It’s September, which in my view, is just October Eve. Spooky season quietly lurks in the shadows, pumpkin spice lattes appear in your local Starbucks, and suddenly everyone has the urge to watch slasher films… or Harry Potter. For me, I can also feel my annual obsession with vampires returning! Luckily for me, I was given the incredible opportunity of speaking with costume designer Laura Montgomery, responsible for the costumes of season three of my favorite comedy, What We Do In The Shadows!
Laura Montgomery is a film and television costume designer based in Toronto, Canada. Montgomery’s costume design credits include, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Small Town Murder Songs (TIFF Official Selection 2010), When Moses Woke (Gemini Award Winner for Best Direction in a Performing Arts Program), Coopers’ Christmas (TIFF Official Selection 2008), and What We Do in the Shadows S3. I spoke with Laura about the costumes for the third season, What We Do In The Shadows; please enjoy!
Spencer: Hi Laura! I am so excited to meet you! We are such big fans of What We Do In The Shadows here at The Art of Costume and have been dying for the new season! Thank you for joining me.
Laura: It’s my pleasure. I’m a big fan of the show too, so it’s a treasured opportunity anytime I can talk about it!
Spencer: The first two episodes of the third season, “The Prisoner” and “The Cloak of Duplication,” are complete masterpieces, and I am already in love with the costumes! You must have been so excited to take on this project?
Laura: I was really excited! To begin with, I was a huge fan of the movie. I was the assistant costume designer for the first two seasons to Amanda Neale, the costume designer from New Zealand who had been working with Jemaine Clement on projects – she had also done the movie! When I heard that the show would be filmed in Toronto, I knew I wanted to join the team.
We shot the third season during the pandemic in 2020. There were many reasons, but it was just a safer decision [for Amanda] to stay in New Zealand. So I was just thrilled to kind of take on the characters – use what has been established and be able to put my own little spin on things.
Spencer: It’s a brilliant concept, vampires in a mockumentary format, living in Staten Island, New York! Each character comes to Staten Island with a unique background. Nandor The Relentless is from the fictional kingdom of Al-Quolanudar in Southern Iran and a warrior serving the Ottoman Empire; Laszlo Cravensworth was an English Nobleman, and Nadja is a Romani vampire. Though it is the third season, we are still learning about these individuals.
What do your research and creative process look like when it comes to costuming the vampires and creating the costumes of What We Do In the Shadows?
Laura: The research is my absolute favorite part, and this show is great because you don’t have to be perfect about it. It starts with the conceit that you know these vampires kind of got stuck in the period in which they were human.
As you said, Nandor is from the Persian region in the 1400s. Laszlo has a Victorian feel to him; we think he got turned in the mid-1800s. He’s from England, and Nadja has that Greek-ish background. Her story’s a little bit looser. She was born in, I think, the 1600s, but we go a little more Victorian with her as well. The show is contemporary, so that’s when they were born, but we have the freedom to use elements from the 80s – they’ve lived through all the decades. We can say, oh, they picked up this piece when they were clubbing in the 90s, or they picked up something you know they’ve got all these collected pieces.
I found it really fascinating last year I did a lot of research into Nandor’s background, and I really wanted to make him as authentic as possible. So I started looking up Persian textiles and a lot of art from that period. I visited a museum in Toronto called the Agha Khan, where they currently have a great exhibition showcasing paintings of this Iranian epic poem. The kings in those dynasties started to get interested in illustrating the poem, so there were many illustrated versions commissioned around the 1400s. So I’ve been looking at those images to bring inspiration, even some of the colors. I was surprised by the way they would wear things the silhouettes.
I was so, so satisfied with the second episode, “The Cloak of Duplication,” in part because of Nandor’s exercise pants that he wears.
Spencer: Ugh, yes, I was going to ask you about those! They were so good!
Laura: One of the producers said that he saw a Twitter thread commenting on their authenticity, saying they’re really Persian. It’s true; they’re from this ancient Persian sport, called Zurkhaneh or Pahlevani. I knew I wanted to get these pants, and we have a couple of Iranian people on our costume team. So I found the pants from a maker who makes them custom in Tehran. I started the conversation with him, and then eventually, someone from our team helped me. So we got them made, and then she had a friend who was in Tehran and would be coming to Toronto, so the friend picked them up and brought them over. It took months, but I was so happy to get the genuine pads and that they were recognized.
Spencer: Nandor running on a treadmill was hilarious to me, and suddenly I stopped laughing when I saw the shorts. I just thought, oh my gosh, look at the fabric – look at those shorts! I’ve never seen anything like them!
Laura: Yes! It started by searching up Persian sports; people still practice it in the modern-day. Also, during the 80s, there was the wrestler – The Iron Sheik. Do you know who that is? *laughs*
Spencer: *laughs* No, I’m sorry! Please tell me! I am pretty rusty on my 80s wrestlers.
Laura: He was from the Hulk Hogan era. So these two roads are what lead me to those traditional pants Nandor wears.
Spencer: That makes sense, and this conversation reminded me of the first season where Nandor applies for citizenship while wearing his 90s basketball jersey from the Olympics, so it makes sense that he would have something that may be a little dated.
We have to talk about Colin Robinson, an energy vampire who lives in the basement. Colin Robinson is unique because he is hardly unique nor interesting – which makes him one of the most hilarious characters. Can you walk me through Colin’s wardrobe?
Laura: Colin was a new concept introduced to the series. For Amanda and Mark Proksch, it kind of clicked into place when it came to the color palette. Colin would always wear beige and keep within that color palette. So that’s where we get the very monotone boring palette.
What I tried to do this year was elevate the tailoring.
Spencer: Oh, I love that!
Laura: Colin had been picking up things from all kinds of periods, especially the 90s. Knowing this year that he’s about to turn 100, I was able to home in on the 40s and 50s as his era. I started looking at a lot of 40s tailoring. We got a lot of custom pieces done for him this season. I hope it won’t be too noticeable a difference, but we tried to refine the tailoring a little bit.
Spencer: It’s a subtle difference! He’s boring, but also, it’s like it’s still a nice suit, though. He does have a good eye for a decent tailored suit.
Laura: Yeah, I think he would be the kind of person who would really go down a wormhole of the specifics of sartorial details and talk someone’s ear off about things.
Spencer: *laughs* Absolutely; he would! That is a brilliant concept!
Guillermo De La Cruz, everyone’s favorite vampire familiar played by Harvey Guillén, has found himself on quite the journey. It turns out he is the descendant of the vampire hunter, Van Helsing. How do you approach costuming Guillermo – a familiar turned vampire bodyguard? His wardrobe has changed in a more sophisticated way that subtly aligns him with the vampires, without screaming it from the rooftops.
Laura: Yeah, he’s always wanted to be a vampire, and this is something that Harvey has brought to the table. Because he wants to be a vampire, Harvey always wants to bring in this idea that Guillermo is trying to dress the part.
The trench coat is something that was introduced in season two. When he had to do the fighting, that was his Van Helsing moment. Because he’s now the bodyguard, we had to toughen them up even more. We introduced waistcoats! We’re trying to keep him that soft and cuddly and Guillermo, but at the same time, he is the bodyguard now. So he has a leather waistcoat with his Bandelier of detachable stakes.
Spencer: It’s so ridiculously perfect; I love it.
Our favorite vampire roommates have found themselves in quite the unexpected position – now leading Vampiric Council found in New York. This transition immediately gave sophistication to the character’s costumes, particularly Nandor and Nadja, as they are splitting the leadership role. Can you explain the development of these costumes?
Laura: That was something that came from the writing. The cape is a piece that we’ve had, I think, since season one. But there was a note in the script saying they dress more nicely than usual. We want to keep raising the bar because, in every season, it seems like there’s some sort of fancy thing that happens.
So for Nandor, that meant the hat. I was seeping the shape of that hat in a lot of paintings. Then for Nadja, it was really fun to blow out the shoulders and make it special.
Spencer: I love it, such an excellent way to start the season. I’m obsessed with these costumes, and I recognized the cape, but just the subtle touch of the hat said everything to me.
Laura- Oh, just wait. I have a favorite costume coming up, and there’s another character’s costume. I just think it’s so hilarious.
Spencer: This isn’t fair; now I am going to want to do this interview all over again in a few weeks! You’ll be hearing from me!
I was excited to see Kristen Schaal return to reprise her role as The Guide, aka as The Floating Woman. I am absolutely in love with her costume! Can we just talk about this costume for a second?
Laura: In the beginning, I think she only had one or two costumes when we saw her in season one, but already she wore the hat really well. It was a French hood with a veil that she wore in season one. I just decided; she’s obviously a fashionista. So for this season, she has a whole closet because she’s in, I think pretty much every episode. I wanted to play with the silhouettes – she has a lot of structure with a mix of 1600s meets very modern. There were a lot of designer influences – a lot of Alexander McQueen and Gareth Pugh.
Spencer: I must mention the physically younger generation of vampires we saw in Nandor and Nadja’s first official Vampiric Council business outing. A group of vampires calling themselves the Council of Vampires shows themselves to be a minor problem for the official Vampiric Council. From a costume point of view, I thought these scenes were so interesting because they were vampires in more contemporary fashion – wardrobe-wise. Yet they still had that vampire look – how did you approach these scenes from a costume perspective?
Laura: That is such a fun thing about the show is that we have our vampires, but then there are also these contemporary characters. These new vampires, they were young. But then there’s always that idea of how old were they when they turned? So it was very fortunate because the 90s are really in style right now. The 90s are back, and that’s when I was a teenager, so I feel like I know that era so well. It was so fun to see Urban Outfitters have all this stuff I was wearing in high school.
The show is not trendy at all. We always say there’s a fine line, they’re not cheap, but it’s tacky. Our main characters look a little dated compared to the 20s vampires; this was the first time we got to do something a bit more trendy.
Spencer When I saw them on screen the first time, I was like, whoa whoa, who are they and what are they wearing!
Laura, I am already in love with this season and the costumes of What We Do In The Shadows. I am so excited to see what’s next and I am also happy to have learned that you will be continuing forward as costume designer into the fourth season as well! I know you can’t reveal much about what’s to come – but I imagine there is a lot to look forward to!
Laura: Everyone says that the scripts are even funnier, and I don’t know how that’s possible. We just started pre-production now, and we start shooting soon, but the scripts are great from what I’ve read!
Spencer: Oh gosh, I am so excited. Until the next time, thank you so much for joining me; I can’t wait until we meet again!
Laura: Oh, you’re welcome! Thank you!