Natalie Bronfman is an Emmy-nominated costume designer, known for her incredible work on The Handmaid’s Tale. I got to meet Natalie back in 2020, for what would become our first official interview at The Art of Costume. Now, I am lucky to be able to catch up with Natalie once again to talk about her work on the incredible Apple TV+ show, See, starring Jason Momoa, Alfre Woodard, and Dave Bautista. Natalie was costume designer for season two of See, a season full of excellent costuming, armor, textiles, weddings, and war.
Spencer: Natalie! It is so good to hear from you again! It’s been a little while since we first met and talked about your work on The Handmaid’s Tale. How has life been treating you since?
Natalie: Life has been so amazing and full of creativity. I couldn’t ask for more at the moment. Well, COVID could go away…
Spencer: That is great to hear! But yes, I am so with you. So we are going from The Handmaid’s Tale to See. One dystopian world to the next! It sounds like a natural transition, yet they are two very different shows! What was the transition like for you as you took on the second season of See?
Natalie: The transition wasn’t too complicated once I actually got into the flavor of the show. It was a completely different box to think outside of from the show before. Whereas I had a very tight box to stay within on Handmaid’s Tale, on SEE, I had to think outside of the box completely. I had to start thinking with my other senses as opposed to with only my eyes. That made for a very interesting design challenge and was extremely fulfilling because I realized you could do it.
Spencer: The show is set in the future, yet its costumes sometimes resemble something of the past. Because of the nature of this show, I am curious to know what sort of research you did and what influences you took in as you were starting?
Natalie: The research for this show was actually really interesting because I am very much a history buff. I pulled from every single era throughout mankind and pieced together the show’s look. It had quite a significant Asian influence, and I melted that with Iron Age, the Renaissance, Ancient Rome, Medieval Middle East, etc.
Spencer: That’s incredible. I love the idea that this is set in the future yet you are looking at Ancient Rome influences. Costume design plays a massive role in this show! Those who survived the deadly virus that decimated humankind emerged blind. How does the story of this show interact with the costumes?
Natalie: To tell the story through costumes, we have to think what it would be like not to be able to see the costumes – so what are you left with? Well, you can hear things, smell things, feel things and possibly even taste them. We added a lot of elements that were auditory or olfactory such as little bells or metal chains on clothing.
For the army, we decorated one of the boots with cymbals which would indicate and demarcate the step of the army. The other army had ball bearings in a little tube on the back of the other foot. That way, when fighting, they could hear which side it was that was approaching, for example. Another example would be when the queen entered the room; she would jingle rings or have actual sound things on her clothing itself, just as did some of the others.
Spencer: It’s such a unique show, and certainly a unique costume design challenge. Being a costume nerd, the first thing I noticed about your brilliant work was the use of textiles and fabrics. How important are the textiles and fabrics in the overall storytelling of the show!
Natalie: Thank you for the compliment! I often would take fabrics when I got them and change them to become richer or more layered. We did a lot of wool felting and embellishing using found objects, which added another layer of texture to each and every garment. Particularly of the royal house.
Spencer: Ha! We could talk about fabrics forever! But, many people reading this will probably be mad at me if I don’t ask about working with the dreamy Jason Momoa, who plays the lead character, Baba Voss. Do you collaborate with Jason when it comes to designing the costumes?
Natalie: Yes, we did collaborate in terms of what the taste in style was. He is a very big fan of Japanese culture and style, as am I, and it seemed it was a perfect symbiosis of ideas meeting. He had always wanted to dress up as a samurai, and I always wanted to build a Samurai’s armor. So, you could say it was a match made in heaven in terms of working together.
Spencer: All of his costumes are great, truly. There are a lot of characters and tribes in this show. That is a lot of costuming! How many costumes do you think pass through your doors?
Natalie: Gosh, I don’t know off the top of my head! I would say a good 7000 to 8000 costumes. We had so many armies and tribes and so many luxe and multiples to make for each waring sequence – that figure is probably very close to what it is. Before COVID, we had days where we had a 900 background per day for short students, and each and every one of them was individual. It was a great deal of costumes!
Spencer: Just…woah! That is a lot and I am exhausted for you. In the eighth episode, Baba and Edo (played by Dave Bautista) lead their armies into an epic battle that builds to an intense face-off between the brothers. Talk to me about this samurai-like armor Baba wears?
Natalie: Baba’s Armor! It was a lot of fun to create. I had purchased an antique Japanese chest plate that had the little checkerboard pattern in it. When Jason came for his fitting, we talked about it, and we decided that that would become a pattern that he would have on his armor as well. That was achieved by doing a checkerboard of wax, and so the two colours became very subtle, but it was just an extra detail that we knew was on there. Jason‘s favourite colour is pink and mauve, so we created his armour in a very soft dusty pink that had gilding and slight touches of Crimson red in some of the details. He looks so amazing in it and so very powerful. It was just wonderful.
Spencer: I am obsessed with the armor. It was made for Jason, it’s so fitting. I LOVED the wedding costumes seen in episode four. There was just something so hauntingly beautiful about the colors you used. I would love to hear your concept behind this scene.
Natalie: I think building the wedding was one of my favourite scenes. Queen Kane’s wedding coat was just a dream to build. It was sort of a mashup of Erte, Fortuny, and Leon Bakst. They are some of my all-time favourite designers, and I have never been able to apply their influence in any costume before, so I thought I would do that there. The coat itself is silk velvet, and it had layers of bejeweled patches made up of diodes in radio parts and hand-stitched beading, and we applied that there for her because it was shot outside. In the back, there were long chains that would drag behind her.
The bride and groom had floral coats on, hers being all flowers that symbolized faithfulness and happiness and innocence and fruitfulness, and his was made of a coat of ferns, which I was trying to use as the symbol of the spores underneath the leaves of ferns as the seed of men. The rest of the nobility wore very layered pieces, as well and some of the ladies had rusty old hoop skirts on top of their clothing because that would be something that would be quite precious and something that did not disintegrate in those 600 years. They wouldn’t have known to wear them under, so they would wear them on top.
Spencer: Speaking of the Queen… Queen Kane is one of my favorite characters due in part to her exquisite costuming. I would love to hear about the influences behind her costumes?
Natalie: Oh, she has all sorts of influences; I don’t even know where to begin. I believe she had 26 to 30 costumes in season two. She was one of my favourite characters to design for because we could go very much outside the box with her. Sylvia was also very much game to try things that were unusual, which was such an incredible delight. She was amazing to work with.
Her costumes, specifically style-wise, aren’t influenced by one particular thing, except for maybe the color. I’ve started saturating her clothing with a dark red to indicate her blood lust. And at the very end, when she lies in her nightgown on the bed, the colour is sort what it would look like if you were to wash the blood out of a silk dress. This symbolizes that the blood lust is still there, but her power has been diminished.
Spencer: Natalie, thank you so much for joining me! This has been wonderful. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you! Looking forward to our next conversation!
Natalie: Thank you for having me again, and it was a pleasure as always.