new with her.

CoF: Katrina’s fur trimmed cape in episode 9 is gorgeous, perfectly coordinating with her auburn hair. Something you made?

KMB: Curiously, something we rented from Angels Costumiers in London! It was a stroke of good luck. The folks at Angels have been so good to us. I can’t say it enough – they are marvellous people, so patient and helpful.

CoF: It cannot be easy filming in relatively small port city Wilmington, as presumably they are not set up for Hollywood costume types?

KMB: Not this type of Hollywood costume situation. Our needs on this show are almost completely outsourced. There are not very many places in the world that WOULD be set up for our needs. LA, NY, London, Paris, Rome, maybe?! Any other place and you’d be shipping stuff in every day, as we do on this show. It’s a tough thing to pull off, but we have an amazing team and we get it done.

CoF: It must be particularly tricky too for the flashback period scenes, even more so if children are involved such as in episode 5, ‘John Doe’?

KMB: Working with kids is so awesome. They are so excited to get dressed up, to learn about another culture. It’s cool to facilitate that kind of education. The kids in John Doe had a great time. They played in the dirt with sticks and rocks, and made their own fun. Who needs an iPad when you have sticks, rocks and dirt?! Luckily if we call rental houses far enough ahead, we can find whatever we need in kids’ stock. We can supplement with things we make, or bits and bobs from adult costumes – we hodge-podge it and make it work.

Ichabod in military dress. “We are not Horatio Hornblower, we are probably attracting a different, more forgiving type of audience” considers Burke on the subject historically accuracy during the Sleepy Hollow flashbacks.
Ichabod in military dress. “We are not Horatio Hornblower, we are probably attracting a different, more forgiving type of audience” considers Burke on the subject historical accuracy.

CoF: So I may as well get to it…there is a moment in episode 5 when Abbie tells Ichabod (Tom Mison) that “a change of clothes would not hurt”. I know he has a run in with skinny jeans and some new ‘old’ clothes in a few episodes time, but surely he can’t lose the coat? Has there been talk of modernising Ichabod for season 2?

KMB: This has become such a “thing” – it’s hilarious to me that people are STILL talking about it! Because it’s such a character issue, and now, a big huge deal, all of these decisions are in the very clever and capable hands of our writers. I can’t even predict what will come next, honestly. The writers on this show are brilliant, and when we get scripts, sometimes there is a lot of whistling and screaming coming from our office, mostly in a good way, hahah. We will see what happens in season two!

CoF: Episode 9 is the first time Ichabod takes his coat off. Was this a big moment or something that happened solely because of the script?

KMB: I’d say that it’s the first time he ever takes his coat off and gives it to someone. We have seen Crane without his coat in prior episodes, just not in public. He’s been socialised in a world where it wasn’t proper to remove one’s coat, so we shouldn’t expect to see too much of that in general. Crane does need his dignity, after all.

CoF: There are a lot of military flashbacks during the show featuring Bluecoats (colonists) and Redcoats (dastardly British). Have the re-enactment police been onto you about anything yet?

KMB: Surprisingly, we haven’t felt that. Although since this is a fantasy show, and not Horatio Hornblower, we are probably attracting a different, more forgiving type of audience. We do not have a technical adviser for these flashbacks, so most of the research is done by the individual departments on our show. When things don’t line up, we powwow and try to work it out. We all need to be on the same page in order for it to be acceptable. I can’t tolerate sloppiness in research or execution, so I am usually the one heading up the “technically accurate” brigade. We do what we can, and I have learned a lot on this show. But I do realize that there is so much to know that I will never be able to know it all, and that history is oddly not always factually similar when you compare accounts of the same event. Many interpretations of the same events lead to different conclusions, and history is written by the victors. It’s a bit ‘bendy’, as our writers like to say.

Beharie’s fitted police uniform was custom made. “My heart goes it to women in law enforcement” comments Burke.
Beharie’s fitted police attire was custom made. “My heart goes it to women in law enforcement” remarks Burke on the uniform.

CoF: One of my favourite Ichabod looks so far was in episode 9, his late 18th century travelling hat and coat. Tom Mison has an enviable figure – do you ever get carried away with ideas of how you could ‘dress him up’?

KMB: Oh my, as a costume designer, who WOULDN’T want to ‘dress him up’?! He has a great shape and he is such a delightful man. We could do so many amazing things. I think what I’d really like to do, though (maybe in the future on an indie movie) is make him into a grunge rocker. Like, if there was a movie about the grunge scene in the early 1990s, ugh, the things I could do with his look!! Or as a 1920s fancy pants tennis player! Or as JAMES BOND. Can you imagine?!?!? Tom Mison for James Bond! I would campaign for that, and make posters. I love Tom – he’s been a dream actor to work with. The future is open wide for him at this point, and I’m so excited for what lies ahead.

CoF: Finally, you are listed as Kristin Burke not Kristin M. Burke on the credits. Do please make up your mind.

KMB: Technically, I am Kristin M. Burke. The ‘M’ stands for Marie, the name of my maternal grandmother. She taught me to sew, and was just the coolest lady you’d ever want to know – generous, fun-loving, adrenaline-seeking, down-to-earth. I like having the ‘M’ in there to remind myself of how to live, by her example. I wish the people who do the credits would READ MY CONTRACT before they set the type, because it always, always, always says Kristin M. Burke in my contract. I don’t have anything fancy like “Lord” in front of my name (ahem!) but the M suits me, and it is meaningful to me, and it should be there, always.

With thanks to Kristin M. Burke

Sleepy Hollow continues on the Universal channel on 5th February.

© 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.