Something wicked this way comes! Academy Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has curated a collection of unprecedented and genre-defining sinister tales in the Netflix series, Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Each of the twisted tales in this anthology present a unique set of actors, monsters, demons, captivating stories, beautiful sets, and hauntingly beautiful costumes designed by costume designer, Luis Sequeira.
“Luis Sequeira nailed not only the beauty of the costumes but describing the characters through the costumes. He’s again, one of the best in the world and I have worked with him for about a decade.”Guillermo del Toro in a Netflix Press Statement
With that, Elizabeth Glass and I checked in with Luis Sequeria about his work as costume designer on Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities and approaching eight challenging, unique films. We discuss the breakdown of costumes, research, color palettes, and practical monster costumes.
Spencer Williams: Elizabeth and I are so excited to welcome back our friend, costume designer Luis Sequeira. We’re so glad to have you back. It’s been a little while.
Luis Sequeira: Hey, good morning! Thank you for having me.
Spencer Williams: Last time we spoke, we were talking about your Oscar-nominated work on Nightmare Alley. I vividly remember from our interview laughing about how crazy it was that Nightmare Alley was essentially split into two different films in one. Fast forward to Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities; now we are talking about eight different films! Luis, talk to us about how you approached this challenge. How did you even prepare for this?
Luis Sequeira: Yeah, it was eight different films! There were eight distinct time periods, moods, textures, and different versions of storytelling. So it was tricky. Luckily we had a lot of the scripts early. So we were able to do the research because the basis of everything is the research. I had a great crew, and we just plowed through it because we just had to. It was trial by fire.
Spencer Williams: Sounds like there were no moments to hesitate.
Luis Sequeira: None. Decision after decision.
Elizabeth Glass: There were so many dark, twisted fantasies and fairy tales with elements of realism that made the episodes so much more terrifying. Especially with the H.P. Lovecraft-based episodes, you seem to keep historical accuracy at the top of your mind. How much of this project included custom builds?
Luis Sequeira: Almost exclusively, the leading actor costumes were built. We wanted to bring the audience, the viewer, to that time and place. Of course, there were certain liberties taken where we wanted the costumes to be more pleasing to the current eye.
Spencer Williams: In episode two, ‘Graveyard Rats’, we meet a grave robber who must survive a maze of tunnels defended by an army of rats. That sounds crazy to say… I was obsessed with this episode, and we’ve talked before about the costume breakdown process. Seeing this man crawl through to tunnels covered in blood.. rats, and dirt! You could almost feel it. You could smell it. I have a feeling costume breakdown was a huge part of your process.
Luis Sequeira: It’s true. Aging and dying… costume breakdown is huge on any of my projects. Even if I do a contemporary show, the costumes do get aged to a certain extent. But with these stories, and Masson especially, he actually wore the same costume for many days, and that was the whole premise. He started off already in a bit of a hopsack feeling. But it all falls apart, obviously, when he goes down into the tunnels. We had to not only do the work but track it as we were shooting out of sequence. We did a lot of preparatory work so that we had the multiples ready to go.
Spencer Williams: It was such a process. Well, I think we should use the rest of our time to talk about some of our favorite stories and costumes. Elizabeth, what was your favorite episode?
Elizabeth Glass: The Viewing was one of my favorite episodes because it brings together these characters with very distinctive looks. However, together their look is very seamless. How did you approach the costumes of these characters and blend them together, especially with their surroundings? It’s so beautiful.
Luis Sequeira: It was interesting because we were almost exclusively producing a one-set episode. We were working with this beautiful set by our production designer Tamara Deverell. Tamara and I sat and spoke about the color tones, and the director Panos Cosmatos really wanted to have an achromatic look to everybody in the film. So it really was about trying to find differences within similarities. Each character obviously had their backstory, and bringing those elements to their costumes was key. Every costume designer will work this way. It’s about bringing all those elements that you need into storytelling, making all those decisions, and hopefully, in the end, you actually have succeeded in having a natural representation of each of these wonderful characters.
Spencer Williams: It’s such a fun, spooky set too. I love the colors and the lighting against the costumes. It just worked beautifully. I have to talk about “Dreams In The Witch House”. This story takes place in the 1930s and has a whole host of great costumes, but I want to talk about the witch. Some people would probably say the witch costume was just CGI, but I have a feeling that’s not the case.
Luis Sequeira: We all thought it would be CGI until, at the meeting, we learned that no, the witch will be practical. We were basically going to provide the bodice and the apron, and everything else was going to be CGI. But then we were told no… you’re doing it all. Luckily, I was wearing a mask because my mouth dropped to the ground. We had to devise a way to create this costume that came from a wonderful sketch by Guy Davis. We were working with concept art, and making that come to reality is often a challenge. So we made some modifications, but each branch is made by hand. The branches are hand sculpted with wire and foam, wrapped in muslin, painted, and grouped in our quite astounding workroom. I had some wonderful sculptors working with us.
Spencer Williams: It all came to be so tragically beautiful. I’ve actually got to see the head in person at a Netflix FYSEE event, and the sculpting was just top-tier.
Luis Sequeira: I think what’s wonderful about that costume is that it is strangely beautiful, but then the technicalities behind it are quite astounding. So for me, I’m a bit of a geek in that way. I love the storytelling aspect of how we are going to make something work in the most efficient way. And this was a tricky, tricky thing to do. I really enjoy working through those challenges and bringing each of these stories and costumes to life.
Elizabeth Glass: Probably for me, one of the scariest episodes was Pickman’s Model. I made the mistake of watching it before bed. It’s a great period piece that takes place in the early 1900s that spans two very distinctive periods, including what looks like historical characters at a very sinister dinner table. What were your challenges for this episode?
Luis Sequeira: We had this painting as it was referred to showing the dinner. That actual scene was very small and once again highlights the plight of a costume designer, putting an immense amount of work into a seconds-long scene. This was a dinner scene that had many iconic characters of horror mythology. For instance, we had to bring Rasputin to life and various other characters. Most of that was built for that sequence. That was fun to do.
Spencer Williams: Wow, I totally missed that!
Elizabeth Glass: How can you miss Rasputin?
Luis Sequeira: Oh, and that is Lovecraft lying on the table!
Spencer Williams: Well, now I am going to have to watch again, maybe just this time while the sun is out, so I don’t have to hide under my blankets.
Elizabeth Glass: I especially love the witch at the dinner table. She looks really put together. But then, in the real world, she looks well… not as nice. Was that the same costume that was more broken down?
Luis Sequeira: No, we had various versions of that. For the painting, everything was hyper-colored. We made the costume in a brighter color, and then, much like classic Italian paintings, we highlighted the shoulders and gave everything a real glowing quality. So we actually had two different costumes for that character.
Spencer Williams: Well, my favorite episode actually doesn’t have any witches, aliens, or demons—just a whole lot of lotion. I’m talking about the episode called The Outside. This was such a fun episode. It was so campy, over the top, and I felt like we were kind of seeing a different side of Luis Sequeira when it came to the costumes. You don’t really see this side of Luis too often, so can you walk us through the world’s most messed-up makeover story?
Luis Sequeira: This was so much fun to do. Director Ana Lily Amirpour was really championing this throwback to the eighties. It is a modern story, but it was obviously a throwback to the eighties, and she wanted lots of colors. She did not want a dull story here. We got to play, and play we did. Building these crazy dresses for those ladies, we coined them the aquarium. They were the fish in the aquarium! Of course, the main character and her transformation was so much fun. This is a story set in the modern day, almost exclusively built because where are you going to find a turquoise, Dynasty-esque dress like that? It was pretty fun.
Spencer Williams: My favorite costume from that episode is Stacey’s (Played by Kate Micucci) house nightgown that she’s walking around in, covered in lotion and blood. It’s disgusting, and I just fell in love with it because she just kept wearing it, and I just couldn’t stop laughing every time I saw her.
Luis Sequeira: Yeah. Hang in there!
Elizabeth Glass: Luis, this is a fantastic show, and it was exciting to see. Yet another example of the brilliant collaboration between you and Guillermo del Toro and all of the incredible directors throughout the series. Despite how great the series was, we know it was not without its challenges. Looking back, what does this project mean to you?
Luis Sequeira: I think for me, what was great about this project was really being able to juggle. I come from working in television, so I know how to juggle. But this was next level because we’re bringing that quality of The Shape of Water and Nightmare Alley to an episodic format. It really was about bringing that quality, those textures, that storytelling to what is essentially, as we said at the beginning, eight separate movies on an episodic. That was the challenge.
Spencer Williams: Costume designer Luis Sequeira, thank you so much for joining us again. It’s always a pleasure having you here.
Luis Sequeira: Thanks guys. I really appreciate it!