Costume as a Way of Thinking – Interview with Professor Sofia Pantouvaki

Tempest (2015), Music Centre Helsinki; Lead costume designer: Sofia Pantouvaki, Associate costume designers: Susanna Suurla, Heli Salomaa, Lauren Sever, Mimosa Norja

Sofia Pantuovaki photo by Frank A. Unger

As 2022 has just begun, one of our first interviews this year introduces a scenographer and Professor of Costume Design at Aalto University, Finland: the wonderful Sofia Pantouvaki. Apart from discussing her impressive and extensive career with more than 90 designs for theatre, film, opera, and dance productions in Europe, we are also going to talk about Performance Costume: New Perspectives and Methods, a remarkable book about costume design and research that she curated and edited together with Peter McNeil. If you are looking for a great source material about costume research, we recommend you check out this book that was published in 2021 and brought together more than 30 researchers and practitioners from the various fields of costume design.


Csilla: First of all, Sofia, thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview! I gave a brief introduction about you to our readers, but can you introduce yourself, by telling us how you got started with costume design and your research? How did you get into all this?

Sofia: Oh my God, let me think. Well, to start with, I couldn’t study set and costume design in Greece at the time (after graduating from high school), so I tried to search for a field of study that would be closest to my interests. And that’s why I picked interior architecture with a minor in textiles. This minor was more like textile design and part of it were the basics of textile printing, textile dyeing, and so on.

Csilla: So, you created your own program there?

Sofia: In a way, yes. With the architecture projects for my interior design studies, many times I used some text as my reference or even a theatrical play as my inspiration. I remember as a student I had a course which was called ‘Colour in Space’ which was about materials and colors for interior spaces; for this, I used again a theater play.

CsIlla: And then how did your career continue?

Sofia: After my bachelor studies and based on my portfolio, I applied for an internship in scenography, and then eventually I got accepted to do a postgraduate course, which was a practical one on the realization of scenography and costume at La Scala, the opera house in Milan. I spent two years there and it was a dream place for me. I saw the value of my knowledge of materials and design/composition, and some of my knowledge on fabrics was very useful there. And I loved music from a very young age. I studied music and a bit of singing, so hands-on learning at La Scala was kind of putting together all my interests.

Csilla: You have also designed for quite a few opera and dance productions.

Sofia: Music makes me feel at home. In the sense that I feel I belong there. I feel I understand musical narratives, even if the narrative is very abstract; it’s more expressive than storytelling in a linear traditional way. I still feel that music is very much an area that I love. I like to relax, sit back, and focus on the quality of the sounds of the instruments or the voice. Of course, I have designed a lot of other performing arts genres. I have designed more theater than opera, for example. But I prefer opera and musical theatre. I enjoy it very thoroughly, and I also bring the music into my daily life when I work with music. So, I listen to the musical score many, many times when I work on a musical piece. I listen to it at home, in the car or in the streets with headphones.

I take the musical dramaturgy with me a lot and I get immersed into it in many ways, whereas I don’t feel I can do the same with a text.

For me, it requires a certain type of intellectual setting to go back into the text and to read words. Whereas music for me is a more sensorial experience and thus I take it in my life. I live with it for a few weeks during the design and then, of course, I also enjoy the rehearsals very much.

A glimpse into Sofia’s extensive work

Csilla: You had quite an international career, starting from Greece, then studying in Italy.

Sofia: I have been very international in many steps of my life both in education as well as my practice. I have been in many countries; the fact that I had to go out of my own country to study what I was interested in was the first step for me. It made me take an active stance towards going for my interests. So going out of Greece, first for an Erasmus exchange in Finland, then for the postgraduate course in Italy, and then for a masters in London was also quite a self-created international program. It was about moving to all these places to get more connected to my personal interests.

Csilla: What are the main interests in your practice and your research?

Sofia: I have always designed both sets and costumes since the beginning. But I have had a special interest in fabrics, when dyeing textiles since very early on my interest was in materiality. In the different qualities of the fabrics and especially in the coloring. I think a second reason that is very important for me and made me turn towards researching costume deeper was my interest in people and in interpersonal relations. This regarded collaboration, how I was working with my directors and choreographers, but also with actors and dancers, the performers, as well as with my makers. So, there were these three levels of personal collaboration that I had as a designer. This was more intense in the case of costume because – besides your artistic team and your makers – you also have the actor involved from early on. In the case of the sets, of course, the actor is present but practically comes in later in the collaboration.

So, this may be reflected a lot in how these three types of human agents contribute to my work and this was a very strong impulse for me to start researching.

The fact that a lot of levels of psychology somehow informed the work, including my own way of being has been important for me – in addition to searching the human identity and what kind of persons or characters I want to create. This has been very stimulating for me to go deeper into costume. And this is how I focused on costume research, while also looking at character as a compositional element.

Csilla: These are all fascinating topics that we can read about also in your new book. So how did Performance Costume: New Perspectives and Methods come together? There are so many collaborators, just to name a few out of the 30 collaborators: Deborah Nadoolman Landis, Donatella Barbieri, Christina M. Johnson, Chrisi Karvonides- Dushenko, Aoife Monks.

Sofia: The book puts together the discussions with the people that I have met over the four-year research project ‘Costume Methodologies: Building Methodological Tools for Research in the Field of Costume Design’, which was funded by the Academy of Finland between 2014-2018.

When I say discussions, I don’t mean only just sitting down and chatting. I mean also having joint seminars, lectures, organizing symposia, as well as organizing the Critical Costume 2015 Conference, and altogether developing the Critical Costume network as an international platform with Rachel Hann from the UK. Among the events that I organized in the frame of this project, Critical Costume was the one organized in Helsinki and many people related to costume visited us.

Following, I was able to move around in some short or longer research visits around Europe, the United States, and Australia. I found some like-minded people and people who contributed with their own viewpoints to costume research. So, I was interested in putting together these different perspectives towards costume.

The book became an international endeavor because these people were from all around the world and not just located in different places, but approaching costume from different disciplines.

The volume includes authors who come from humanities, especially history, anthropology, curation, museum studies, and object studies. Some of them come from theater design or costume design for film or television, and then others come from dance making or bring the perspective of the costume makers or the costume supervisor. I tried to bring together all these different viewpoints that reveal the different positions that people have towards costume and therefore bring a certain understanding of costume to the discussion on a scholarly level in the book. Moreover, as we say in the introduction, the book is also representative of different communities around costume. The longest-running one is the Costume Design Sub-commission of OISTAT (a global network of theatre-makers celebrating design & technology in live performance) which is a nowadays well-established community for over 25 years; many members of that group are authors included in the book. I must admit that there are still certain aspects that are not represented in the book, so there is more to do: such as the technological aspect on the latest developments in the area of costume and technology; the ecological thinking; and material thinking – now we have more about phenomenological and bodily thinking in the book, but I think that next would also be to focus on material thinking and new materialism.

Csilla: As you previously mentioned the further research that is required, what are your main interests among these topics? What research are you working on currently?

Sofia: I am interested in costume materialities, in the plural because I think that the material possibilities today could bring a very strong renewal of costume. As a way to think, a way to express, and another way to interpret, represent; so there are many dimensions in what costume can do from this perspective. So, the wider umbrella that I call ‘materialities of costume’ has really many sub-themes. Out of the sub-themes that interest me one is the digital technologies. I’m interested in the connections and overlapping and mingling of physical materials with digital materials. So, wearable technology and mixed technologies is one area that interests me in costume research. I’m also interested in nature and bio-based materials, ways to make sustainable costume in the future, and changing the practices we use. How can we reduce the footprint of costume design and making as part of an ecological sensitization of the wider industry of performance making and filmmaking?

I think this umbrella theme of ‘materialities’ covers these big areas and in all of them, I am really interested in the conceptual development of costume. That’s why I’ve been now focusing on developing the idea of ‘costume thinking’, costume as a way of thinking. I find it as a concept that stimulates me to reconsider who we are, how we live, how we connect with other people, and help people relate to other living beings and the environment. Costume can be a tool for critical thinking, which is what I have been trying to articulate in the past five years and since last year even more.

Csilla: In the book, you also have the educational aspect of costume, which plays a big role in your life as well, as a professor of costume design at Aalto University. Being an educator for more than two decades now must have shaped your view about costume and its role in education. Can you share a bit about that in connection to the chapter you wrote in the book, Exploring Rossini’s Berta: Young Audiences and the Agency of Opera Costume?

Sofia: Yes, this chapter is about the educational and societal aspect of costume. Perhaps, apart from ‘materialities’, this is another area that I am passionate about, as it relates to exploring interpersonal relations. It is exciting how costume can make you develop your thinking from a pedagogical perspective. I have worked a lot with children. My Ph.D. was also on children’s theatre and scenography/costume as part of it.

I also developed a lot on a personal level through theatre. I have watched theatre and opera since a very young age and it has fascinated me. It has given me a free space to be.

So, I see there’s value in designing costume for young audiences, especially when performance is not language-based. Again, we go back to music. It’s a way to work with children of many different languages and ethnic backgrounds.

My research showed that by introducing a ‘costume-thinking’ process that involved analysis, interpretation, design and implementation, the children were invited to actively participate in the creation of an operatic character [Berta, from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville] which boosted their artistic expression, activated cultural exchange and enhanced their social integration.

Performance Costume: New Perspectives and Methods p. 495

One thing I haven’t done yet, but would like to, is to work with refugee children. I think that costume could be a tool to create activities for them, both pedagogical activities as well as artistic and expressive activities.

The book also includes a societal aspect of costume from the adult viewpoint, exploring how costume is part of life. There is a chapter on how costume can become a tool for protest. In general, costume has a strong communicative power which often can be used as a political tool. I think there is a very strong overlap there between fashion studies and costume studies, both of which can contribute viewpoints on the performativity of dressing in everyday life.

Csilla: In connection to education, there is a wonderful chapter in the book edited by Christina Lindgren, “The Costume Designer’s ‘Golden List’ of Competence”. What would you say for the aspiring costume design students?

Sofia: I think the list that we published is quite comprehensive. It was initiated by the author, Christina Lindgren, and it was further developed, discussed, debated in the Costume Design Sub-commission of OISTAT. I believe that, because costume is so connected to human existence, it really touches many different areas. It’s not only about making garments. It’s very much about people. That’s why I go back to the basic concept of thinking. I think it is an impulse for intellectual development and inquiry, so perhaps this is what I would add to the list.

I would make more visible that costume makes you engage with many different dimensions of human history and existence.

Also, with questions relating to the future and to human connection. Costume design is about place, time, histories, psychology, sociology, politics, economics, as well as interpreting, understanding, exchanging, developing. With costume, the designer expresses through material or the immaterial as well.

Csilla: Congratulations again for making this amazing book possible!

Sofia: I’m very proud of this book. I think it’s clear that we didn’t have that many books discussing costume in a critical way. Although some of the perspectives in the book are more traditional, based on history or cultural studies or museum studies, still, there is a very strong focus on costume and its practice. It is not anymore filtered through wider discourse. The content immediately goes to the core of costume. The book also includes critical perspectives about the connections between body and costume, for example, or costume and the collaborators around it, or costume and society. I think it brings topics that we, when we work in the field, are aware of, but it also helps to make those visible. I hope it will become a useful source for younger researchers and students, but also for mature researchers, costume designers and others interested in costume.

Csilla: A bit about your practice, we talked so much about your current research, do you have any design projects that you are currently working on?

Sofia: The last year has been tricky. I had a few projects planned for 2021 that got cancelled. So, we must wait and see what happens next. I try to keep contact with the practice, at least on a smaller scale because it’s a big challenge to balance the scholarly work and the university commitments with my own practice, but I have continuously had ongoing projects. My last premiere was in March 2020. The show opened and the next day it was shut down because of Covid. I try to design one project per year; because of the workload I cannot take more, but I balance myself with the practice. It’s impossible to only be an academic because I was never only an academic.

Csilla: Yes, I feel that, too, that the academic research and design itself can become very interconnected.

Sofia: Indeed, very connected for me. I never found the two as separate things. I find myself reflecting theoretically about what’s happening while I working on a project.

The research inquiry and the research spirit have been part of my practice, and then my practice was what turned me into a researcher.

So, they are very integral and interconnected. For now, I’d like to take a bit of time for writing, to be honest. I might prefer to focus for another year on some intellectual expression and writing, it’s a good chance perhaps.

Csilla: Thank you so much again Sofia, for taking the time for this interview!


Performance Costume: New Perspectives and Methods

Purchasable through Bloomsbury’s website and Amazon. You can get the book in paperback, hardback, or eBook edition (pdf, mobi, epub).

https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/performance-costume-9781350098824/

If you would like to know more about Sofia’s work and current projects, visit her website at: https://sofiapantouvaki.com

2021 Emmys Roundtable – Outstanding Period Costumes

Spencer: Hey Team! Thank you so much for being here. There is SO much great costume design in the Outstanding Period Costumes category this year. I also think it is safe to say Period Costumes is the favorite here at The Art of Costume, so I know you all have many thoughts! Let’s go around and talk about your favorites and why! Let’s start with Mariana, a big fan of period costumes!

Mariana: Hi everyone! Well, where to begin? I am a fan of period pieces, and this year’s nominees filled my heart with pure joy. One of my favorites will be The Queen’s Gambit, designed by Gabriele Binder. There is so much drama and passion in these costumes, which at the same time are accurate to the time period and work brilliantly for storytelling purposes. I love how Beth’s style transforms through the years and cities she visits and tells us who she really is! 

My second favorite will have to be The Crown, designed by Amy Roberts. Every single costume worn on this TV Show has always been a masterpiece, and this season, with Princess Diana’s stunning wedding dress, was beyond what I imagined! 

Spencer: Two brilliant choices Mariana! Let’s hear from Candice next.

Candice: I will say typically, Regency-era costumes are not my favorite. However, I was hooked on Bridgerton when the first trailer was released. Ellen Mirojnick and John W. Glaser’s take and designs on the era have made me reconsider my previous opinions on the time frame. I am a HUGE fan of the Featherington Family and their costumes in particular. The bright, bold colors and embellishments drew me in. A close second would be the costumes designed for the Queen. 

Speaking of Queens, The Queen’s Gambit’s costumes were beyond words. The subtle nods to chess within the costumes were brilliant while conveying the complicated character’s nuances.

This is such a hard category, Ratched was awe-inspiring, and the show with their costume contest saved Halloween during a pandemic while many were unable to be creative with friends. Halloween is my favorite holiday and the costumes that fans re-created during October last year were a testament to Lou Eyrichs’s talent and storytelling through clothes. 

Spencer: Ah yes, Ratched was such a great show. I need it to come back like now… Elizabeth I would love to hear your picks.

Elizabeth: Hello everyone! There were so many good period pieces this year, but I really loved Bridgeton, and the costumes immediately grabbed my attention. The Regency era is a particular favorite of mine, and I loved how Ellen Mirojnick and John W. Glaser truly brought the costumes to life. While the overall style and silhouettes of the costumes remain faithful to the Regency era, the designers fill them with color and embellishments that bring a modern, energetic flare to Bridgeton. 

A close second favorite this year is The Queen’s Gambit. While not the flashy, attention-grabbing drama Bridgeton is, Gabriele Binder creates a thoughtful, meaningful wardrobe that reflects its heroine’s inner passions and feelings. 

Spencer: Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit seem quit popular here! Thank you Elizabeth, now I would love to hear from Csilla!

Csilla: Hey Everyone! It is tough to choose just one from this category; all the shows and their costume designers were terrific! But if I had to choose one, my favorite has to be Ratched. That show had such a brilliant color palette, and the costumes from Lou Eyrich were just stunning. I love the end of the 40s, the beginning of the 50s era, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, so I was excited to see the back story of Nurse Ratched. The aesthetic of the whole show was beautiful but dangerous and scary, and these mixed feelings about the characters were present in every silhouette, even in the uniforms. 

My close second favorite is the Queen’s Gambit. I agree with the rest of the team on that completely. Such wonderful designs from Gabriele Binder. 

Spencer: Thank you so much Csilla. Well, I guess it’s my turn!

My favorite costumes within this category are easily to Netflix’s Halston, with costumes designed by Jeriana San Juan. I fell in love with this show, primarily because of the costuming. She had so much ground to cover, so many decades of research, and brought it all together perfectly. The tie-dye collection, ultra-suede shirt dresses, The Battle of Versailles, Studio 54, Martha Graham’s Persephone – there was so much, and every single costume stood strong. On top of all of the brilliant costuming, Jeriana also worked alongside actor Ewan McGregor to teach him the ways of the designer, coaching him through the process of becoming Halston

Halston – Courtesy of Netflix

This is Jeriana’s year in my opinion, but I am still in love with every other nominated show in this category – literally, all of them were amazing. It’s a tough call!

Thank you all so much for joining me! I can’t wait to see how this all plays out!

Vote For Your Favorite Period Costumes Below!

The Umbrella Academy – Modern Superheroes Adapting To The 1960s

When the Emmy nominations came up, I immediately searched for The Umbrella Academy, hoping it got nominated, which it did. I was looking forward to this show as a massive My Chemical Romance fan who admires Gerard Way, his work, and the comic book he created with Gabriel Bá. I was also delighted to know that the costume designer of Hannibal, the amazing Christopher Hargadon, would take care of the comic book adaptation.

In the second season of The Umbrella Academy, we follow the beloved family of dysfunctional modern-day superheroes scattered across time in the 1960s in America, more specifically in Dallas. For him, only a few days have passed in this era while the others have already spent years there, moved on to a new life. But as of 1963, the Apocalypse comes for our heroes for the second time. And just before the annihilation would come, Number Five is rescued, with only ten days left to prevent the end of the world. Again.

In a brilliant interview that was conducted with Christopher Hargadon by the Costume CO YouTube channel, he mentions that how each of these characters handles the new circumstances of a different era, and how each one of them gets hold of their clothing, to blend in or stand out in the 1960s.

Following this thought, I wanted to approach this article by focusing on the adaptability of the characters shown through their costumes in The Umbrella Academy.

Klaus

Our first subject is Klaus, who can speak with the dead, played by the wonderful Robert Sheehan. He’s just survived the original apocalypse when he finds himself in an alleyway in 1960, wearing his torn vest, feminine jeans, and striped shirt. We already see the people’s disparaging reactions to him, that two episodes later culminate in him getting thrown out of a restaurant.

He ends up lying on the street, seeing nothing else but the perfect black and white shoes of an older gentlewoman. Klaus cries out “Chanel,” recognizing the signature two-toned shoes of the fashion house and the opportunity in the stylish and probably very wealthy American lady. With her two-piece floral print skirt suit and pearl necklaces, she comes to the help of the attractive but unfortunate man.

Klaus recognizes the wealthy patron’s openness towards his lavish lifestyle, and soon, he takes advantage of her and becomes a gurus-inspired cult leader. He is dressed in an Indian-inspired coat for the part he plays, a sort of sherwani dress jacket that Hargadon and his team made lighter for mobility’s sake. And, of course, to fit Klaus’ unique way of life.

Photo by CHRISTOS KALOHORIDIS/NETFLIX – © 2020 Netflix, Inc.

In season one, he already spent a year in 1968 in the Vietnam War, and maybe this motivates him to bring about the hippie era a few years earlier with his feminine style and long hair. Klaus could have been the perfect hippie if he was born in that era; his sense of fashion and ideology aligned with the hippies. They delved into Eastern religions, and hair was one of the main elements that young men in the late 1960s used to protest against the Vietnam War and become less conforming to the rigid gender roles of the time, which Klaus embodies wearing both male and female shirts. As Sarah Pruitt writes:

The vast majority of hippies were young, white, middle-class men and women who felt alienated from mainstream middle-class society and resented the pressure to conform to the “normal” standards of appearance, employment or lifestyle. By wearing their hair long and growing beards (for the men), taking drugs and exploring spirituality outside of the confines of the Judeo-Christian tradition, hippies sought to find more meaning in life—or at least have a good time.

How the Vietnam War Empowered the Hippie Movement

Allison

Klaus is not the only one who actively participates in the events of the 1960s. Allison, aka The Rumor, arrives in 1961. Her first destination is a white-only café, and soon she realizes this is a different world. Allison comes in a peplum shirt, jeans, and a black leather jacket—quite like an alien. Allison has to become a different person from the glamorous celebrity she was in 2019, so the trauma of losing her voice—thus her powers of controlling people’s actions—and being a black woman in the 1960s presents her a chance to rebuild herself.

She starts from the bottom in a hair salon, and through her struggles, she becomes a respected member of her new community, the first time without the help of her superpowers. This builds her confidence, which then shines through her authentic wardrobe the most.

She rocks the 1960s colors and patterns almost like a natural. In the first scenes of her established second life, she wears a yellow and white halter skirt, an original 1960s piece from Dallas, Hargadon managed to find. She feels home here, and perhaps nothing remarks this more than her short-sleeved lace wedding dress, with a cinched waist, accessorized with delicate lace gloves. She embodies the perfect 1960s bride, and just by a glance, we can already see a small and intimate wedding ceremony, bright and happy. Out of all her siblings, she embraced this age the most.

Luther

Luther is the next to arrive in 1962. Considering his unique physique of, well, being half a gorilla—bolstered by a muscle suit from the costume department—it must have been a struggle for him to find anything fitting in this new era. Luther is a lovely big boy, wearing blue in almost every scene apart from when he is fighting in a boxing ring sporting a white “wifebeater.” He becomes a bodyguard and the boxing champion of Jack Ruby, a classic gangster in fashionable suits running a burlesque bar, who also happens to be a real-life figure who killed Lee Harvey Oswald—the real assassin of JFK.

Luther is just here, trying to survive, struggling with a blank identity. He is the only one of the siblings who try to reach their wealthy and rather uncaring father decades before their birth. His attempts to please this stylish father speaks volumes of his relationship with costumes. First, he doesn’t care. Then he only manages to get through his father’s ignorance, failing, nonetheless.

Diego and Lila

Diego arrived in 1963, and he is almost immediately taken to a psychiatric ward in an attempt to stop the assassination of JFK. We first see him in a completely white outfit, bland, just like the rest of the other patients, but he only cares about his self-proclaimed mission, anyway. His style is utilitarian. However, his love interest, Lila, proves to be way more intriguing than him. And she is not who she shows herself to be. Her clothing slowly unravels a mystery.

Their first costume change is on the run, stealing clothes while escaping the facility. Strangely, a little bit later, she is already wearing a bit out-of-time red leather boots, hinting at her real identity.

We follow her footsteps right until a curious meeting with our favorite crazy villain from season one—The Handler. Christopher Hargadon said several times in articles how much of a pleasure it was to design this psychotic fashionista, stressing the amazing collaboration with the actress Kate Walsh.

The Handler

“Every time she walks on, I want it to be like an entrance, I want her to be making some major kind of statement because she is such a trippy off-the-wall insane character.”

Christopher Hargadon

When we meet her in season one, the Handler is a high-ranking employee of the time travel agency called the Commission. In season 2, she is about to be cremated when she suddenly comes alive again; this is the beginning of the episode, The Frankel Footage, which was nominated for an Emmy.  We follow her back to the Commission in her flaming red skirt suit with a cinched wasp waist and an elaborate black headpiece. While her silhouette is exceptionally chic, she is threatening like some sort of insect. Throughout the season, she stays elaborate on her accessories. No matter what she wears, she always has red either on her accessories or nail polish, but mainly on her iconic red high heels.

The Handler – NETFLIX © 2020

The Handler’s wardrobe is always immaculate, proper lady-like, heavily inspired by the 50s, quite the opposite of her methods against her enemies. This dissonance between her wonderful outer look and the rotten wicked side comes to the surface as spiders on her costume. Either her handbag or—most extravagantly—her coronation dress is embellished with them.

Hargadon costumed the Handler to evoke an image of Napoleon after the slaughter at the time travel agency with her purple military-style jacket. Her costumes climaxed in her coronation dress, instilling grandiosity and an over-the-top feeling with its metallic colors, the same way as Napoleon’s ceremonial dress.

Vanya and Sissy

As an absolute opposite to this vivid character stands Vanya, who arrives in 1963, merely a few weeks before the apocalypse. She is immediately hit by a car, so she loses her burdening memories. She seems a lot freer without them, anyway. We get to Sissy and her family after the accident as Vanya moves to their home, and I just loved how their soft, intimate relationship was introduced through their costumes. At first glance, Sissy is the stereotypical housewife, someone who must have read, or at least tried to read, the popular 1959 book by American fashion designer Anne Fogarty, Wife-dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife. When she presents herself in a full blue skirt and a poodle print shirt, we can almost hear this line from the book:

Remember that it’s your husband for whom you’re dressing. Keep him in mind when you shop.”

Her marriage with her husband is abusive, but she tries hard to keep it going until Vanya comes along and shows she could ask for so much more. And as they grow closer to each other, Sissy’s clothes become more comfortable, less feminine, more in alignment with Vanya. He is probably dressing from a mixture of the wardrobe of Sissy’s son and husband. She remains androgynous, something she feels to be herself, something that didn’t get lost in memory. Vanya doesn’t try to adapt to her new circumstances. She finds comfort with Sissy, and the happenings of the 1960s don’t reach them on the farm until she reunites with her siblings again.

Ending Thoughts

I, for one, can’t wait for season three and would like to congratulate Christopher Hargadon and his fantastic team on the Emmy nomination and their overall impressive work on The Umbrella Academy! Although The Umbrella Academy relies heavily on action, I love how much time we spend just with the characters, their broken sides, far from the almighty superheroes one would see from the outside. The costumes, their textures, and their colors create an authentic image of the 1960s through nuances that enrich these characters and their journey in this old new world.

Sources:

https://www.menshealth.com/entertainment/a33444166/jack-ruby-true-story-umbrella-academy/

https://digitalcommons.wku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1814&context=stu_hon_theses

https://www.cosplaycentral.com/topics/costume-design/feature/umbrella-academy-costume-designer-interview

https://fashionista.com/2019/02/netflix-umbrella-academy-costumes-outfits

https://ph.news.yahoo.com/umbrella-academy-kate-walsh-costume-170042809.html

https://www.scribd.com/read/344120342/Art-of-Being-a-Well-Dressed-Wife#

https://www.instagram.com/christopherhargadondesign/

https://www.history.com/news/vietnam-war-hippies-counter-culture

Old Adventures In New Costumes – Pinocchio

Directed by Matteo Garrone, this version of Pinocchio (2019) is nothing like the well-known 1940s Disney story about the wooden puppet that came to life. Both visually and story-wise, this new film accurately portrays the 1883 novel written by Carlo Collodi. The film rightfully earned two well-deserved Oscar nominations. One nomination was for “Best Makeup and Hairstyling,” and the other for and “Best Costume Design.” Let’s take a closer look at the wonderfully grotesque costume design by 2021 Oscar nominee Massimo Cantini Parrini.

Greta De Lazzaris/Roadside Attractions

The original novel by Carlo Collodi was published in 1883, as a series for Giornale per I Bambini (Italian for ‘Newspaper for children), with illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti. The historical period and illustrations were significant building blocks in the costume design for this film. As the costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini told the Below the Line:

“The next step in the creative process was to try to be faithful to the illustrations of the original classic novel, and we realized that no one had ever represented these original illustrations in any of the features that have been taken from the classic Pinocchio.”

Below the Line

For Pinocchio’s character, there is a clear similarity in the silhouette compared to the original illustrations. In the book, Geppetto “made his son a little suit of flowered paper, a pair of shoes from the bark of a tree, and a tiny cap from a bit of dough.”

In this new iteration, Geppetto actually makes Pinocchio’s costume from a blanket. This gives an additional layer of narrative importance to this act, as he has to make so many sacrifices for Pinocchio right from the beginning. The most significant difference between Disney’s Geppetto and this newest interpretation is their social status. In Disney’s version, Geppetto is a well-situated, kind, old gentleman prepared for a son and wishes upon a star to get him. On the other hand, this newer Geppetto’s motivation with the puppet is completely different at first. He wants to create a puppet to tour the world and make money out of his wonderful creation. However, when he starts to hear the puppet’s heartbeat, he realizes he has created something much more valuable, a son.

Geppetto’s social situation is told masterfully through his costume. It stands out from the time period of the 1880s, dating back to the tailcoats of the 18th century. He must sell his coat and vest in a scene where he dates the items back more than a hundred years. Another notion with the color of the costume is that their faded look blends Geppetto in with the background. He is on the edge of society.

Unlike Gepetto’s color palette, Pinocchio’s red color is the heart of this film. He is the only bright spot throughout the movie. As Massimo Cantini Parrini told Below The Line:

“I really wanted that color because it made him like a little ladybug fluttering from one adventure to another, and also because in my opinion red is the costume of human feeling.”

Below The line

A thoughtful detail from the Makeup and Special effects department is how Pinocchio’s face becomes more and more chipped throughout the film. Through tough experiences, like his leg burning off, then being chased and hanged, the challenges of becoming a real boy are reflected through these wooden lines.

Poverty affects Geppetto but has its stamp on the whole atmosphere of the film, making it feel more realistic. However, there are several fantastical elements to the movie, like the Cat and the Fox, whose apparels show a long-lost past of wealth. Hunger, dirt, and gluttony overshadow their once elaborate wool coats and ties.

Screenshot from Pinocchio (2019) Distributed by Vertigo Films (United Kingdom)

We get to know the Fairy with Turquoise Hair more, which is a delightful surprise of the new film. Unlike Disney’s glamorous Hollywood star-like Blue Fairy, the ethereal creature we meet, Fairy, when she is only a child. However, she looks lifeless capturing a different kind of magic. Her shiny white skin and turquoise hair remind us of elaborate, porcelain Victorian dolls. Even her costume looks faded and lifeless like the dried flowers in her hair. When we meet her later as an adult, she is wearing the same outfit, as if time stopped for her.

Her nanny, the Snail, is one of the most visually striking characters in the film. A shawl and a bonnet decorate the silhouette of her gown, inspired by the 1800’s house dress. The mauve colors are faded by time with the slime, and the elaborate layers of crocheted fabrics give a grotesque yet comforting and oddly familiar. Every shot in Fairy’s home looks like a surrealist painting. From the mystical lights, the old cobweb-covered furniture with all the creatures that visit radiate nostalgic sadness.

When we compare the atmosphere of Pleasure Island, we can clearly see a difference. Garrone’s film stayed true to the horror of the Island in the original novel. Not the loud, colorful, and welcoming as portrayed in the Disney adaptation. But dry, colorless, dirty like reality was for many children in the 1880s in Italy. In Carl Ipsen’s book Italy in the Age of Pinocchio writes:

“The unnamed man who transports Pinocchio and his friend Lucignolo to the mythical land without schools, books, or teachers, for example, resembles those infamous agents (…) who signed up children in southern Italy and then transported them abroad, either for working in the sort of wandering trades (…) or else in foreign factories.”

This dark historical parallel, and the unfortunate fate that Pinocchio and his friend must face in the hands of greedy grownups makes this tale even darker.

This Pinocchio is a poetic, grotesque tale told through the aged layers of masterfully made costumes. I only highlighted my favorites in this article, but Cantini Parrini created more than 60 amazing looks for the production. Honoring his achievement, there was an exhibition in the Prato, Textile Museum – from 21 December 2019 to 22 March 2020. I hope after the Oscars when museums open again, there will be a chance to see these amazing creations, wonderful sketches, and the collection of historical garments that created Pinocchio.


Pinocchio is available to rent or purchase on Amazon, YouTube. A catalog of the exhibition can also be purchased through this link.


Sources:

“Contender Profile: Costume Designer Massimo Cantini Parrini on Pinocchio.” Below the Line, 15 Apr. 2021, http://www.btlnews.com/crafts/costume-design/pinocchio-costumes-cantini-parrini/.

“From the Big Screen to the Museum: Massimo Cantini Parrini’s Costumes for ‘Pinocchio’ by Matteo Garrone @ The Textile Museum, Prato, Italy.” Irenebrination, http://www.irenebrination.com/irenebrination_notes_on_a/2019/12/pinocchio-costumes-prato.html.

Ipsen, Carl. “Italy in the Age of Pinocchio: Children and Danger in the Liberal Era.” Amazon, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, http://www.amazon.com/Italy-Age-Pinocchio-Children-American/dp/1403973016.

Staff, Modadivas. “Pinocchio in the Costumes of Massimo Cantini Parrini from the Film by Matteo Garrone.” Modadivas Fashion Magazine, 22 Dec. 2019, http://www.modadivasmagazine.com/en/2019/12/22/pinocchio-costumi-massimo-cantini-parrini-matteo-garrone/.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Pinocchio.jpg

A Year In Review: The Art of Costume 2020

Sarah Paulson as Mildred Ratched – Ratched. Costume Design by Lou Eyrich and Rebecca Guzzi. Credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

In the words of one of America’s great poets, Jake Tapper, 2020 was “a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck”. Okay well, he might have been describing one of this year’s presidential debates, but I think Jake would agree that this quote still holds.

2020 was awful, we can all pretty much agree on that. However, The Art of Costume team is hoping to start the new year with some positive reflections, and hopeful intentions for 2021. While we didn’t see as many new films, shows, or theatre productions this year… there were still plenty of great costume moments to appreciate. I gathered some members of The Art of Costume team to take a look back with me, and prepare to leave this year behind us. Enjoy!


Q: What was your favorite Costume Moment of the Year ?

Elizabeth Glass: Unorthodox. While not the most flashy or technically astounding, the costumes of Unorthodox are truly apart of the story. They help tell the story of Esty’s (played by Shira Haas) strict Hasidic Jewish upbringing where clothes have both religious and social significance to her escape to Germany where her wardrobe starts to represent who she wants to be. From behind to end they telling and supporting her story.

Mariana Sandoval: Hamilton. The ensemble singing and dancing hip hop in those stunning costumes. I just couldn’t believe what I was watching!!

Candice Silva: The entire cast of Jingle Jangle and the metallic pleated Givenchy dress worn by Nicole Kidman in first episode of The Undoing.

Csilla Szlovák: My favorite costume moment of the year was from probably either The Umbrella Academy’s second season, specifically anything that The Handler (played by Kate Walsh) wore, or from The Queen’s Gambit. They brought so much beauty to this boring, but also exhausting year and I couldn’t be more thankful for them.

Spencer Williams: The series finale of Schitt’s Creek was incredible, and I find myself thinking about it all of the time. Specifically, Moira Rose’s (played by Catherine O’Hara) clergy officiant costume. Simply the best! I also am still reeling over Mildred Ratched’s (played by Sarah Paulson) entire wardrobe from the Netflix show, Ratched. I am obsessed!

(From L to R) Unorthodox – Costume Designer, Justine Seymour. Hamilton – Costume Designer, Paul Tazewell. The Undoing – Costume Designer, Signe Sejlund. The Umbrella Academy – Christopher Hargadon. Schitt’s Creek – Costume Designer, Debra Hanson.

Q: What costumes are you looking forward to seeing in 2021 ?

Elizabeth Glass: Dune – I’m really looking forward to the costumes for the new Dune. As a massive sci-fi fan I’m always interested to see how the designer will interpret styles and pieces that don’t exist in the real world.

Mariana Sandoval: Disney’s Cruella with Emma Stone.

Candice Silva: Cobra Kai, Never Have I Ever Season 2 (CD Salvador Perez), Ryan Murphy’s Halston mini-series CD – Jeriana San Juan and The Discovery of Witches Season 2

Csilla Szlovák: I am extremely excited to see the new season of Euphoria and what the costumes will look like in the 2021 game Hogwarts Legacy. And also in general, I can’t wait to go to the theatre in the new year.

Spencer Williams: There are a few things coming out this year I am excited about! In terms of film, I am looking forward to Coming 2 America as well as the exciting new Marvel film, Eternals. I am also excited to see the costumes for WandaVision, and pretty much any Marvel or Star Wars universe show to hit Disney + this year. Oh, and the new American Horror Stories series!

(From L to R) Dune – Costume Designer, Jacqueline West. Cruella – Costume Designer, Jenny Beavan. Never Have I Ever – Costume Designer, Salvador Perez. Euphoria – Heidi Bivens. WandaVision – Costume Designer, Mayes C. Rubeo.

Q: What is your New Year’s Resolution ?

Elizabeth Glass: Rewatch tv shows less, and watch more movies!

Mariana Sandoval: I want to make the best of what 2020 taught me: don’t take anything for granted, embrace every single opportunity and create my own path.

Candice Silva: To complete all the sewing projects I have on my list, specifically the ones for Costume College’s annual conference. Fingers crossed the 2021 event isn’t canceled!

Csilla Szlovák: My new year’s resolution is just to take it easy, we made it through this dumpster fire of a year, let’s not make 2021 worse than that.

Spencer Williams: This year I want to take the time to reconnect myself with my passions. I hope to take The Art of Costume to new exciting heights this year! We have so many things we want to do this year. I want to learn a new talent this year, recently I’ve been exploring digital painting as well as DJing. Finally, I want to rid myself of “couch potato guilt”. There are a lot of good shows and films out there right now, and coming in the future! I’ll watch it all and no one is going to make me feel guilty about it!


I want to end this article by giving the biggest thank you to all of the fabulous members of The Art of Costume team. The best thing to come out of this year, was getting to know each of you. I am so lucky, and eternally grateful for our new found friendships.

On behalf of the entire team, I would also like to thank YOU, the readers who visited us throughout the year. We are just getting started here at The Art of Costume, with a lot of exciting things in store for 2021! Happy New Year’s everyone!

Alright 2020, its officially that time… for you… to Sashay Away!

Oh Those Halloween Nights: A Love Letter to Movies and Euphoria

This year, not many of us will be enjoying Halloween parties like we used to. I thought it might be a good reminder of a better world to pay tribute to the most stylish Halloween party of last year’s television: “The Next Episode,” episode six of HBO’s Euphoria. Speaking of, we should also congratulate the amazing makeup team of Euphoria, Zendaya, and Labrinth for their Emmy wins!

Now I would like to shift our focus toward Heidi Bivens’ incredible costumes, inspired by many iconic films. On many occasions, watching Euphoria felt like a love letter to cinema. In this vein, this article is my love letter toward this brilliant show and its masterful production. Let’s take a deep dive then into the “costume-ception” analysis of “The Next Episode.” Be aware, spoilers will follow.

While watching the characters live through this magically vivid Halloween party, we might wonder about their costume choices. They don’t draw inspiration from the mainstream. They don’t derive from memes, current celebrities, social media but from specific films, their generation might not even recognize. Costume and dressing, in general, are a way of nonverbal communication. Every choice we make, every choice a character makes in a story holds some meaning. Not making a choice is also a choice. This is why I am passionate about costume design and I sometimes say that being a costume designer is a lot like being a psychoanalyst for fictional people. You must get into their mindset, make the choices they would make. Costume design is all about intimate storytelling, a meticulous work despite the fact the audience might only have a glance to grasp our story. With this article, I aim to interpret these choices of Euphoria, tell you the story I got out of it. Of course, my understanding might be incorrect, but hey, a healthy discussion will never hurt! What do these costumes mean to you?

“Costumes embody the psychological, social and emotional condition of the character at a particular moment in the script.” (Yvonne Blake)

Timing in costume is essential. In 2019 why would these teenagers choose highly specific costumes no one might recognize at a party? What do these characters want to express to the world? Is this self-reflection? And if it is, what does it say about them and their relationships?

Kat

Kat’s choice is a 1981 exploitation thriller by Abel Ferrara, Ms .45. She summarizes it, recommends it, we can even glance at the film’s poster on her phone as a wallpaper. The effort she puts into the costume, too, implies a strong emotional attachment to her film choice. Her emotional journey throughout the series resembles that of Ms .45’s main character, Thana. Kat is introduced as a movie buff, someone who admires and wants to become a strong female character taking over the world, but there was a side of her who watched men in movies in search of romance. Her perspective, however, drastically changes when she comes to the following conclusion:

“That no matter how cool or sexy or smart you think a guy is, they’re actually just fucking pathetic.” (Episode 5: ’03 Bonnie and Clyde)

She starts to own her sexuality. She embraces the person she has been becoming, which is quite the theme in Ms .45. We can draw a parallel between Kat and Thana at the beginning of the series and the film, both characters dress quite plainly. They even have the same haircut. They don’t want to take up much space.

After Kat’s sex video gets exposed without her permission—or even knowledge of this video’s existence—she first panics, then decides to take advantage of it, just like Thana. After Thana gets raped twice and kills her attacker, she goes on a vengeful killing spree against men. At first, she just wants to get rid of the body of her attacker, then makes the killings her mission.

The empowerment comes in the color red: the lipstick, the clothes. Something changed in both characters.

We all have seen witches or vampires at Halloween parties or dressed up as one when we ran out of options or time. Like Heidi Bivens said in an interview with Variety about Ethan

“(…) putting on some vampire teeth, because there is always those people, that person at a party that doesn’t really make much of an effort (…)”

But unlike Ethan, Kat embodied her costume. She had a message. Showrunner Sam Levinson most probably chose Ethan to be a low effort vampire, recreating a scene from Ms .45 (as seen below on the image) with a different ending. Kat’s latex veil, instead of the regular nun veil, and she opened top with the elaborately strapped bra underneath reflects her new “dominatrix” persona. We can even notice a black ribbon on her thigh that evokes Thana’s holster without the gun. Kat’s now-iconic makeup (that inspired thousands of Instagram posts) also gives an extra layer to Kat’s liberation. It is loud, provocative, bold—something new. As Kat’s says in episode five—and I couldn’t agree more:

“There’s nothing more powerful than a fat girl who doesn’t give a fuck.”

Maddy

Another meticulously detailed costume of the Halloween party is Maddy’s choice. She dresses as Iris, the 12-year-old prostitute from the legendary film Taxi Driver (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese. Her liking of Scorsese’s films is established in episode 5 when Nate presents her the coat from Casino. By the Halloween episode, we know Maddy’s character quite well, although the costume might still seem odd.  Only when I rewatched Taxi Driver did I come to understand this choice. In the scene when Iris wears pink shorts, a cowboy hat, and a rosy light blouse, she says the following about her abusive pimp:

“I can leave whenever I want to (….) Look, I was stoned. That’s why they stopped me. Because when I’m not stoned, I got no place else to go, so they just protect me from myself.

The Halloween episode takes place right after Nate is released from all charges for the attack on Maddy. When wearing this costume, she is more mature, her makeup is more elaborate than Iris’. She wants to establish—maybe only to herself—that she could leave the relationship if she wanted to. Although Nate’s costume wasn’t inspired by movies, I would say the choice was quite daring at the least.

Cassie

Cassie’s choice from the 1993 film True Romance reflects her naïve, slightly messed up conception of what true love is. I found it peculiar she chose an outfit that only shows up for a few seconds in the film. She wants to imitate the few passing moments of happiness and romantic excitement that the protagonists of True Romance experience. Cassie’s color scheme throughout the series revolves around pale pastels and baby blue, just like Alabama Worley’s dresses with excessive cleavages. No matter how innocent and kind of a person she is, she always emphasizes one thing about herself, her beauty, even if she has a lot more to offer. I can see how much Cassie could identify with the prostitute who starves for love and finally gets it. It breaks my heart even to think about her oncoming tragic conversation with “Ted Bundy:”

“You are so fucking boring. Hey. I’m gonna be honest with you, because no one else will. Any guy who says he’s interested in you beyond just fucking you, is full of shit.” (Episode 6: The Next Episode)

Rue

Rue’s choice imitates Marlene Dietrich’s androgynous look from the 1930 film Morocco. When I first saw the episode, I was wondering why she would choose this particular outfit. Even though its significance in film history is immense, the choice wouldn’t make sense to the Rue I thought I knew at first glance. But after watching the series for a second time, I realized Rue was probably watching old movies with her father while he was sick in bed and her current happiness with Jules reminded her of that comfort and uncertainty. Although there might be another aspect to consider: She wanted to impress Jules. Rue actually put effort into her outfit (which was something she didn’t do often in the series), even if she opted for a little boy’s tuxedo. Jules is high culture, unique, so Rue tried to become all that for Halloween night—a person Jules would like. Cultured and sober, someone who doesn’t belong in that “fucking boring” town, someone who embraces who she is—someone like Jules. This becomes quite visible when they are apart in episode 7, and Rue becomes her old comfortable self in her own comfortable clothes.

“The truth is, I don’t want good TV. I don’t want a novel, or some slow burn, or anything that feels like work. That’s why I love reality TV. It’s funny, it’s dramatic and I can focus on it. It’s pure, effortless entertainment.” (Episode 7, The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed)

Rue regresses to her depression and old habits, justifying her decisions.

Jules

Jules’ choice was from the 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by Baz Luhrmann. The film choice captures her personality’s essence with the vintage white dress and exact replica of the wings. She wants more, something different but with the same core values as in the tale as old as the time of true passionate love and expression. Her makeup also seems to be inspired by the Capulet parents of the 1996 film (the gold on the cheeks of the father and teary gold on the mother). Jules is unique, with complicated background and emotions, just like the modern interpretation of Romeo and Juliet.

The makers of Euphoria also recreated the pool scene from Romeo and Juliet, although as Rue is not dressed as Romeo, we feel that Jules is missing something. Especially when Rue doesn’t recognize when she is quoting from Romeo and Juliet and tells her to stop the nonsense.  The choice of Jules becoming Juliet predicts their relationship’s inevitable change. As Jules puts it—or rather hallucinates it,

“I know this isn’t going to end well.” (Episode 7, The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed)

All in All

It was my absolute pleasure to revisit Euphoria and the films that inspired its creation instead of working on my own Halloween costume. I wish everyone a spooky but safe Halloween, and even though this year we have the pandemic going on, at least we can have the time to binge on some incredible works of art.


Dressed To Help Or Kill? – Mental Health Professionals Seen Through Costume

Costumes embody the psychological, social and emotional condition of the character at a particular moment in the script. It is impossible to design for the actor unless the designer knows who the character is.

Yvonne Blake

A costume designer has to fulfill many duties during the designing process of any production, but the most important is to understand and analyze characters. What happens when a costume designer has to create a character, whose profession itself is to do the same? Depending on the attitude of the portrayed mental health professional, their relationship with the patient can be understood through costume.

If the psychotherapist is not in the lead role, their purpose usually is to guide, give space to the main character. Therapy sessions are used as a narrative device in films to reveal the patient’s inner thoughts. Psychotherapists often encourage patients to express their thoughts, feelings, or, on the contrary, they might have a purpose of silencing, even tormenting the patient for their own benefit. In Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, we find one psychotherapist in a leading role and three others in important roles, which is rather unusual. As Angela Ndalianis writes in her article, Hannibal: A Disturbing Feast for the Senses:

The television series Hannibal (NBC, 2013-) is, without doubt, one of the most powerfully affect-driven shows to ever grace the television screen. Hannibal not only inflicts a cacophony of sensory assaults on the characters that inhabit its dark narrative universe, but also extends these assaults to the audience that participates in the world it has to offer.

Creating the atmosphere and costumes of this series plays a crucial role, and it is worth asking if we can consider a pattern among the representation of psychotherapists regarding the costumes.

The psychotherapist as a character and the representation of the profession in films and TV series have been widely discussed among mental health professionals and in film and media studies. I structured my essay on the already discussed stereotypes to analyze the aspect of costume and my interpretation of their meaning, as well as citing from interviews with costume designers. I discuss the responsibility of the costume designer creating representation for a certain profession. Apart from the specific articles and books discussing the psychotherapist character, I am going to refer to Kaiser’s The Social Psychology of Clothing in relation to the psychotherapist-patient relationship and its visual representation through costume. As a case study, I am going to analyze the series Hannibal, observing the element of costume on a frame by frame analysis while also quoting from other interviews made with Christopher Hargadon, the costume designer behind the series.

Why are there so many articles about the representation of mental health professionals in film and television?

The obvious answer is the widespread popularity and approachability of television series and films and their effect on public opinion.

People are relatively uninformed about the problems of people with mental disorders, and the media tend to be especially effective in shaping opinion in those situations in which strong opinions are not already held.

– writes Wedding, Danny, and Ryan M. Niemiec in Movies and Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathology.

Mental health professionals must establish mutual trust and understanding with their patients. As most people’s sources of information are representations through films, psychotherapists on-screen influence the public’s attitude toward both mental health professionals and institutions. In the United States, mental health professionals were so concerned about the lasting effects of popular films that an established committee called Media Watch was set up by the Media Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association (Young, Stephen Dine, 2008). As Irving Schneider suggests in his article of the American Journal of Psychiatry:

Throughout the century psychiatry has sought scientific understanding and effective treatment for the conditions so vividly depicted in the movies. At the same time, movie psychiatry has projected a view of the profession through the distorting lenses of fear, defensive ridicule, and the yearning for an ideal parent. To the extent that the parallel professions pay attention to each other’s work, both may profit

A professional understanding, collaboration, and research for the creative team in any case of a motion picture production, especially for films dealing with delicate questions like mental health and illness, is necessary. Although stereotypes help the audience understand and get immersed in the story. But what are the main stereotypes of a psychotherapist?

Articles written by both mental health professionals and researchers in film studies usually bring up three main stereotypes. Namely:

  • Dr. Dippy,
  • Dr. Wonderful,
  • Dr. Evil.

In a study conducted in 2008 (Young, Stephen Dine, 2008), researchers analyzed popular films between 1990 and 1999 based on character motivation of the portrayed mental health professionals. In their study, they determined five main categories of character motivation which are strongly connected to the three main stereotypes. These drives, according to the study, can be money or prestige, power, love or lust, self-healing, or concern for others.

The first stereotype, which is the least common among popular films, is the comical character of Dr. Dippy” (Schneider, 1987). He seldom does any harm to the main character, but his work methods are usually strange or not sufficient. He usually has to deal with his own problems. His motivation could be a concern for others and the need for self-healing.  As this stereotype is generally used in comedy, characters of this kind, in the view of the costume, are also more generic and superficial.

In the example of Analyze This (1), the psychotherapist character wears plain clothing that almost merges with the scenography. No dominant colors or striking patterns are visible, as he lacks dominance in his relationship to his patient and wife. Other examples of this character are in (according to Schneider’s listing) Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Carefree (1938), What’s New, Pussycat? (1965), High Anxiety (1977), Love at First Bite (1979), and Serial (1980).

(1) Analyze This (1999).

The second widely discussed character is “Dr. Wonderful”. These characters are often motivated by caring for others, in a way that can be viewed as too idealistic. As Schneider writes:

To begin with, he is invariably warm, humane, modest, and caring. Time is of no concern to him. He does not seem to work by the clock, and, in fact, patients can see him or talk to him at any time and for any length of time.

This stereotype although paints a positive picture of mental health professionals, raised concerns among therapists, as this character raises sky-high expectations for the general audience, and presents a false image of therapy itself.

If we look at examples from Good Will Hunting (1997) (2) or from the To the Bone’s (2017) (3) highly skilled professionals, we find approachable middle-age male characters, father-like figures. Soft materials in relatively light colors suggest their openness towards patients. On these stills from the films, time is of no concern, as these scenes take place outside the office and the office hours.

In Hannibal, this character is embodied in Dr. Alana Bloom, the young and attractive psychotherapist. Although portraying a working professional, the study about character motivation shows that:

Female clinicians were often portrayed in an eroticized manner (…) degree of love motivation as the dependent measure. (…) Young (20s–30s), female characters were more motivated by love (M = 3.11) than were characters in any other category.

In Hannibal (Season 1), Alana Bloom (4) is portrayed wearing high heels, skirts, accentuating the waist and hips. Rich patterns, detailed and feminine floral designs mark her clothing. Their materials are soft, maintaining the approachable feeling. Her color palette is much warmer than the series’ general color scheme. She is always properly dressed, her hair and makeup completing the ideal image.

(4) Alana Bloom. Stills from Hannibal (2013 – 2015) season 1

In The Social Psychology of Clothing, the part about female health practitioners’ clothing reads:

Neat yet casual appearance (…) renders credibility to her role (…) if she were dressed too formally, her rapport with low-income patients might be diminished. On the other hand, if she were dressed sloppily, her appearance could be taken as a sign of disregard or incompetence

Another female character in the series is Bedelia Du Marier (5), who portrays the unusual role of Hannibal’s psychiatrist, a psychiatrist’s psychiatrist. In season one, she keeps a distant approach in her treatment. She must establish her role as a therapist on a higher level, treating a colleague. She appears in more formal wear, mostly in a skirt suit, which later on, as their relationship evolves, changes. I would note that skirt suits are generally the clothing that most female psychotherapists in films are portrayed in. On a social psychological level, skirt suits can be understood in many ways.

(5) Bedelia Du Maurier. Still from Hannibal (2013 – 2015) season 1

Several studies indicate that a woman makes a stronger businesslike impression in a skirted suit (…) a woman may be viewed as very serious and capable, yet unfriendly or unimaginative. (…) A blazer may be a good intellectual clue, increasing respect a perceiver has for a woman; however (….) also tends to decrease likeability

Dressing characters for television series is a demanding task, as we get a greater look at each character’s wardrobe. Costume designer June Hudson made a great point about dressing characters for the television series Doctor Who (1963 – present), which is applicable to many other series.  

Women may change their style of dress often, but men cling to their clothes, to what they know and like. As far as dress is concerned women are revolutionary, whereas men are evolutionary

Before discussing Hannibal’s costumes, I should introduce the third and most well-known stereotype amongst the portrayed mental health professionals, “Dr. Evil”. His character is known for dramas and horrors. His motivations are fueled by the need for power, dominance, or money.

One of the earliest examples of Dr. Evil is in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Apart from portraying the “mad scientist,” the expressionist German film is also, as LoBrutto states:

An analogy to the moral and physical breakdown of Germany at the time, with a madman on the loose reeking havoc on a distorted and off-balanced society, a metaphor for a country in chaos

Dr. Caligari’s character (6) is painted diabolically with a contrasted look and strong silhouettes (LoBrutto, 2005). The distorted shadowy figure reflects on the dark and evil system behind him.

6) The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920).

However, we must consider that Dr. Evil is not always evil because of his bad intentions but because he becomes a product of an ill system, or a portrayal of it, which the costume can also suggest. A controversial example is in Good Will Hunting when according to mental health professionals, the portrayed therapist’s “actions are unethical and unlikely to promote therapeutic trust and effective therapy.” The character of Dr. Sean Maguire is choking and threatening his patient, but the majority of the audience found that particular scene acceptable, motivated by good intentions. Thus Dr. Sean Maguire remains Dr. Wonderful. Films portraying mental hospitals before psychoanalysis became the standard method of therapy, may seem evil, considering the brutal nature of the applied therapy.

More often than not, movie psychiatrists (…) wore white coats, struggled to find a serum for treating psychosis, and were prepared to treat physical illness and even do surgery when necessary.”

If a psychotherapist is not portrayed in private practice but in institutions, hierarchy plays a crucial role in presenting the character. Power as a motivator paints a negative picture on mental health professionals, although, as mental hospitals are totalitarian institutions, power relationships cannot be avoided. Uniforms signify this, as they are representations of the status quo (Kaiser, 1990).

The presence of power as a motivator is negatively correlated with concern for others is another indication of how expressions of power in mental health are viewed apprehensively (…) the existence of power relationships is unavoidable in mental health activities

Among the portrayals of mental health professionals on screen, depending on the location of practice (mental hospital versus private practice), we have to separate the presence and absence of uniform. Although the white coat is a universal signifier of a health professional, we cannot say there is no uniform in private practice at all. On-screen, mental health professionals are most likely to be shown and represented in smart, casual, or even quite formal dressing. The reason for this might be from Hollywood movies. As the 2008 character motivation study reads:

A profession—a difficult one that requires a great deal of training and commitment, leading most practitioners to want to be well compensated (…) As clothing is one of the first impressions we get of a character in film, costume has to signify social class as well as the “a character’s psyche, their motivations, and how they want to be perceived

Wyckoff, 2009

Psychotherapists are ought to be aware of their own representations in the sense of the social-psychological effect they can have on patients. They must communicate they are well established, educated people. For that, establishing shots for psychotherapists usually show their office shelves in the background, packed with books to suggest their intellect. Psychotherapists in films often do not only consider their profession as just a job. It becomes a part of their identity. Using Kaiser’s term, we can observe role embracement among psychotherapists.

One brings multiple identities to context; these identities intersect one another, and some are likely to become more salient than others (…) Role embracement refers to a close link between a particular role or performance and an identity meaning that the role is likely to be integrated into one’s self-concept

There is a lot we can tell about Hannibal (7) when we first see him in practice. A perfectly fitted three-piece suit, elegantly embracing Mads Mikkelsen’s well built, strong figure. Hannibal’s style is extraordinarily stimulating. He represents a highly intellectual man with exquisite taste. Hannibal is well aware of his looks, and what that means for his patients, colleagues, or victims. His clothing is always stylish and formal, but he knows how to appear approachable and human as well.

(7) Hannibal Lecter. Stills from Hannibal (2013 – 2015) season 1.

His background, a kind of indeterminate European heritage, with an awareness of history and culture; personally, very erudite and cultivated.  I wanted him to have a cutting-edge look, very modern, but I wanted to integrate almost a historical feel into his clothing as well

Christopher Hargadon

The awareness of history and culture is reflected in the well-tailored three-piece suits (8) Hannibal wears. The perfectly fitted garments accentuate the actor, Mads Mikkelsen’s masculine, well-built figure.  Although the suit is the usual outfit for Hannibal – as it demands authority and gives him an eloquent look –, when he tries to befriend one of his patients, the series’ other main character, Will Graham, he wears something softer. Both in color and material. Hannibal and Will generally have matching color schemes as well.

(8) Hannibal Lecter. Stills from Hannibal (2013 – 2015) season 1.

The first episode’s light grey color suit slowly shifts towards darker tones towards the end of the season. One element stays constant, though. All suits are checkered or show some sort of pattern. The geometric patterns on Hannibal’s suit give a feeling of the precision and counting nature of the character. As the colors used for the suits range between grey and brown, the pattern gives more space for expression. Hannibal’s showrunner, Bryan Fuller requested costume designer Christopher Hargadon to avoid using black in Hannibal’s garments to go against the stereotypical color for the evil character. Hannibal is much more layered, has more depth to him than being the average two-dimensional villain. Television series usually build on stereotypes to appeal to the public’s eye. Although Hannibal is a television series, it avoids stereotypes and constantly plays with the viewer’s expectations.

In conclusion, the psychotherapist as a character is someone who can analyze their own personality and their surroundings. They are aware of their own social psychological reflections. Their uniform – apart from the white coat they seldom wear – lies within their relationship towards their patients and the atmosphere they want to create during the therapy session on the screen. In practice, the filmed version of therapy is heavily different than the procedure in reality. Filmmakers’ main concern is to tell a story from an aspect they intend to present. More discussion with mental health professionals could bring a fruitful collaboration to films concerning representations of mental health and illness.

Nevertheless, the costume designer must occupy the therapist’s chair to understand and help tell the story of the psychotherapists themselves.


Bibliography

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  • Batty, Craig, ed. Screenwriters and Screenwriting: Putting Practice into Context. Springer, 2014. (Chapter 5.) Costume as Character Arc: How Emotional Transformation is Written into the Dressed Body Craig Batty)
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  • Haddad, P. (1991). The ‘Evil’ Psychiatrist and Modern Cinema. Psychiatric Bulletin, 15(10), 652-653. doi:10.1192/pb.15.10.652
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  • LoBrutto, Vincent. Becoming Film Literate: The Art and Craft of Motion Pictures. ABC-CLIO, 2005.
  • Landis, D. N. (2012). Filmcraft: Costume Design. Ilex Press.
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  • Schneider, Irving. “The Theory and Practice of Movie Psychiatry.” American journal of psychiatry 144.8 (1 987): 996-1002
  • Shortland, Michael. “Screen Memories: Towards a History of Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis in the Movies.” The British Journal for the History of Science, vol. 20, no. 4, 1987, pp. 421–452. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4026417.
  • Young, Stephen Dine, et al. “Character Motivations in the Representation of Mental Health Professionals in Popular Film.” Mass Communication & Society 11.1 (2008): 82-99.

Interview

Filmography

  • Analyze This. Dir. Harold Ramis. 1999. Village Roadshow Pictures, NPV Entertainment Baltimore Pictures, Spring Creek Productions, Face Productions. Tribeca Productions.
  • Good Will Hunting Dir. Gus Van Sant 1997. Be Gentlemen Limited Partnership, Lawrence Bender Productions, Miramax.
  • To the Bone. Dir. Marti Noxon 2017. Netflix.
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Dir Robert Wiene.1920. Decla-Bioscop AG (as Decla Film-Gesellschaft – Berlin).
  • Hannibal. Creator: Brian Fuller.2013 – 2015 Dino De Laurentiis Company, Living Dead Guy Productions AXN: Original X Production, Gaumont International Television.