In this exclusive interview, costume designer Diana Cilliers takes us behind the scenes of the highly-anticipated live-action adaptation of One Piece currently streaming on Netflix and the colorful One Piece costumes. Hosted by Spencer Williams, the conversation delves into the intricate process of bringing the beloved characters of this iconic manga series to life. From the pressures of adapting such a revered franchise to the meticulous attention to detail in creating each character’s costume, Diana shares her insights and experiences, shedding light on the incredible collaboration and dedication that went into making this visually stunning and morally uplifting show a reality. Join us as we explore the colorful world of the One Piece costumes through the eyes of its talented costume designer.
Spencer Williams: I am so excited to welcome costume designer Diana Cilliers.
Diana Cilliers: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.
Spencer Williams: All the way from Cape Town! Thank you for being here. Let’s get into One Piece, now streaming on Netflix. This was such a fun show. It was colorful, adventurous, and wacky, yet it had a real heart to it. One Piece is the #1 best-selling manga series in history, with 516.5M copies across 103 volumes in circulation through 61 countries since 1996. First, I would love to hear your reaction to taking on this project. Was there a pressure that comes with this sort of reputation, and what was your familiarity?
Diana Cilliers: There certainly was a pressure. It’s got such a wonderful fan base, and as you say, it’s such a massive manga. I had always known about it, but I was obviously not quite as involved as I became through the showrunners and through them also with Eiichiro Oda. It was all part of the process, and really, it was one of the most challenging and exciting projects of my career.
Spencer Williams: With that in mind, the role of the costume designer is so important to storytelling, especially in a project with such beloved characters as One Piece. As a whole, I would love to know more about your process of adapting the many characters in this series. What did your process look like, and what sort of research did you do?
Diana Cilliers: There was definitely a massive research effort. One of the most challenging things was, of course, transcribing the two-dimensional manga drawings into three-dimensional action costumes. It was a challenge to make that translation while retaining a certain simplicity that came with the fact that they were manga and that they were drawings. We wanted to honor the iconic looks of these characters. They all had some challenges where we had to take the characteristics of these iconic characters and translate them into a world where clothes could be worn, were practical, and they were safe. The challenge, I think, was to translate the already massively important characteristics of each character into a new and fresh look while honoring it.
Spencer Williams: Then one would assume textures, fabrics, and colors probably played a massive role in that translation.
Diana Cilliers: A massive role! I have to say, it was a huge challenge because we needed to honor the manga and the fan base, but at the same time, we wanted to create something that was visually exciting as well. The textures of fabrics were quite essential, and the way that they were aged, we spent a massive amount of time carefully aging everything so that it looked like the characters inhabited their costumes and that they were part of their identity in a way.
Spencer Williams: It all really translated so beautifully, so seamlessly. You could tell that all these characters had lived a full life before we even got to the beginning of this story. Let’s talk about some of our main characters. Luffy (played by Iñaki Godoy) is, of course, our main character, and I really love the translation of this character and their costume into the live-action world. Tell me about this costume, the red vest and blue trousers, and the process of getting down that iconic straw hat!
Diana Cilliers: It was a wonderful process, and the cast was really very collaborative. The casting, for me, was one of the most amazing things that I’ve seen on any of the projects that I’ve worked on before. It was so hard to imagine how these characters would be in real life. They all participated very much in their look and identities.
Luffy’s costume specifically, I mean, we had to take care to make sure that the hat was slightly too big because it was previously Shanks’s hat. So it didn’t fit him perfectly—the same with Luffy’s waistcoat. The texture of the waistcoat fabric was something that I had to consider because it couldn’t just be a completely flat fabric. We wanted it to have some woven texture to be visually pleasing to everyone. There was a massive collaboration between the showrunners, Oda Sensei, and my team, and it gave us the time to consider everything, including the buttons on Luffy’s waistcoat. We had meetings about exactly what size they would be.
The hats were woven from scratch. We imported the straw, and then we actually started weaving the hats. We had a milliner and a whole millinery team with us all the time, and they made the hats absolutely from scratch. Sometimes, the hat had to sit behind Luffy’s head on his back, or sometimes, it had to sit on his head. So we had to have slightly different weights and slightly different sizes. I think we ended up making about 35 hats. The milliners absolutely loved it. They were literally sitting there weaving these hats every day, and it was great to watch the progress.
Spencer Williams: I love that, Luffy had a hat for every occasion. Now, let’s talk about another character. Emily Rudd plays a great character, Nami. Now – Nami, in the source material, is typically drawn in more revealing outfits. But Nami is also in a lot of action, so I appreciated what you did with this character, as it felt more realistic. Tell me about your approach. I have to imagine that played a little bit in the role of designing these costumes.
Diana Cilliers: It really did. Her role in a certain way with the Straw Hat Pirates was quite nurturing, although she also had a completely different side to her character as well. We wanted her to continue in that role and also keep the simplicity of her look in the color and the manga. Therefore, we did not want her to be too elaborate or too kind of outlandish. We wanted to keep to that very lovely simplicity and iconic looks that came with Oda sensei’s color walk.
Spencer Williams: Roronoa Zoro is, of course, in the series with his three swords, and I was struck by the polish of this character and his costume. This felt like a character that had a lot of similarities to their source material.
Diana Cilliers: A lot of research went into him, but he also had such very iconic looks. Zorro had a slightly more flamboyant look with his earrings and sashes. We also had to obviously accommodate his sword fighting. At the same time, we accommodated the nature of his character and worked in the Japanese way of his look. His earrings were quite a challenge because we had to make sure that they were not too heavy or that they would not hurt him or hook onto anything. There was a massive amount of collaboration, especially in terms of stunts and the safety of the costumes. We wanted to use natural fabrics such as raw silk for the neckband of his costume just to give extra texture. Although it’s all the same color, it just has a slightly different texture and quality to it. It’s two different fabrics but the same color.
Spencer Williams: There was so much attention to detail, even down to the earrings.
Diana Cilliers: We had to! There were three sets of earrings.
Spencer Williams: I loved seeing the Marines and those fantastic uniforms. They mirrored the authoritative military uniforms of our world, but they had a bit of a style to them. What was your approach to these uniforms? I’ve always felt that military uniforms are one of the more challenging costumes to design for any project.
Diana Cilliers: It’s absolutely true. The nature of a uniform, in general, is quite complicated because you do want to convey a certain amount of authority. You want to convey a certain separateness, which is what a uniform really stands for or what the political meaning of a government force is. At the same time, you want it to look like there should be an order to it because these people work in an ordered fashion. The way in which the manga worked, they had these really astonishing caps. I wanted to stay quite simple in their uniform to convey a specific authority and particular order, which was completely different compared to the other uniforms. At the same time, the initial design or the initial thought was also to create something that was not really an iconic uniform, but that had an influence from Asia, the Western countries, and from all over really. I wanted to combine certain elements of traditional uniforms or traditional outfits from many different parts of the world, which gave us an iconic look, I think.
Spencer Williams: I would say it came out very iconic and such a great uniform. I’m kind of jealous, actually. I want one. There were so many fantastic costumes in this series, including many crowd scenes A costume designer is nothing without their crew – so tell me about the team you surrounded yourself with.
Diana Cilliers: It was a really very collaborative experience, as I said. What made it quite interesting is that each location or place that they went to, like Buggy’s Circus or Elvira’s Love Duck, had entirely different looks in a certain way. I had a fantastic team of people. We manufactured quite a lot of those things as well just to create the look for each location, each group, and each type of character really. There were many different pirates, there were fishermen, there were the circus people, it was countless! We had a great background team who were dressing the background extras, who were all incredibly collaborative and helpful and did a beautiful job. We also had a significant manufacturing team. We had shoemakers, we had milliners. It was a massive costume department on every level.
Spencer Williams: Diana, this is such a great show, and I’m so excited for the world to see it. What do you hope the audience takes away from this series? When the audience sees the costumes, the characters, and the colors… what do you want the audience to experience when they watch it for the first time?
Diana Cilliers: Oh, that’s a great question. It is really, visually, a wonderful, wonderful thing to watch and to get involved in. There’s a real positive morality about the whole story and about the goodness of the characters. The characters are all very specific with their own natures, but at the same time, they work as such a great team. They’re very supportive of one another. There’s a positive energy and a quirky, wonderful morality in a way if I can so express it. These are outstanding characters, our main characters. They are, of course, people who are definitely baddies as well, but there’s a great positivity about them. I haven’t seen that for a long time in television programs. I think that positivity is very stimulating and will create a massive audience because it is just fabulous.
Spencer Williams: I couldn’t agree more. It really takes you, the audience member, on an adventure along with the Straw Hat Pirates. It’s just such great, positive escapism. Costume designer Diana Cilliers, thank you so much for joining me. I’m so happy for you, and just congratulations. I can’t wait for the world to see what you and your crew have created. It is really quite brilliant.
Diana Cilliers: Thank you very much for that. I think we all really had a good time, and as I said, it was one of the greatest projects I’ve ever worked on in my career, and my team felt precisely the same. We absolutely loved every minute of it and really loved the showrunners and the cast. I think it became a lovely collaborative chosen family, so to speak, while we were shooting.