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Costume Designer Michael Kaplan on Star Trek Into Darkness

Michael Kaplan’s career is one film after another of “wow, he did that?” cinema: Blade Runner, Flashdance, Seven, Fight Club, Burlesque, plus dozens more. Kaplan’s connection to Star Trek began as costume designer on J.J. Abrams’ reboot in 2009, and now he is back for the sequel. Despite admitting he was no expert in the world of Star Trek before signing on, his work on both movies has been praised; particularly the Enterprise crew uniforms (that reoccurring Starfleet pattern is a classy touch).

Here chatting exclusively to Clothes on Film, Michael Kaplan explains his approach to costuming Star Trek Into Darkness (out everywhere this week).


Star Into Darkness_Zachary Quinto Volcano suit_Sketch

Costume sketch of Spock’s volcano suit. The finished suit worn by Zachary Quinto was constructed from copper.

Michael Kaplan on heritage:

When I was designing the first film I was always looking for a tone that felt correct in re-establishing Star Trek for today’s audiences of ‘Trekkies’ and general moviegoers. This time, that had already been done, and for the most part, embraced, so a certain amount of trepidation and downright fear was out of the way. I could now move forward with a more proportionate amount of fear and trepidation in tackling a movie of this scope.

On design:

The overall script was darker for Star Trek Into Darkness and so the costumes reflect that world. As prequels to the 1960s TV series, both of these films that I designed with J.J. Abrams hark back to that time period as its heart. While working on both films I always had books featuring fashion designers Rudy Gernreich, André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin close at hand to ground me in that period.

Star Into Darkness_Klingon outfit_Sketch

Klingon costume sketch. For the Klingons it was all about the helmet detail; look closely at the forehead

On fashion:

I generally don’t reference current trends while working on a film. Fashion is so fleeting that by the time the film opens, any ‘current’ trend would be long gone. Zoe Saldana’s t-shirt in Into Darkness (worn when she meets the Klingons) is an anamorphic graphic that I liked; I think it came from a thrift shop. Simon Pegg as Scotty’s civilian shirt seen in the bar is my idea of a futuristic Hawaiian shirt. Once again, it was my intent that the extras in the film evoke the miniskirt era.

On Benedict Cumberbatch’s late casting as John Harrison:

I really like it when I can think about a character’s costumes without being encumbered by thoughts of the actor or movie star who will be wearing it. Of course, after the role is cast, I need to do some editing.

On Harrison’s briefly seen ribbed shawl lapel; a homage to The Wrath of Khan costume?:

If anything, it’s more a homage to Deckard in Blade Runner…

Star-Trek into Darkness_Benedict Cumberbatch jerseys top_Image credit Paramount Pictures

Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison. Is Cumberbatch’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ribbed shawl lapel (above) a nod to Robert Fletcher’s costume for Ricardo Montalbán in The Wrath of Khan? Possibly…

On details:

Since there is a lot of drama and emotion in Star Trek Into Darkness, I needed to be careful about making too much of a statement with over-the-top, futuristic clothing, which could be distracting and have the potential to upstage a scene. I chose to use subtle details and set up a few rules, like, no zippers.

On the volcano and space-jump suits:

I designed both the volcano suit and the space suits. They were all built by Film Illusions, and worked without a snag. These were not simple costumes, since ventilation, cooling, audio and lighting systems were necessary. The actors’ comfort and safety were always our second concern.

Star Into Darkness_Benedict Cumberbatch space jump suit_Sketch

Space ‘jump suit’ sketch. Note that the individual inside this costume appears to resemble Cumberbatch, despite his late casting.

On Alice Eve’s underwear as Carol Marcus (HERE):

After trying my hand at reinventing the bra, the results were so distracting that the intent of the scene would have been missed. I will say no more…

With thanks to Michael Kaplan.

Star Trek Into Darkness is currently on general release.

© 2013 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.