Earlier this month, I was given the opportunity to catch-up with one of my favorite costume designers, Eulyn Colette Hufkie. As a costume designer, one of Eulyn’s most recognized bodies of work was none other than, The Walking Dead (one of my favorite shows). Eulyn’s time on The Walking Dead catapulted her career, becoming a recognizable name, especially to the horror/thriller genre. Since The Walking Dead, Eulyn went on to serve as the costume designer for 24: Legacy, Hell Fest, The Purge (TV Series), Goodnight Death, and Mayans M.C.
On Amazon Prime Video this October, you can catch some of Eulyn’s most recent work on the Blumhouse produced, “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series, an anthology of unique, unsettling thrillers developed and produced with an eye towards original, genre storytelling. Eulyn served as the costume designer for a few of these films including Black Box, directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr (Released October 6th, 2020) and Evil Eye, directed by Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani, and stars Sarita Choudhury and Sunita Mani (Premiering on October 13th, 2020).
Spencer Williams: Hi Eulyn! How are you, it’s been such a long time!
Eulyn Colette Hufkie: I am doing so well! Working and living in New Orleans. Just dodging hurricanes and COVID. Ha!
Spencer: Ugh! Yes I hear you, the struggle is real. But I am so glad you are doing well, despite the circumstances. I always like to start with my guests, asking how you ended up in the world of costume design. Where did it all begin for Eulyn?
Eulyn: I am from Cape Town, South Africa. I am mixed-race, referred to as ‘coloured’. Mixed race women make up the majority of factory workers, sewing for big industry. When I decided that I wanted to pursue a Fashion Design career, my parents strongly opposed it. They understood my interest and talent for design since my Mom still has my renderings of ball gowns from when I was 3 years old. They wanted stability for me in my future. I ended up studying accounting at The University of Cape Town, but I ‘majored’ in ‘What I wore to Uni every day’ *laughs*. My outfits were the main event after wearing school uniforms my entire life. Ha!
I was scouted and started modeling. Through modeling, I met incredible designers and asked them if I could train with them and work for free. They said, ‘YES!’ and I spent my first couple of days on set carrying racks and sorting hangers. But I loved it! It just clicked.
When you’re a P.A., you’re sort of like a fly on the wall. You get to see and listen to everything. I chose at that moment to really be a sponge for information. I learned and listened, and I kept getting employed. I was earning money doing what I loved. I was in utter disbelief. I’ve been lucky enough to train and work with some of South Africa’s best designers.
My grandparents owned a clothing factory in South Africa. That was my weekend job, selling and sorting uniforms. I still love the sound and smell of the old singer machines. My grandmother is a very talented seamstress. She made my first communion dress, all of the wedding dresses in the family, all the baby clothes. When I first started taking an interest in designing, I would take lessons with her to learn pattern making and sewing.
Spencer: Where do you feel like your inspiration and creativity comes from?
Eulyn: Oh my gosh, everywhere and everything inspires me. Authenticity without stereotypes inspires me. I’ve got a very vivid imagination and I become really invested when it comes to research. I watch a lot of movies. I love all film genres. I’m in love with going to fabric stores and just touching everything.
I find inspiration really in every way. I’m pretty sure because of The Walking Dead, I’m on a watch list though! Ha! I’ve had to really go deep and dark with finding inspiration. For example, figuring out how blood really flows. What the color of blood really is, and what a head looks like when it’s not attached to a body. Well, these are all the things that I’ve had to research. What would a walking corpse look like?
South Africa is a melting pot. We have the biggest Indian community outside of India in South Africa. We have eleven official languages in South Africa and many different tribes. I was introduced to all of these different cultures from a very early age. The food, nature, the markets. It’s all very mixed so it’s hard not to be inspired walking around in South Africa.
Spencer: You have such an incredible story, Eulyn. It’s truly inspiring. So, spooky season is upon us. At the same time, we just heard the news that one of our favorite shows has announced their series finale, The Walking Dead. When I heard the news, I knew I just had to talk to you. 10 seasons. The show started in 2010, I was just 15 years old at the time *laughs*. You were the costume designer for half of these 10 seasons. You must be so proud of being a part of this phenomenon?
Eulyn: It’s incredible that it’s lasted this long. The Walking Dead definitely gave me a big boost in my career. In the first season, I worked as a costumer. Then I got the big promotion, to be the Costume Designer. Each season was very different and presented unique challenges. There was a city full of walkers, to a small town and idyllic farm life, to Alexandria, and then finally, Negan.
Each character’s evolution can be clearly seen through costume for the first 6 seasons. Maggie (played by Lauren Cohan) stands out to me in this regard – she started the show in those pastel colors that I created. I dyed all of those pieces on the farm, myself to create a different palette for each character in order to give the audience insight into the emotional journey that the characters endured on the farm. I really wanted the farm to look like a watercolor painting. It was an idealistic place in the crazy zombie world that existed just outside of their fence.
All of the characters subscribed to Hershel’s rules, discussions about God and spirituality on the farm only then to end up questioning the leadership of the very man that they chose to follow.
Or how about watching Glenn (played by Steven Yeun) evolve, he was practically a child when we met him. Daryl Dixon (played by Norman Reedus), starts off as a ‘bad guy’ character. I created the “angel wings” vest Daryl wore. I wanted him to look tough, be safer on his bike but at the same time still, soften him up, and make him appear to be the dark guardian angel of the group. Those little details like the wings sway the audience into a direction that the character is moving mentally. The wings were very symbolic of Daryl’s journey.
Daryl’s original vest is actually MERLE’s (played by Michael Rooker). It was hanging in my office. We cut out the wings and sewed them on, to do a show and tell with Frank Darabont. He said that I was ‘F*cking ‘genius’. Career and life highlight for sure! Merle and Daryl were literally cut from the same cloth.
Spencer: Oh wow, I love that. It makes so much sense! My mind is blown. That never even occurred to me.
Eulyn: Yeah! Frank is pretty genius, I remember he wanted a really bright t-shirt for Sophia (played by Madison Lintz). So when Sophia emerged from the barn at the end, it would be obvious that it’s her. We got so excited, imagining the dirt on the bright t-shirt! But then we had to find the shirt. I remember that day, I ran to every Target in Atlanta on a Sunday, looking for those shirts so I could buy them all out. I got the phone call while I was in the bathtub. I wanted to cry, I was so tired, but I told myself, “ it’s Frank Darabont. He’s brilliant. I am going to trust him, and I guess I’m going to Target now”. And looking back, I’m glad that I trusted him. Such an incredible moment in the history of the show.
Spencer: That Sophia costume, is one of the most iconic costumes of the show. I remember that moment so very vividly. I was an absolute wreck!
Eulyn: Oh, there wasn’t a dry eye on the set! Extremely powerful scene and a lifetime bond between Daryl and Carol created at that moment.
Spencer: There are so many characters in this show. Plus, each season had its own kind of factions? There was the farm, the prison, the settler towns, bikers gangs… What were some of the challenges you faced working on The Walking Dead?
Eulyn: I just really wanted to keep everybody separate, visually. I wanted to give each character a ‘thing’ unique to them. Including our superhero characters, MICHONNE, RICK, CARL, DARYL, MAGGIE, ANDREA, GLENN. Each character had their own style or charm or way of styling or layering clothing, but still, looked uniform as a group. One of my favorite things ever is when I got this one image when all of the characters arrive at Alexandria and they’re all walking side by side, next to each other. It was brilliant! You can see the vision. Each character looked so different, but they look like a gang.
Alexandria was a challenge for me. My mind was already in the apocalypse and the Alexandrians seemed so bloody clueless. How do you not know that you have to shoot the Walkers in the head? How do you not know? Come on, Deanna (played by Tovah Feldshuh)! Ha! I adore TOVAH, she was exceptional in her role as Deanna.
It was hard for me to make these people look so ordinary. Can we give them just something? I was always ready to go full Mad Max tribal!! We were in the apocalypse after all. When I put Rick and Michonne into those police uniforms … gosh that really felt weird! Because they already knew what lived outside of the gates. I just had to really honor the character and the story at that moment. Rick was always being a gentleman and trying to appease the new boss or new leader. He was going back to his old ways of being a policeman, following instructions, and being polite. It was supposed to feel uncomfortable for all of us. Brilliant writing!
Spencer: We had a lot of people send in questions about this next topic. The Walking Dead is a masterclass in distressing costumes. Blood. Guts. Mud. It’s all there. It truly is the best of the best. What was it like making everything so dirty? Dressing the walkers throughout the years?
Eulyn: Distressing costumes is an art. I hired artists. I needed people who were going to be open. I needed them to unlearn everything that they’d been taught and really trust my vision. We used knives, graters, blowtorches. We did things very differently. It was unlike anything that anybody else had done. I didn’t want the characters to look like pirates or cartoon zombies. They were walking corpses of ordinary people whose lives were cut short by a virus. I wanted my team to think of how that person died, how long they’d been dead. It was important to match blood splatter on clothing to match makeup wounds.
We had distressing techniques with tools we created ourselves. So I have this one device that looks like some sort of a medieval torture device, but it’s a block of wood with spikes in it. We made my own paints in different colors. We had our own names, these funny names we came up with such as ‘puss’. The other trick I used often when we shot 300 zombies in an episode, we would collect all of those costumes and soak them in bleach and then rework them so we’d be using the same costumes over and over and over. It just made them even better. They got rattier and rattier.
It was very important to me that every single costume made sense. I got a lot of criticism from fans about the long skirts. Did everybody die in a church? was a comment that made me chuckle! I thought that was hilarious. When you think about makeup, they are doing probably 10 to 20 people in one sitting. But then there would be 500 people in the field. So you’re seeing five hundred costumes in full. I had to cover them from head to toe, to make sure that they looked like walkers.
I would tell my ageing team …. I want to smell the walkers through the screen.
A fun memory is Frank Darabont directing an episode, and calling for more sweat, all I had was my Hawaiian tropic sunscreen in my bag, I used it as sweat on Rick and it became our staple sweat product, still is. I see now that some costume shops sell it as such. The traditional ageing methods simply didn’t work for long-lasting ageing. Most costume ageing products are designed to come out in the wash, for this show I needed the dirt and ageing to stay in the clothing and be one part of the design, so I had to design my own products.
My crew and I would take art classes a couple of times a week to hone our painting skills.
Spencer: Is there a certain costume from The Walking Dead you find yourself quite proud of? Some notable costumes I can think of was Daryl’s biker jacket. Michonne’s hood she wore in the woods. Rick’s sheriff gear… The many costumes of Carol that showed her major character development.
Eulyn: One of the costumes I loved probably the most was worn by Hershel (played by Scott Wilson). I love that costume with the bush pants and those old leather suspenders. If you look closely, the attachment on the suspenders is quite different and beautiful.
But I’m proud of all of the hard work that went into creating those characters.
Attention to detail was very important. If you think about every opening of every season, there wasn’t a lot of talking. They didn’t speak. So you could see the journey that they were on through the costumes. The opening of every season was always my proudest moment. Just like bam! What’s going on? When it came to Rick, he was always in some version of a sheriff outfit. I always had him either in a white t-shirt or tan western shirt and the same black jeans. Rick was always the same guy just going through different things.
Spencer: The Walking Dead was unique because you have had the popular graphic novel out there as well. Did you feel like you were referencing the comics quite often?
Eulyn: Only when Scott Gimple asked. Otherwise, I tried not to. I was inspired by it. But I wasn’t going to copy them as they were shown. I wanted to do my own version, but stay inspired by the comic. A good example, Michonne was very sexy in the comic. There were little things that didn’t really fit with Danai Gurira. We went for a more warrior-esque feel, but also realistic and relatable.
I would say also that you choose your costume in the apocalypse, you decide how you want the world to view you. That is what Michonne ultimately did. There was one episode where we went back in time and saw Michonne with her little boy and her husband. I gave them sort of an Afro vibe, with more African mixed prints in clothing which was mimicked in the decor as well. She had dreads with jewels. The outfit that Michonne chose in the apocalypse was her African inspired armor. She wanted the world to be afraid of her. She used to walk with those two Walkers with the missing limbs. She wanted people to see her and run? So she didn’t have to hurt them. Her appearance was a WARNING if you will.
Spencer: So I want to talk to you about some of your recent projects. Coming in October to Amazon Prime Video is the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series of unique, unsettling thrillers developed and produced with an eye towards original, genre storytelling. They showcase diverse casts led by emerging filmmakers, premiering on Amazon Prime Video. You worked on a few of the eight films such as Black Box – premiering October 6th, and Evil Eye – premiering October 13th. What was it like working on these two projects?
Eulyn: I loved it! The directors were all very open to my ideas and appreciated my expertise. I loved Sarita Choudhury growing up. I saw Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love. So I was thrilled to work with her. Oh, my gosh, she’s so beautiful. I love her acting style. She’s just such a good actress. She really brought a lot to the character. She really wanted to look natural and not overly done. We did not want any kind of stereotype. This was not Bollywood. This was a real woman’s journey into madness and struggling with real trauma. We really wanted to honor that character. The wedding piece I designed the top just to hug her and put all of these Swarovski’s on because I knew it would be shot in a darker space. The whole movie would be a little bit dark because of the time change. Her daughter lived in America. She’s in India. My mother’s in South Africa. I’m here. We talk on the phone all the time, every day with a 9hr time difference.
Sunita is an absolute joy to work with and open to trying new things. We tried many different versions of the Americanized daughter before we landed fully on our version of this character.
Spencer: You must have found this film so relatable!
Eulyn: Yes, I certainly understood the story. As an immigrant, I understood how one adopts and adapts to a new country. The characters also lived in the United States for a long while. This led to a choice to add a bit of western feel to certain aspects of the clothing that Usha and Krishnan wear. Not too much embellishment on her daytime looks. Not too much jewelry.
Spencer: The costumes for these two films were fantastic and really show your range as a designer. With Black Box, we saw a lot of contemporary pieces, the medical field, and even the wedding. Then with Evil Eye, you really explored the beauty of Indian fashion. What were some of your favorite moments from working on these two films, and what did you learn?
Eulyn: It was nice to be involved with a group that was so open to my ideas. I got to really show what I am capable of with both of these projects. I could really see the directors were so into what I was saying. I was working with emerging filmmakers, so I would do these massive presentations, to begin with, to really show them what I can do. The sky was the limit. We can make anything happen. I did a lot of sketches and renderings, which is funny because I did way more than I usually would. I created a lot more pieces for these films than I usually would because I really wanted the vision to be realized fully. For example, I designed the looks of the bride and the groom at the engagement party that we see in Evil Eye.
I loved getting to work with Ms. Phylicia Rashad on Black Box. Our young Amanda Christine who plays Ava is an incredible actress. The clothing in this film was kept simple and with very little pattern, contemporary and not too modern. I just wanted the little girl to be CUTE! Like sunshine in an otherwise grey world.
Spencer: Finally, this blog is followed by a lot of aspiring costume designers? Do you have any words of advice for all of those trying to find their way in this crazy world?
Eulyn: Watch films! Watch films that you don’t even think you will like. Some of the most beautiful films are in the horror genre.
When you’re lucky enough to get your first job as a costume PA: Sometimes you get coffee. But that’s also good because you’re keeping the designer awake. Be flexible. I always ask new PA’s where they’d like to end up in the film business, I allow and encourage them to shadow on set with my costumers. Communicate with your colleagues. Maybe you are great at illustrating? That’s actually a job. I think a lot of times people don’t know what we do in the film industry. There is a place for all kinds of talent.
Spencer: Eulyn, thank you so much for talking with me. We have to do this again sometime. Thank you so much!
Eulyn: Thank you so much for talking with me. It’s been awesome to see you!