After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising with a degree in Fashion Design, Spencer realized that his love for fashion was not entirely found on a runway, but seen on screen through film and television. As a Los Angeles event planner, Spencer began to organize panels of costume designers benefiting students who were fascinated by costume design. As Spencer’s connections within the costume design field began to grow, so did his love for the craft. Then in 2019, Spencer decided it was time to share his love for costume design on an international level and launched The Art of Costume.
Ten years ago to this day, November 24th, 2010, one of our favorite musicals hit movie-theatres around the world, BURLESQUE! Burlesque is a story of a small-town girl named Ali (played by Christina Aguilera) who moves to Los Angeles to chase her dreams of being a performer. Her journey brings her to a burlesque lounge led by Tess (played by Cher) and managed by Sean (Stanley Tucci). As the club faces imminent failure, Ali lends her incredible voice and revives the lounge, in all of its glory.
Iwanted a modern take on burlesque with a retro feel and a nod to its history and origins. Naughtiness without being crass! There’s a bit of the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris, the musical Cabaret, as well as the ’60s TV show Hullabaloo as well as the Follies Bergère.
Costume Designer, michael Kaplan – EW Cher, Christina Aguilera sing justice for Burlesque, 10 years later
I love this movie. Look, I am going to be up-front here. All hail Cher, this movie is a Cher masterpiece. Aside from the legendary Cher moments, the costumes and music of Burlesque really come together, creating a great film that can be rewatched time and time again. Glitter, sparkles, chains, pearls and glamour embroider Burlesque in the fabrics of history as a master class in dance costume. Let’s just take a moment to just bask in the fun, vibrant costumes of Burlesque, created by one of our favorite costume designers, Michael Kaplan!
Ray of Light
I am pretty sure everyone who has ever lived in Los Angeles has had a similar Ali Rose moment. Walking through the streets of Los Angeles, headphones in, and just giving the world your best choreography.
Faster than the speeding light she’s flying, Trying to remember where it all began. She’s got herself a little piece of heaven, Waiting for the time when Earth shall be as one
Welcome to Burlesque
Cher err… I mean, Tess would never step on stage in anything other than perfection. Her first song “Welcome to Burlesque”, is no exception.
Show a little more, Show a little less, Add a little smoke, Welcome to Burlesque, Everything you dream of, But never can possess, Nothing’s what it seems, Welcome to Burlesque,
How could you ever forget the “Tough Lover” scene! Don’t even try to tell me you haven’t attempted this scene in the shower ever now and then.
When he kisses me, I get that thrill, When he does that wiggle I won’t keep still, I wanna a tough lover (yeah, yeah) A tough lover (woo)
But I’m a Good Girl
If you are as big of a fan of Burlesque as I am, then you too also know the choreography to “But I’m a Good Girl”. It’s alright you can be honest, we are all friends here.
They all say, darling, what did you do for those pearls? What? I am a good girl
Long John Blues
This is such an underrated moment of the film. Kristen Bell as Nikki looked amazing. I will forever love this black-lace bodysuit!
I have a dentist who’s over seven feet tall, His name is Doctor Long John, And he answers every call.
Guy What Takes His Time
No that isn’t Mae West, it’s Christina Aguilera and yes, her costume is ethereal. It’s just too perfect for this world.
A guy what takes his time, I’ll go for any time, I’m a fast movin’ gal who likes them slow, Got no use for fancy driving, wanna to see a guy arriving in low, I’d be satisfied, electrified to know a guy what takes his time
It’s time for the hand bra corset! We are not worthy! We are not worthy!
It’s a cold and crazy world that’s ragin’ outside, Well baby me and all my girls are bringin’ on the fire, Show a little leg, gotta shimmy your chest, It’s a life, it’s a style, it’s a need, it’s Burlesque
You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me
Honorable mention to the ‘You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me” scene. Tess is simply wearing all black, but it remains a brilliant costume. Tess is basically in mourning of her struggling club. But then this dim spotlight hits Cher just right, as she gives one of the most powerful performances of her career. CHILLS.
I’ve been brought down to my knees, And I’ve been pushed way past the point of breaking, But I can take it. I’ll be back, Back on my feet. This is far from over. You haven’t seen the last of me
Bound to You
I will always be obsessed with the green, off-the-shoulder dress Ali wears during her “Bound to You” performance. I honestly think it is the greatest green dress in existence. Christina looked like an actual angel.
I found a man I can trust, And boy, I believe in us. I am terrified to love for the first time, Can’t you see that I’m bound in chains? I finally found my way, I am bound to you.
Show Me How You Burlesque
Last but not least, “Show Me How You Burlesque”. We bring together the whole cast for one last performance in a golden finale. Stunning!
Hit it up, get it up, gotta give me your best. So get your ass up, show me how you burlesque
Wow! A whole decade… that is insane. I just want to end with a final thank you to the cast, the crew, and costume designer Michael Kaplan who created such a great film that has given me so much peace over the last decade, and decades to come.
Those that know me on a rather personal level, know that there are few things I love more in this life than Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films. I mean really, please do try and point me toward a film trilogy that can even begin to rival The Lord of the Rings films. In terms of Academy Awards, the three films together were nominated for a total of 30 Academy Awards, of which they won 17.
The cast is incredible, the art direction, sound, score, make-up, writing, it’s all perfect in my book, though I would point out an obvious lack of diversity in casting. Above all, the costume design by designer, Ngila Dickson, is extraordinary and brings this story to life. Her goal was not just to make incredible costumes, but costumes that were not distracting. Costumes that felt real, therefore making Middle-Earth feel real.
When I started The Art of Costume, I knew at some point I had to do an article or perhaps a series regarding the legendary costume work in The Lord of the Rings. Earlier this month I sat down and began to do some research. To my surprise, I came across an article where these OSCAR AWARD-WINNING costumes were described as “plain”, “lackluster”, and even “a bit lazy and too obvious”. I about fell out of my chair! The nerve! So, in the words of Gandalf The White, “I come back to you now at the turn of the tide”, ready to present 20 memorable costume moments that were not only beautiful works of art but integral to the storytelling of this film trilogy. In this first article, we will be covering the first film, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
1. Frodo Baggins – The Fellowship of the Ring
The story of The Lord of the Rings largely centers around Frodo Baggins (played by Elijah Wood) and his quest to Mordor to destroy the One-Ring. The natural question would be, “why is this costume important to the storyline?” Frodo is a nephew to none other than Bilbo Baggins of Bag-End. Yes, the same Bilbo Baggins that is the main character within the story of The Hobbit. I bring this up because Bilbo profited a ton of treasures from his journey to The Lonely Mountain during The Hobbit storyline. With Frodo being Bilbo’s heir, that makes him a pretty wealthy hobbit. This costume serves as a starting point for Frodo’s character, tracking his mountain of character development he goes through during the trilogy.
When we first meet Frodo in the shire, his outfit is clean. Not a single speck of dirt on him, Frodo is also dressed quite leisurely I would say, as though he is retired like his uncle. I can imagine Frodo spends all of his time laying around, reading stories, and spending his uncle’s coin on drinks at The Green Dragon. You may also notice that Frodo’s costumes are a bit more colorful compared to the other hobbits. In short, Frodo is a privileged, upper-class Hobbit who might not have a real idea of what hard work looks like. We will revisit this costume story later on.
2. Samwise (Sam) Gamgee – The Fellowship of the Ring
Samwise Gamgee (played by Sean Astin) is certainly the “anti-Frodo” character and in my opinion, Sam is the true hero of the story. Sam is very different compared to Frodo. When we first meet Sam, he lacks the level of confidence that Frodo carries around. Unlike Frodo, Sam does work – he is a gardener. He does not come from a wealthy family like Frodo. Sam is also known as a daydreamer- fascinated by the elves, wondering of the world beyond the borders of The Shire, and is also a talented poet. Yet, Sam’s lack of confidence keeps him leveled, making him a humble, hard worker. Sam’s costume’s within the first film show exactly that, drawing a muted tone compared to Frodo’s flashy wardrobe. Sam’s costumes serve as the antithesis to Frodo’s costumes, being worn, dull in color, and aged. I’m not saying his clothing is dirty, but you can tell these are clothes worn often and practically in coordination with Sam’s hardworking, humble lifestyle. In every way, opposite to Frodo.
3. Gandalf The Grey – The Fellowship of the Ring
Ah, good ole Gandalf The Grey (played by Sir Ian McKellen), easily one of the greatest characters of all time. This costume is not only valuable to the storyline of The Lord of the Rings, but it also lends heavily to the world’s idea of wizards across the board. There are not many wizards out there more famous than Gandalf. The entire silhouette of this costume, from the tall pointed hat down to the drape of the robe is instantly recognizable. This costume conveys a sense of mysticism and mystery of course. If this guy rolled up into your town dressed in a grey robe with a tall-pointed hat as such, you would know something odd is going on. On the other hand, the grey drape of the silhouette also gives off a wise, human feeling to the character that brings a sense of safety -making Gandalf a truly, loveable character.
Another fascinating fact, it is said that this character is actually in part inspired by the Norse-God, Odin.
it was specific attributes that Gandalf and Odin share that suggested a link between the wizard and the god. They saw that the most distinctive features of Gandalf — his hat, beard, staff, and penchant for wandering — were, as well, the key characteristics that Odin displays when he leaves Asgard and travels in disguise through the plane of human existence, the middle-earth of Norse mythology. During these earthly journeys, Odin does not appear as a stern and forbidding deity or a bloodthirsty god of battle — but rather as a grey-bearded old man who carries a staff and wears a hood or a cloak (usually blue) and a wide-brimmed, floppy hat.
Verlyn Flieger, and Carl E. Hostetter – Tolkien’s Legendarium Essays on the History of Middle-Earth
4. Aragorn (Strider) – The Fellowship of the Ring
Okay, I seriously have a lot of love for this costume. The first time we meet Aragorn (played by Viggo Mortensen), he is a shady-looking character skulking about in the back of an inn, The Prancing Pony. At the time, he is known to the community of Bree as Strider.
Now, this costume has a lot of significance. To some, this might just be a dark costume with an ominous hood. But we have to look at where this costume is seen in the storyline. At the same time, the hobbits are arriving in Bree, they are being chased by another group of dark, cloaked figures known as The Ringwraiths. This is all also quite early in the film series, not much has developed in terms of the story, and that is exactly the point in the costume for Strider. The faces of good AND evil have not yet revealed themselves in this world, or to the audience.
While The Ringwraiths are clearly evil looking, the characters haven’t come to pass with them yet. They had a little chase, but the Hobbits ran from them as they would from any other figure of questionable background, for example, they even ran from Farmer Maggot like he was the dark lord himself. Aragorn is similarly cloaked in the veil of darkness and mystery. Aragorn will come to be one of the most loved characters of the story, but at this moment the costume is telling the audience that we have absolutely no reason to trust this man. He could be good, or he could be evil. Either way, the audience will have to proceed cautiously until the faces of good and evil emerge on this journey.
5. Arwen – The Fellowship of the Ring
I could easily do a whole article on the costume contributions of Arwen (played by Liv Tyler). The costumes worn by Arwen are often considered fan favorites, and I can validate that claim. Arwen first appears in what feels like a mirage of bright light. She glows, much like the Evenstar necklace around her neck. This is the first real interaction we have with the elves, not counting the opening scene of the film. So in ways, I feel like this first initial costume serves two purposes. First, it establishes the audience’s interpretation of the elven race. The elves are in every way, flawless. Their clothing is exquisite, beautiful, and intricate. The textiles feel superior, and the costumes usually have a glow of bright light to the theme, sparkling under the moonlight. The way you describe the clothing goes hand-in-hand with describing the elves in general.
The second purpose behind this costume is a part of the overall journey of this trilogy which we will recap toward the end of this article. Arwen, in many ways, represents hope. In our first meeting with Arwen, she is glowing in a radiant white light, as she extends her hands towards a very sick Frodo. When Arwen emerges in this stunning costume, the audience almost instantly knows everything is going to be okay. This is the first real resolution of conflict within the story. The last time we see Arwen in The Return of The King, Arwen is revealed in a very pale green dress that always came off as white to me, signaling the end of another conflict. We shall talk about that costume a little later!
6. Elrond – The Fellowship of the Ring
I am a big fan of Elrond (played by Hugo Weaving). Honestly, if I could be a Lord of the Rings character, it would probably be Elrond. Elrond lives in Rivendell, which is easily one of the most beautiful lands in Middle-Earth. He sits upon The White Council along with his good friend Gandalf. Elrond is a war-hero, as well as a father to Arwen. All in all, Elrond is the pinnacle of polished leaders within the story of The Lord of the Rings. Elrond is not exactly a “politician” type character, but an overall leader. With that, his costume is very elaborate. Using rich colors such as maroon, gold, orange, white. The embroidery details show very intricate details. What this costume tells the audience is that Elrond is someone who is in charge, and that should make you feel at ease. Elrond has been around for a very long time and will be here until the end. So while some characters might not be ready to put their trust in Elrond, the audience certainly is.
7. The Fellowship of the Ring
At this point in the story, we get to see The Fellowship of the Ring all together now! Joining the story for the first time is Legolas (played by Orlando Bloom), Gimli (played by John Rhys-Davies), and Boromir (played by Sean Bean). Ah so exciting, I feel like I am watching the film all over again! Finally, we get to see how all of the costumes work together, and what they say about the group as a whole!
First, we can look at the hobbits. We talked earlier about the difference in costume between Frodo and Sam. In comparison to the rest of the fellowship, the hobbit costumes tell us that the hobbits are humble, working people who are also quite leisurely. In terms of a dangerous quest into the dark realms of Mordor, the hobbits are drastically underdressed in terms of armor. Compared to the others, they look as though they are going to job interviews which is quite comedic to me. That storyline of under-preparedness plays out for the rest of the trilogy for the hobbits.
Aragorn and Boromir represent the race of men. Aragorn is in a dark, sophisticated costume- still in the veil of mystery. Aragorn is a major character not only to this fellowship but to the world of Middle-Earth as we come to learn. Aragorn has an identity he doesn’t want the world to know. Boromir on the other hand is the son of the Steward of Gondor, and he wants everyone to know. His costume is bolder in color, sort of that typical hero “knight in shining armor” type of costume. Boromir is driven by delivering glory to his home and family, and I feel like that kind of stands out in his costume.
Legolas is the only elf on the fellowship and has sophistication in his costume similar to Arwen and Elrond. While it becomes more practical as the films move forward, it should be noted his costumes bear a lot of intricate details, which speaks to the very focused, detailed state of Legolas’s mind. Legolas has keen control over his senses and rarely ever misses a shot with his bow.
Gimli is the major representative for the entire Dwarven race within this trilogy. Compared to the others, Gimli is armored for war right off the bat. In this initial costume, the audience gets the sense that the dwarves are strong, courageous, perhaps a little stubborn, and always ready for a fight.
Then lastly, we spoke of Gandalf earlier and I think it is very telling that his costume does not change from the story of The Hobbit to the formation of the fellowship of the ring. Gandalf remains the wise figure who serves as a guide for the fellowship. The overall silhouette still holds a tall stature of dignified wisdom, loyalty, and courage. Gandalf is not only an essential player in the overall story of Middle-Earth but a token of courage to the fellowship, especially the Hobbits.
8.Galadriel – The Fellowship of the Ring
I still get chills, just reviewing photos of Galadriel, The Lady of the Woods of Lothlórien. Played by Cate Blanchett, Galadriel is one of the greatest characters of the trilogy. There is much to say about this character, but I’ll try to focus on the costume. Galadriel is one of the mightiest of the elven race, standing above all others in beauty, knowledge, and power. Not only is she a respected voice within her realm, but within the fellowship. In their first meeting, Galadriel gifts Frodo with a phial containing the light of Eärendil’s star. This gift says everything to me in terms of choices in costume. Galadriel is the physical embodiment of good and light. Throughout the trilogy, Frodo uses his gift to light his way through dark places. Occasionally we hear the echoes of Galadriel’s voice, guiding Frodo through his journey. So in terms of her costume, of course, it is going to be the most stunning, all-white gown the costume designer can conjure.
Pondering this costume, I realized that this costume tells me that this character is almost of a religious statue, Goddess-like.
“Mary is often portrayed in much the same way as Galadriel: ethereal, bathed in light, gentle, beautiful, and inspiring. Each is viewed as a “queen”: Mary as Queen of the Catholic Church and Galadriel as the Lady of Lothlorien. Much as Galadriel is held in reverence by the Elves and the other inhabitants of Middle-earth, Mary is beloved by Catholics. Many in the history of the Catholic Church have been converted and reconciled through Mary’s grace and gentleness. In the same way, Gimli, a Dwarf, a race that does not get along with the Elves, has a change of heart after meeting Galadriel.”
by Lady_Nienna – CouncilofElrond.com
Interestingly enough, author J. R. R. Tolkien created The Lord of the Rings not as a religious story, but his Catholic faith can be seen as an inspiration in some aspects of the story. Galadriel is one of the greatest examples.
Join me again next week as we continue this journey with more costumes from
America, hopefully, I don’t have to remind you of the fact that we are in the midst of a very pivotal election. I am feeling all of the side-effects of election season, high blood pressure, the constant urge to phone-bank, arguing with loose acquaintances on Facebook, and of course- the CONSTANT urge to rewatch one of my favorite shows, Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Veep is a hilarious political-satire comedy on HBO, that follows the miserable journey of Vice President, Selina Meyer. Throughout the show, we watch as Selina endures through constant political controversies, relationships, and multiple elections. If you haven’t seen the show, you really must, but one of the great pieces of this show is Selina’s fashion. The show started with costume designer, Ernesto Martinez – (18 episodes, 2012-2013), and followed through with Kathleen Felix-Hager (47 episodes, 2014-2019).
The sad reality is, America is yet to have a female president or vice-president. So when it comes down to wardrobe, the costume designers really got to add their own flair to Selina’s fashion. In an interview withVOGUE, Kathleen Felix-Hager told Steff Yotka that “in the world of Veep, (Selina) was the first woman vice president and she was the first woman president; there were no fashion rules we had to follow since none existed”. The designers used bold, bright colors, and unique-powerful silhouettes. It just reinforces the fact that the world would be a much better place with strong-confident women in charge.
Check out this gallery of a few of my favorite Selina Meyer looks!Photos Courtesy of HBO
Photos Courtesy of HBO
All right everyone, I want to leave you with a little message. The U.S General Election is in FOUR DAYS. Please, go out and vote! Make a voting plan, drop off your ballot in a dropbox, or vote safely in-person at an early voting site, or on November 3rd. I can’t stress to you how important this election is.
Earlier this year, I had the great honor of interviewing a true costume design legend, Mona May. There is absolutely no way you aren’t familiar with at least one of Mona’s films. I am talking about Clueless, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, A Night at the Roxbury, The Wedding Singer, Never Been Kissed, Enchanted, The Haunted Mansion, Stuart Little 2, and The House Bunny. Really, I could go on forever naming her wide list of work. Today, I am excited to share with you some insight into the wonderful world of Mona May, as we talk about her growing up, inspiration, research, current and future projects, a new collaboration with Thrilling, and some advice for future costume designers. Thank you again Mona for taking the time to speak with me.
Spencer Williams: Mona, I can’t tell you how honored I am to have you here. This is so exciting!
Mona May: Hello Spencer, I’m happy to be here! Congratulations on the launch of your blog!
Spencer: Oh, thank you so much! I am so grateful for how receptive the costume design community has been to the launch of The Art of Costume. It’s a true honor to spotlight the incredible creativity and talent of costume designers.I’m so glad you could join me.
Mona: I love it!
Spencer: Well Mona, how have you been doing? It’s certainly been an interesting time.
Mona: I have been great. Actually, it’s been kind of a very interesting downtime, but I’ve taken a lot of different creative leaps. Because of the Clueless twenty-fifth anniversary, I’ve been doing so much press and my Instagram just blew up. I never was really an Instagram person. Now, I’m loving it! I’m doingMona May Minute, talking about my work and process to my followers, getting so many questions from everybody. I just love it. I’m collaborating with brands and different organizations like Girls, Inc.. a non-profit organization that empowers young girls…Mentoring is kind of a new adventure for me. It’s been a very, very creative few months.
In the beginning, I thought it was all very scary because I was on a Netflix film that was going to Canada to shoot and I was getting ready to get on a plane on Wednesday. Then on Friday, they shut us down. It was very disappointing as We were already prepping all the costumes with our actors. It was very jarring. All of a sudden, everything stopped. We were prepping at Universal Studios wardrobe department, and it was just packed with people, so many projects going on that we couldn’t even get a fitting room. Then everything just basically stopped, overnight it was empty.
Projects are finally coming back. Looks like I’m going to start Punky Brewster, the reboot for Peacock. I’m super excited to be back to work, to create and have fun.
Spencer: I am so thrilled to see projects are coming back. It’s like the end of a long winter. I always like to start with my guests, asking how you ended up in the world of costume design. Where did it all begin for Mona?
Mona: I like the question because my path is very interesting. I was actually that young kid who drew as a little girl. I had princesses and gave them all makeovers and had a whole collection of outfits for my princesses.
I was always interested in clothes and fashion. I was giving my mom advice when I was five years old, telling her what she should wear. As you can see this was kind of my natural path into costume. I studied fashion in Europe. I was actually born in India, I grew up in Poland and Germany. My mom’s German and my dad was Polish. My mom was an art dealer, so I grew up around art and artists. Then I came to the USA and via New York City ended up in Los Angeles at the Fashion Institute Of Design and Merchandising and studied fashion. It was very interesting to be here in Los Angeles because it was very different from European fashion, very casual and the clothes were a lot more fun.
During the time I was here studying, I met friends from USC Film School and the UCLA Film School that were doing short films for their school projects. They would always ask me, “Can you help us, you are in fashion?” Sure. It sounds interesting. I have to tell you that from the first little movie that I did, I just got the bug immediately because it was such a fun, collaborative process. Learning about the characters, diving into their psychology, it was so much more than just fashion. I was good at it and eventually, the word got out.
MTV was starting out, so I worked with Run DMC, Debbie Gibson, some commercials and this crazy show for MTV called Just Say Julie, which was with Julie Brown. It was super funny. I did props and costumes. I was able to express myself in this amazing way. Everything kind of led another. I got into the union. I did a pilot with Amy Heckling. The pilot didn’t get picked up, but then she wrote Clueless… she called because we just connected on such a creative level when we worked together. Amy loves fashion and has a really deep understanding of what’s going on and always has a hand on the pulse of everything, the language of young people and current fashions. When she called me up, she said you are the best person to design the costumes and the rest is history.
Clueless was a film about girls in Beverly Hills who dressed in high fashion. At the time when we were prepping the movie, fashion had a strong similarity to that of Kurt Cobain. The fashion in Los Angeles during the nineties was grunge, all about big plaid shirts, baggy pants, and dark colors. Our main goal was to bring European runway fashion inspirations to the story. It was all ahead of its time and blended with the characters in a high school setting. We also had to make sure that everything looked authentic and real. We didn’t want all of the girls to run around in high heels looking like snooty models. We wanted real girls that the audience could still relate to. So part of the challenge was translating that high fashion from the runways into high school.
We had amazing actors. Alicia Silverstone was this new girl on the scene famous from an Aerosmith video and most of the actors like Paul Rudd this was a big break… Clueless was really a project of love for all of us, we were so happy to be there and doing such a creative film with a great script and amazing director. Because of this opportunity, I was able to marry my love of fashion and costume design. What an incredible opportunity!
The budget on the movie wasn’t big, it was my first studio film as a designer, I didn’t even have an agent and had to negotiate my rate and my own perks. I want the young readers who are kind of on their path to becoming designers to know, you never know how things are going to really turn out. You have to be very open to opportunities. When we were working on Clueless none of us imagined we will be all talking about it 25 years later.
Spencer: You have an incredible story. So let’s talk about Clueless, celebrating its 25th anniversary. I mean, twenty-five years… Does it even seem real?
Mona: I mean, it seems like it was just yesterday. But, yeah, it just doesn’t. It’s bizarre and wild that it’s been twenty-five years, really and there is still so much love for this film.
Spencer: As you said earlier, your Instagram is blowing up. I’ve been seeing your name all over the press. People refer to you sometimes as The Queen of 90s Fashion. You would think the film just came out yesterday!
Mona: I am so proud that this film has stood the test of time. That is still so popular and has inspired generations of women. Even though the outfits were inspired by the 90s, I had a global point of view on fashion. So the movie is not as dated as maybe it was just on-trend. The outfits are so classic, the plaid, the peacoat, the berets, A-line skirts. You have the empire waist dresses with the cap sleeves. That’s what I gravitate to. I always wanted the girls to look and feel feminine and pretty. That’s what we’re doing in the movie. We’re kind of bringing back the feminine and bringing back the beauty of girls that was lost in the grunge and darkness.
Spencer: What type of research did you have to do for Clueless when it came to fashion as well as designing each of the subcultures, such as a skater kid, the jocks, stoner kids, or the teachers. What does that research look like?
Mona: Well, as a costume designer we each have a different process. After reading the script and meeting with a director and kind of downloading their vision is doing visual boards. You do collages. I gather art and look at photography. You look at fashion pieces. For me, that film inspiration was really about going to European runways, and really bringing something that’s not in the stores or on the streets. I was looking six months ahead or even further when it came to styles, textures, and colors. I had to use the predictive magazines, there was no computer and ideas with the click of a little finger. You look through these magazines and think about what’s right for each character, what will translate well into the world of young girls in Beverly Hills.
For example, when it came to creating the color palette for these characters, Dionne and Cher were very different. The color palette for Cher was classic, like reds, blues, yellows, and pinks as Dionne Davenport, the palette was much brighter. Her skin tone allowed me to push the colors and even use neon colors. I got to use a lot of different textures such as vinyl leopard and faux fur on Dionne as she was sassier. Cher and Dionne were best friends, but really very unique psychologically so the clothes had to reflect that.
The rest kind of fell into place with a lot of effort of course as we had a lot of clothes in the movie. Since we were creating fashion that was not on the street every extra that was on screen had to be dressed from head to toe. The stoners, the skateboarders, preppy boys, the school A-list boys we dressed all of them. And that was in addition to our main cast like Alicia Silverstone who had sixty wardrobe changes and Dionne probably had about fifty.
I would come in at 5:00 in the morning, and the real challenge was everyone had to be dressed because they were all coming in grunge. If we are creating the world, they have to be on par and look as fabulous as everybody else on the screen. With the right color palette, textures, and have all of the new cool hip clothes or the backpacks. So it was a lot of clothes.
But that’s kind of the movies I do. If you really look at Never Been Kissed, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, The Wedding Singer, The House Bunny, or even Enchanted. I just get these very creative jobs with big stories and journeys of the characters and this is where I thrive. I can put the creative puzzle together. As a costume designer, I don’t do it all alone. I have a big team: a supervisor who looks after the whole department, pays the bills, makes sure we are on schedule with fittings. I have shoppers, patternmakers, seamstresses, and the very important set crew who dresses actors and keeps the continuity. There is a big team behind me to support my vision. In this film, we didn’t have a lot of time prep, only about two months to prep so a designer needs a strong team to make it all happen.
Spencer: Oh wow. I’m sorry, did you say two months? I just got chills.
Mona: Yeah. We didn’t have a lot of money either. Also, you have to remember this was so long ago that the PR machine also wasn’t really in place. You know, like now if you are watching a television show, some of these fabulous clothes are just a phone call away. It’s much easier to put these incredible looks together. In my case, I didn’t have that luxury, so I had to be very inventive. The thing about not having a lot of money, I couldn’t buy all designer clothes. But in the end, I think the movie was better because of it. I had to find the clothes from the future, right then from all kinds of sources, high-end stores, mall stores, and thrift stores. Which created the unique look of the film- mixing high and low fashion which was not done before. It was fresh and the girls loved it!!
Spencer: Because of this process of thrifting and combining all of these pieces, you were setting trends. Those trends are as alive now as they were twenty-five years ago! It’s incredible really.
Mona: Yeah, it was really amazing how I was able to inspire girls to dress in fun fashions to be girly again and to mix old and new. Thrifting is so in now, so we all have to think about stability and not polluting the earth with a crazy amount of disposable clothes. I just did a collaboration with this shop, Thrilling, a company that’s online, a collective of thrift stores from all over the United States. We did a photo shoot as I am curating a collection for them and I was able to pull all kinds of cool clothes and show girls that you can dress high fashion in vintage. That you don’t need to buy new clothes and you can look more unique with repurposed clothing. I had so much fun putting it together and the response has been great so far.
I always try to inspire. That’s kind of the goal of what I do and who I am. I want to inspire young women. I want them to be inspired to be themselves and to be authentic. That’s the message I feel I have tried to send in all my movies.
Spencer: So this is really the hardest question of them all, and I am sorry I have to ask you. I think the audience would riot if I don’t. Is there a particular costume that has a special place in your heart? Do you have a favorite?
Mona: You know, it’s really one of the hardest questions to answer because they are all my babies and they all have such meaning. The yellow suit will forever be the most famous of the costumes that I’ve ever done. I mean, it’s almost like the white dress Marilyn Monroe wore. When you look at the yellow plaid, you automatically think Clueless. I love Enchanted too, you know. That white dress we did for Amy Adams, as a design, it’s just so spectacular. There were these costumes that I did for Haunted Mansion that were quite incredible as they were glowing in the dark. It was such a fun process creating them. I was using the stuff that’s on your tennis shoes that reflects when light hits it – that’s actually microscopic glass beads that reflect light. The director wanted the costumes to be very organic and have the ghosts in the graveyard glow when the main characters drive through it.
So each costume is so unique to the process. If I had to pick one, it’s probably the yellow suit just because it’s so iconic. It’s very synonymous with me and that movie to this day.
Spencer: So looking back at a lot of your popular work such as Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Clueless, A Night at the Roxbury, it seems like you have a real connection to Los Angeles and the L.A. fashion scene. Do you feel that way, too?
Mona: You know what? It was not intentional. It was just something that happened. I do feel a connection to Los Angeles. I love color and the environment is something that has helped me paint my pictures in a brighter way. The setting is so much more positive and happy. You know, there’s so much light here. There’s so much color. Everybody has a signature. Some designers do really well, period costumes. Some designers do great with drama. I think that I’m kind of suited to my personality and artistic take on things with comedy.
Spencer: So unlike most people, I feel like my first introduction into the world of Mona May wasn’t actually with Clueless. My childhood is deeply composed of those Disney Channel television shows that so many people my age feel all of the nostalgia for.
Mona: Oh! Which one?
Spencer: Well, most of them were projects you were on. Stuck in the Suburbs was a good one, I still have the soundtrack *laughs*. Zenon: The Zequel. Oh, and how could I forget The Cheetah Girls: One World. Take us back a little bit to the early 2000s when you were doing these original Disney Channel television-movies.
Mona: It was so much fun because in between these big movies, I always had a little break and they reached out to me. My sensibility and my art are very similar to what Disney Channel stands for. You know, it’s very bright. It was all very happy.
It was really fun to work with young kids because they were on the verge of being women. So it was great to be able to empower them and also help them understand costume design. How does costume design help tell the story? At the same time, helping them to feel good in their bodies. I really loved working with Disney Channel. At the time, Disney Channel was spending a bunch of money on those little films. They allowed me a certain kind of freedom to do what I want, which was really creative.
Spencer: I remember being a kid in probably elementary school, watching The Cheetah Girls: One World and thinking beautiful and inspiring those costumes were. Plus, how exciting to go to India, your birthplace!
Mona: We just had a blast. It was an unforgettable experience. It was so interesting to work there and oversee the cross-culture. Here’s the thing, the Cheetah Girls had these modern, really kind of cool, funky clothes. Then as we went to India, we started to blend authentic Indian fashion into their own looks. It was such a cool and interesting blend.
Spencer: Ugh I love it. You are taking me all the way back! A key focus of mine and the team at The Art of Costume is exploring this idea of storytelling through costume design. Just as a basic question, do you consider costume designers to be storytellers?
Mona: Of course! This question is lovely. Clueless is a great example. The costumes are almost like a character in itself. Or, if you look at Never Been Kissed. Josie Geller (played by Drew Berrymore) starts as a kind of very bookish, nerdy girl and then goes into high school with this crazy idea of what high school the kids would wear. Then you see her transformation as she finds more about herself and the scrips unfold the story. At the end of the film, you see this young woman in that beautiful, age-appropriate pink dress and she is not the same girl we met at the begging of the film. The final look, that dress tells us about a sophisticated young woman who is not afraid of who she is – why she became. So costume it’s absolutely part of the storytelling. When you see a character on screen, within thirty seconds or less we have a good idea of who they are by the clothes they wear.
Twenty-five years later after doing Clueless, having articles written about me in Variety and fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle, WWD, and New York Post brings more awareness to who we are as costume designers as artists. We are part of the creative process on a film or a tv project as important as directors of photography and production designers. I think this is so incredibly important because we want equality. Artistic equality and pay equality. Costume designers are a part of the collaborative process of filmmaking and as being mostly women we don’t get all the respect. I love that I’m speaking to you and I am doing all this press because it just brings more awareness to who we are as costume designers and our craft…
Spencer: Another great example I wanted to add to this idea of storytelling, is Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. I can’t even imagine that film without you. The whole story is about these two characters almost kind of changing themselves in hopes to be impressive at their high school reunion. This story is so dependent on the clothes that they’re wearing. It’s even told through multiple flashbacks to their days in high school. For example, the great prom scene. Their whole story is relying on the costume designer to translate their trials throughout their life leading up to the reunion. We rely heavily upon our costume designers as storytellers, and I think it’s about time costume designers and costume departments as a whole are given the credit they deserve.
Mona: Absolutely. But I think the problem is that people don’t know how it happens. As I said, I had to put sixty changes together for Alicia Silverstone as Cher. People don’t realize how many clothes you have, how many fittings you have to do, and you know how many accessories you have to put together. Each outfit is unique and thought out to the last detail. It’s a huge job not only creatively but you have to deal with budgets, running crew in your department, communicate with actors, and deliver everything on time. So this is about shedding the light on what we do, how does it happen – the process.
Spencer: Right. I mean, touching on that same point. Throughout your career, you’ve worked on multiple projects that include costume design for both live-action and animated films such as Stuart Little 2, The Haunted Mansion. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorites, Enchanted. By the way, one of my favorite costumes of all time is that gown Queen Narissa wore.
Mona: Thank you. Narissa’s costume is probably my second, right after the yellow suit in Clueless. I love, love that design and how beautiful it is on screen.
Spencer: Oh, it’s extraordinary. That scene where she emerges from that manhole in Times Square. Spoiler alert, she eventually becomes a dragon. Plus, Narissa is played by Susan Sarandon, it doesn’t get better than that. Okay, I will stop being a nerd for a few seconds. Not many people realize that animated characters and films require costume designers as well.
Mona: Yes! Yes! My first experience with animated costumes was with Stuart Little 2. I got a great opportunity to meet the director, Rob Minkoff, and had an interview with him. The first film was great because we had this mouse who was kind of conservative wearing little bow ties and suits the movie became a huge hit. So now people believed that there was a mouse living with humans. When I went to interview for Stuart Little 2, I brought drawings of Stuart and in a Prada suit, skateboarding outfit, or even a date outfit. I said to the director Rob Minkoff – the mouse is now a beloved character so let’s give Stuart a makeover. And that’s how I got the job!
The process is very similar to designing costumes for live-action. You start with drawings and then it becomes very technical with many many details from proportions to fit. I’m almost like an adviser to all the technical guys who are on the computer who build them all in 3D. I would come in and do fittings virtually on the computer. Pretty cool! We had to make sure that the clothes fit on the digital character, especially because he had a horrible body to dress. He had a giant head, basically, no neck, small shoulders, giant tail, and short legs and the director wanted him to look like he shops at GAP. But he was one of the best actors I’ve worked with, he loved all his costumes and never talked back. *laughs*
It was a great learning experience to work on these animated projects because it’s all very technical but I’m still designing costumes just not a human but a digital character.
I just worked on another animated movie recently that was for Skydance Animation. It was a female virtual character, a young girl, but she had a different shape than humans more of an animated character body with a bigger head and small shaped body. You’re designing the costumes and trying to make sure they still fit great. The clothes need to be the right colors for her skin tone, fit her body shape. They have to be right for her age, where she is coming from culturally, and the right socio-economic background. This particular character was going to be doing a lot of action so we have to allow for the clothes to move with her, making sure clothing is not too restrictive. So the process is very similar to live-action the decisions you make as a designer are the same. You just have to deal with gravity in live-action and not in animation
Spencer: Speaking of gravity, even in animation, gravity still affects the textiles and the flow of the clothing too! Well, unless you are space…
Mona: Very much so. It’s a funny thing that you bring up. When I was doing Enchanted, I got brought on very early because I was working with the animators designing the costumes since I had to translate them into live-action costumes. The first part of the film was all old-style animation. I was there when they were starting to draw the characters and putting some clothes on them. When we started to cast and I was hired, I would be in the room with them. We were trying to figure out the designs for characters like Nathaniel (Played by Timothy Spall) who was the sidekick to the prince. The animators started drawing little puffy hot pants and short shirts for his look. I’m like, OK, I have this actor who is over 200 lbs and he’s not going to run Central Park with these little shorts. So we need to really be realistic. We as designers can bring our experience understanding clothing, how it works on bodies how the fabric moves when it moves in live-action. Animators think more in fantasy and they don’t have to think of gravity. They can do anything they want but we as a costume designer have to deal with real bodies, especially in this case of Enchanted, which was about bringing the animated characters into a live-action world.
Spencer: Wow, that’s so interesting. I feel like I am certainly going to watch Enchanted again after this interview. I heard you are working on a new animated film, Flora and Ulysses for Disney+. Would you like to give us a special sneak peek?
Mona: I would love to talk about it. It was such a fantastic experience because it took me back to my roots of Stuart Little 2. It’s a live-action film with a CGI squirrel and working with CGI characters and live-action is complicated and fun at the same time. I love a challenge and learning new things on my projects. Sadly the CGI squirrel didn’t wear any clothes…
Spencer: Oh man!
Mona: I know I was very bummed. But what was really cool about this film was that the father is a comic book writer, and his daughter imagines his characters are coming off the pages of his comic books. So I actually had to design superheroes and it was so much fun because I had never done superheroes. I was able to learn a lot and learn about textures and different finishings. We worked with material that’s shiny, that almost looks like plastic. It was just a really great learning experience. I love a challenge and learning new things on my projects.
That’s what it’s all about for me. That’s what I would love to leave people who are reading along. Life is about learning. Every project brings a new experience and more opportunities to learn. When I got Stuart Little 2, I didn’t know how to design CGI characters. I had to learn. I loved it. Enchanted is such an interesting project because it blended old style 2D animation with live-action and CGI. Queen Narissa was a character that turned into a CGI dragon. I had to figure out how to blend all 3 different mediums. The 2D costume looked very flat, almost like a cut-out. Then when she comes to life, it’s like she just explodes with textures and color, and then all the details of her costumes become part of the dragon she turns into..
Spencer: When Queen Narissa comes to life as a live-action character, the costume took on a dragon scale-like texture.
Mona: Exactly. You know, probably one of the best parts of my job is learning so much. With each project, you dive into really intense research. You learn so much from meeting with other collaborators. I learned a lot from the director of photography when I was working on The Haunted Mansion when I had to make the costumes glow. We had to mix this stuff that glows that actually comes in powder form. You mix it with paint. You paint the clothes and then we had to shoot it with a camera that had a ring of light around the lens. We became a kind of like alchemists.
We work with actors. You know what’s very interesting and I talk a lot about it, when you have these ideas and you make the boards. You think you know who the character is. But then the actor or actress walks into the fitting room. This is when the magic happens. Going back to Clueless and the yellow suit, we let Alicia Silverstone try on the blue one. Then she tried the red one. The blue one was beautiful. The red one was a little bit too on the nose, like trying too hard. Then she pulled the yellow…Oh my God. This is the color of just sunshine. She’s the queen.
Another great story I have comes with those final dresses for Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. Those blue and pink party dresses. I had something else designed for Lisa Kudrow’s character. A couple of days before Lisa came, we started talking and she had a really good point. Maybe the dresses should be very similar. There should be this feeling, like a “We made it” feeling. So I changed the design last minute, which wasn’t easy. It was hard because everything was already in motion. We made both of the dresses A-line with the empire waist. We made Lisa’s pink which represented her character. Mira Sorvino’s character was always more in control so she had the blue one, and it really was perfect. It was actually better than what I did before. It became iconic. So the flexibility and kind of openness to the process and change are very important in our work…
Spencer: This is all so inspiring to hear. I am sure it’s also going to be very inspiring to a lot of future costume designers who are going to be reading this. It’s inspiring to hear, as someone we look up to including myself, is still constantly learning. Even with all of these projects that came after Clueless, you are still taking the time to learn.
Mona: Yes. You know, we are artists but not machines. You have to be dedicated to your work. There are long hours involved. Sometimes you have to go away for months. You have to be passionate and willing to learn. You have to show up and be there. It’s not always going to be easy. You won’t always have the money. You might not have enough crew. So you have to love it. I think. You have to really be there and be professional. I think you have to be a very good communicator.
It’s a job that’s very interesting because it’s not a job that’s the same every day. Every project is different. Every day, different things happen. There’s a lot of change. You have to be on your toes, and sometimes you have to take yourself out of the equation a little. It’s not about you. It’s about the project. It’s about the art. In the end, it’s our goal to make the project the best we can. Sometimes, maybe you don’t win and you don’t get what you like. Sometimes, you do. You know, it’s really give, and take. I hope that is one thing that the readers of The Art of Costume take away from this.
Spencer: I think they will, and I am so happy you have taken the time to share your knowledge and experiences with us… So finally, what’s coming up next for Mona May I know you’re doing the reboot for Punky Brewster, a popular 80s sitcom That is so exciting!
Mona: Oh, I am super excited. Punky is now a mom. Punky is now in her 40s and she has three kids. You know, we want to make her kind of a cool mom, edgy mom. One of the girls is a fashionista who is about fifteen. So she’s gonna have some fun clothes. Freddie Prinze. Junior is going to be the ex-husband, the musician. I’m so happy that I was brought onto this project, to create something very fresh, something real, something that the young moms can emulate. We are looking at a woman who is 40 years old, who can also be a mom and be hip and be cool. We will be connecting with the audience in different ways. I’m lucky that I get these kinds of jobs, you know. I’m sort of a go-to when it comes to bringing something fresh, to remake something in a new way that’s so exciting.
Spencer: Mona, thank you so much for talking with me. I can sit here and just talk to you for hours, and hours.
Mona: I appreciate you talking to me. You are shedding light on what we do and spreading the word about costume design. It’s really important to me.
I also would love your audience to follow me on Instagram. I’m actually answering a lot of questions. On Mondays, I host Mona Minute, and I talk about my process so anybody can send me a question and I’ll try to answer as many as I can. I want people to be on this journey with me. It’s just great. I probably will be like the eighty-five-year-old grandma still doing this, and sharing.
Earlier this month, I was given the opportunity to catch-up with one of my favorite costume designers, Eulyn Colette Hufkie. As a costume designer, one of Eulyn’s most recognized bodies of work was none other than, The Walking Dead (one of my favorite shows). Eulyn’s time on The Walking Dead catapulted her career, becoming a recognizable name, especially to the horror/thriller genre. Since The Walking Dead, Eulyn went on to serve as the costume designer for 24: Legacy, Hell Fest, The Purge (TV Series), Goodnight Death, and Mayans M.C.
On Amazon Prime Video this October, you can catch some of Eulyn’s most recent work on the Blumhouse produced, “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series, an anthology of unique, unsettling thrillers developed and produced with an eye towards original, genre storytelling. Eulyn served as the costume designer for a few of these films including Black Box, directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr (Released October 6th, 2020) and Evil Eye, directed by Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani, and stars Sarita Choudhury and Sunita Mani (Premiering on October 13th, 2020).
Spencer Williams: Hi Eulyn! How are you, it’s been such a long time!
Eulyn Colette Hufkie: I am doing so well! Working and living in New Orleans. Just dodging hurricanes and COVID. Ha!
Spencer: Ugh! Yes I hear you, the struggle is real. But I am so glad you are doing well, despite the circumstances. I always like to start with my guests, asking how you ended up in the world of costume design. Where did it all begin for Eulyn?
Eulyn: I am from Cape Town, South Africa. I am mixed-race, referred to as ‘coloured’. Mixed race women make up the majority of factory workers, sewing for big industry. When I decided that I wanted to pursue a Fashion Design career, my parents strongly opposed it. They understood my interest and talent for design since my Mom still has my renderings of ball gowns from when I was 3 years old. They wanted stability for me in my future. I ended up studying accounting at The University of Cape Town, but I ‘majored’ in ‘What I wore to Uni every day’ *laughs*. My outfits were the main event after wearing school uniforms my entire life. Ha!
I was scouted and started modeling. Through modeling, I met incredible designers and asked them if I could train with them and work for free. They said, ‘YES!’ and I spent my first couple of days on set carrying racks and sorting hangers. But I loved it! It just clicked.
When you’re a P.A., you’re sort of like a fly on the wall. You get to see and listen to everything. I chose at that moment to really be a sponge for information. I learned and listened, and I kept getting employed. I was earning money doing what I loved. I was in utter disbelief. I’ve been lucky enough to train and work with some of South Africa’s best designers.
My grandparents owned a clothing factory in South Africa. That was my weekend job, selling and sorting uniforms. I still love the sound and smell of the old singer machines. My grandmother is a very talented seamstress. She made my first communion dress, all of the wedding dresses in the family, all the baby clothes. When I first started taking an interest in designing, I would take lessons with her to learn pattern making and sewing.
Spencer: Where do you feel like your inspiration and creativity comes from?
Eulyn: Oh my gosh, everywhere and everything inspires me. Authenticity without stereotypes inspires me. I’ve got a very vivid imagination and I become really invested when it comes to research. I watch a lot of movies. I love all film genres. I’m in love with going to fabric stores and just touching everything.
I find inspiration really in every way. I’m pretty sure because of The Walking Dead, I’m on a watch list though! Ha! I’ve had to really go deep and dark with finding inspiration. For example, figuring out how blood really flows. What the color of blood really is, and what a head looks like when it’s not attached to a body. Well, these are all the things that I’ve had to research. What would a walking corpse look like?
South Africa is a melting pot. We have the biggest Indian community outside of India in South Africa. We have eleven official languages in South Africa and many different tribes. I was introduced to all of these different cultures from a very early age. The food, nature, the markets. It’s all very mixed so it’s hard not to be inspired walking around in South Africa.
Spencer: You have such an incredible story, Eulyn. It’s truly inspiring. So, spooky season is upon us. At the same time, we just heard the news that one of our favorite shows has announced their series finale, The Walking Dead. When I heard the news, I knew I just had to talk to you. 10 seasons. The show started in 2010, I was just 15 years old at the time *laughs*. You were the costume designer for half of these 10 seasons. You must be so proud of being a part of this phenomenon?
Eulyn: It’s incredible that it’s lasted this long. The Walking Dead definitely gave me a big boost in my career. In the first season, I worked as a costumer. Then I got the big promotion, to be the Costume Designer. Each season was very different and presented unique challenges. There was a city full of walkers, to a small town and idyllic farm life, to Alexandria, and then finally, Negan.
Each character’s evolution can be clearly seen through costume for the first 6 seasons. Maggie (played by Lauren Cohan) stands out to me in this regard – she started the show in those pastel colors that I created. I dyed all of those pieces on the farm, myself to create a different palette for each character in order to give the audience insight into the emotional journey that the characters endured on the farm. I really wanted the farm to look like a watercolor painting. It was an idealistic place in the crazy zombie world that existed just outside of their fence.
All of the characters subscribed to Hershel’s rules, discussions about God and spirituality on the farm only then to end up questioning the leadership of the very man that they chose to follow.
Or how about watching Glenn (played by Steven Yeun) evolve, he was practically a child when we met him. Daryl Dixon (played by Norman Reedus), starts off as a ‘bad guy’ character. I created the “angel wings” vest Daryl wore. I wanted him to look tough, be safer on his bike but at the same time still, soften him up, and make him appear to be the dark guardian angel of the group. Those little details like the wings sway the audience into a direction that the character is moving mentally. The wings were very symbolic of Daryl’s journey.
Daryl’s original vest is actually MERLE’s (played by Michael Rooker). It was hanging in my office. We cut out the wings and sewed them on, to do a show and tell with Frank Darabont. He said that I was ‘F*cking ‘genius’. Career and life highlight for sure! Merle and Daryl were literally cut from the same cloth.
Spencer: Oh wow, I love that. It makes so much sense! My mind is blown. That never even occurred to me.
Eulyn: Yeah! Frank is pretty genius, I remember he wanted a really bright t-shirt for Sophia (played by Madison Lintz). So when Sophia emerged from the barn at the end, it would be obvious that it’s her. We got so excited, imagining the dirt on the bright t-shirt! But then we had to find the shirt. I remember that day, I ran to every Target in Atlanta on a Sunday, looking for those shirts so I could buy them all out. I got the phone call while I was in the bathtub. I wanted to cry, I was so tired, but I told myself, “ it’s Frank Darabont. He’s brilliant. I am going to trust him, and I guess I’m going to Target now”. And looking back, I’m glad that I trusted him. Such an incredible moment in the history of the show.
Spencer: That Sophia costume, is one of the most iconic costumes of the show. I remember that moment so very vividly. I was an absolute wreck!
Eulyn: Oh, there wasn’t a dry eye on the set! Extremely powerful scene and a lifetime bond between Daryl and Carol created at that moment.
Spencer: There are so many characters in this show. Plus, each season had its own kind of factions? There was the farm, the prison, the settler towns, bikers gangs… What were some of the challenges you faced working on The Walking Dead?
Eulyn: I just really wanted to keep everybody separate, visually. I wanted to give each character a ‘thing’ unique to them. Including our superhero characters, MICHONNE, RICK, CARL, DARYL, MAGGIE, ANDREA, GLENN. Each character had their own style or charm or way of styling or layering clothing, but still, looked uniform as a group. One of my favorite things ever is when I got this one image when all of the characters arrive at Alexandria and they’re all walking side by side, next to each other. It was brilliant! You can see the vision. Each character looked so different, but they look like a gang.
Alexandria was a challenge for me. My mind was already in the apocalypse and the Alexandrians seemed so bloody clueless. How do you not know that you have to shoot the Walkers in the head? How do you not know? Come on, Deanna (played by Tovah Feldshuh)! Ha! I adore TOVAH, she was exceptional in her role as Deanna.
It was hard for me to make these people look so ordinary. Can we give them just something? I was always ready to go full Mad Max tribal!! We were in the apocalypse after all. When I put Rick and Michonne into those police uniforms … gosh that really felt weird! Because they already knew what lived outside of the gates. I just had to really honor the character and the story at that moment. Rick was always being a gentleman and trying to appease the new boss or new leader. He was going back to his old ways of being a policeman, following instructions, and being polite. It was supposed to feel uncomfortable for all of us. Brilliant writing!
Spencer: We had a lot of people send in questions about this next topic. The Walking Dead is a masterclass in distressing costumes. Blood. Guts. Mud. It’s all there. It truly is the best of the best. What was it like making everything so dirty? Dressing the walkers throughout the years?
Eulyn: Distressing costumes is an art. I hired artists. I needed people who were going to be open. I needed them to unlearn everything that they’d been taught and really trust my vision. We used knives, graters, blowtorches. We did things very differently. It was unlike anything that anybody else had done. I didn’t want the characters to look like pirates or cartoon zombies. They were walking corpses of ordinary people whose lives were cut short by a virus. I wanted my team to think of how that person died, how long they’d been dead. It was important to match blood splatter on clothing to match makeup wounds.
We had distressing techniques with tools we created ourselves. So I have this one device that looks like some sort of a medieval torture device, but it’s a block of wood with spikes in it. We made my own paints in different colors. We had our own names, these funny names we came up with such as ‘puss’. The other trick I used often when we shot 300 zombies in an episode, we would collect all of those costumes and soak them in bleach and then rework them so we’d be using the same costumes over and over and over. It just made them even better. They got rattier and rattier.
It was very important to me that every single costume made sense. I got a lot of criticism from fans about the long skirts. Did everybody die in a church? was a comment that made me chuckle! I thought that was hilarious. When you think about makeup, they are doing probably 10 to 20 people in one sitting. But then there would be 500 people in the field. So you’re seeing five hundred costumes in full. I had to cover them from head to toe, to make sure that they looked like walkers.
I would tell my ageing team …. I want to smell the walkers through the screen.
A fun memory is Frank Darabont directing an episode, and calling for more sweat, all I had was my Hawaiian tropic sunscreen in my bag, I used it as sweat on Rick and it became our staple sweat product, still is. I see now that some costume shops sell it as such. The traditional ageing methods simply didn’t work for long-lasting ageing. Most costume ageing products are designed to come out in the wash, for this show I needed the dirt and ageing to stay in the clothing and be one part of the design, so I had to design my own products.
My crew and I would take art classes a couple of times a week to hone our painting skills.
Spencer: Is there a certain costume from The Walking Dead you find yourself quite proud of? Some notable costumes I can think of was Daryl’s biker jacket. Michonne’s hood she wore in the woods. Rick’s sheriff gear… The many costumes of Carol that showed her major character development.
Eulyn: One of the costumes I loved probably the most was worn by Hershel (played by Scott Wilson). I love that costume with the bush pants and those old leather suspenders. If you look closely, the attachment on the suspenders is quite different and beautiful.
But I’m proud of all of the hard work that went into creating those characters.
Attention to detail was very important. If you think about every opening of every season, there wasn’t a lot of talking. They didn’t speak. So you could see the journey that they were on through the costumes. The opening of every season was always my proudest moment. Just like bam! What’s going on? When it came to Rick, he was always in some version of a sheriff outfit. I always had him either in a white t-shirt or tan western shirt and the same black jeans. Rick was always the same guy just going through different things.
Spencer: The Walking Dead was unique because you have had the popular graphic novel out there as well. Did you feel like you were referencing the comics quite often?
Eulyn: Only when Scott Gimple asked. Otherwise, I tried not to. I was inspired by it. But I wasn’t going to copy them as they were shown. I wanted to do my own version, but stay inspired by the comic. A good example, Michonne was very sexy in the comic. There were little things that didn’t really fit with Danai Gurira. We went for a more warrior-esque feel, but also realistic and relatable.
I would say also that you choose your costume in the apocalypse, you decide how you want the world to view you. That is what Michonne ultimately did. There was one episode where we went back in time and saw Michonne with her little boy and her husband. I gave them sort of an Afro vibe, with more African mixed prints in clothing which was mimicked in the decor as well. She had dreads with jewels. The outfit that Michonne chose in the apocalypse was her African inspired armor. She wanted the world to be afraid of her. She used to walk with those two Walkers with the missing limbs. She wanted people to see her and run? So she didn’t have to hurt them. Her appearance was a WARNING if you will.
Spencer: So I want to talk to you about some of your recent projects. Coming in October to Amazon Prime Video is the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series of unique, unsettling thrillers developed and produced with an eye towards original, genre storytelling. They showcase diverse casts led by emerging filmmakers, premiering on Amazon Prime Video. You worked on a few of the eight films such as Black Box – premiering October 6th, and Evil Eye – premiering October 13th. What was it like working on these two projects?
Eulyn: I loved it! The directors were all very open to my ideas and appreciated my expertise. I loved Sarita Choudhury growing up. I saw Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love. So I was thrilled to work with her. Oh, my gosh, she’s so beautiful. I love her acting style. She’s just such a good actress. She really brought a lot to the character. She really wanted to look natural and not overly done. We did not want any kind of stereotype. This was not Bollywood. This was a real woman’s journey into madness and struggling with real trauma. We really wanted to honor that character. The wedding piece I designed the top just to hug her and put all of these Swarovski’s on because I knew it would be shot in a darker space. The whole movie would be a little bit dark because of the time change. Her daughter lived in America. She’s in India. My mother’s in South Africa. I’m here. We talk on the phone all the time, every day with a 9hr time difference.
Sunita is an absolute joy to work with and open to trying new things. We tried many different versions of the Americanized daughter before we landed fully on our version of this character.
Spencer: You must have found this film so relatable!
Eulyn: Yes, I certainly understood the story. As an immigrant, I understood how one adopts and adapts to a new country. The characters also lived in the United States for a long while. This led to a choice to add a bit of western feel to certain aspects of the clothing that Usha and Krishnan wear. Not too much embellishment on her daytime looks. Not too much jewelry.
Spencer: The costumes for these two films were fantastic and really show your range as a designer. With Black Box, we saw a lot of contemporary pieces, the medical field, and even the wedding. Then with Evil Eye, you really explored the beauty of Indian fashion. What were some of your favorite moments from working on these two films, and what did you learn?
Eulyn: It was nice to be involved with a group that was so open to my ideas. I got to really show what I am capable of with both of these projects. I could really see the directors were so into what I was saying. I was working with emerging filmmakers, so I would do these massive presentations, to begin with, to really show them what I can do. The sky was the limit. We can make anything happen. I did a lot of sketches and renderings, which is funny because I did way more than I usually would. I created a lot more pieces for these films than I usually would because I really wanted the vision to be realized fully. For example, I designed the looks of the bride and the groom at the engagement party that we see in Evil Eye.
I loved getting to work with Ms. Phylicia Rashad on Black Box. Our young Amanda Christine who plays Ava is an incredible actress. The clothing in this film was kept simple and with very little pattern, contemporary and not too modern. I just wanted the little girl to be CUTE! Like sunshine in an otherwise grey world.
Spencer: Finally, this blog is followed by a lot of aspiring costume designers? Do you have any words of advice for all of those trying to find their way in this crazy world?
Eulyn: Watch films! Watch films that you don’t even think you will like. Some of the most beautiful films are in the horror genre.
When you’re lucky enough to get your first job as a costume PA: Sometimes you get coffee. But that’s also good because you’re keeping the designer awake. Be flexible. I always ask new PA’s where they’d like to end up in the film business, I allow and encourage them to shadow on set with my costumers. Communicate with your colleagues. Maybe you are great at illustrating? That’s actually a job. I think a lot of times people don’t know what we do in the film industry. There is a place for all kinds of talent.
Spencer: Eulyn, thank you so much for talking with me. We have to do this again sometime. Thank you so much!
Eulyn: Thank you so much for talking with me. It’s been awesome to see you!
It is with deep sorrow that I must write, on Friday, September 18th, 2020, we lost Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Also known as The Notorious RBG. Justice Ginsburg was a real-life superhero. She was someone that I and countless others all over the globe looked up to. Long before she was nominated to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an iconic champion in the fight for equality. She fought gender-based discrimination at every point in her life. She fought for women’s rights, equal dignity, equal opportunity, a woman’s ability to choose, widower’s rights, marriage equality, pay discrimination, and equal protection under the eye of the law. Justice Ginsburg spent her entire life, fighting for others.
Amongst the many incredible things that made her so incredible, Justice Ginsburg had a supreme sense of style. Even when it came to her uniform on the bench, Justice Ginsburg sought to make her voice heard. To honor her, I thought I would look back at the way Justice Ginsburg transformed the uniform and made it her own, despite the masculine construction of the gown.
The justice gown is often a standard black robe. Yet one thing I never thought about, was the masculine construction of the gown. In 2009, in an interview with The Washington Post, she explained the design of the gown, “You know, the standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show, and the tie,” said Justice Ginsburg.
On July 7, 1981, President Ronald Reagan, who had pledged during his 1980 presidential campaign to appoint the first woman to the court, announced he would nominate Sandra Day O’Connor as an Associate Justice to the United States Supreme Court. Justice O’Connor was the first woman to be appointed. The reason I bring this up is that the first female justice wasn’t nominated until 1981. The federal judiciary was established through the Judiciary Act of 1789. The first session of The Supreme Court took place in 1790. That means 191 years went by without a single woman on the bench. It’s no wonder the justice gown took on such a masculine construction.
Justices Ginsburg and Justice O’Connor decided to take the robe and make it their own. “Sandra Day O’Connor and I thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman. So I have many, many collars.” Justice Ginsburg told The Washington Post.
Thus, brought to light the many collars and jabots that the Notorious RBG made so popular. For inquisitive minds, a jabot is defined by Oxford Languages as “an ornamental frill or ruffle on the front of a shirt or blouse, typically made of lace.” Over the years, we got to know the many collars and jabots collected by Justice Ginsburg. On multiple occasions, Justice Ginsburg shared her collection comprised of gifts from all over the world. Her jabots became a symbol of justice. One could even predict her opinion on a case by what she was wearing before she even took her seat on the court.
Justice Ginsburg’s personal favorite was a South African crochet collar. It was simple, soft, and feminized the look of the justice uniform, pushing back on the male-dominated courtroom and casting aside any prior misogynistic precedent.
Not only did Justice Ginsburg have some fashionable pieces, but she also had some statement pieces. When Justice Ginsburg was apart of the majority opinion, she wore a gold, yellow crocheted style suspended from a gold chain, with beads at the hem. She wore this collar when she knew she was to speak for the majority of the court. These were here shining moments and were symbolized by her golden collar.
Then, of course, Justice Ginsburg had her collar she wore for those often dark days. The infamous, “dissenting collars”. Whenever Justice Ginsburg found herself apart of the minority on the court, Justice Ginsburg would read her dissents from the bench armed with her more serious, collars. Her dissenting collar was an embroidered collar, sitting on a black band. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Justice Ginsburg wore this collar the day after President Trump was elected to office. One of my favorite collars was this gold-feathered collar she wore in her first photo with Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The collars and the jabots were one part of Justice Ginsburg’s supreme sense of style. I cannot wrap up this article without mentioning her impeccable means of accessorizing. Particularly, I loved her affinity for gloves. After multiple cancer treatments, Justice Ginsburg felt it was important to protect herself. Being the public figure she was, she began to wear gloves. But after a while, she grew to love wearing these gloves and made it apart of her wardrobe. My favorite photos of the Notorious RBG often featured her wearing a pair of lacy gloves. Usually, they were black which made me love her even more.
I am beyond heartbroken with the loss of The Notorious RBG. If I am being honest, I wasn’t even sure if I could write this article. I knew it would include a lot of tearful moments and it certainly did. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a real-life superhero. She was selfless, bold, courageous, kind, hilarious, and dedicated. She worked up until the last moments of her life, fighting for the equal rights of all people. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will forever be a true hero. I, and so many others, will carry her guiding light for the rest of our lives
The world feels incredibly dark right now. The United States is going through a time of deep division. But I firmly believe that Justice Ginsburg would want us to stay strong, come together, and continue the fight to ensure everyone is treated equally under the law. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used her voice throughout her life in order to defend others. For those of you reading within the United States, it’s now your turn to use your voice. Register to vote, and vote early. This year’s election is set to be one of the most important elections of our lifetime. Vote like your life depends on it… because it does.
Just like that, The 2020 Emmys have passed. This, of course, was an event like never before, and even still, what a great program! Between the live streaming of the Creative Arts Emmys and the live broadcast on Sunday, I really enjoyed it. I believe the Emmys production team deserves so much credit.
We now know our four winners! Let’s take a look at the Emmy winning costume designers between the four categories, OutstandingPeriod Costumes, OutstandingFantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes, OutstandingContemporary Costumes, and Outstanding Costumes For A Variety, Nonfiction Or Reality Program!
OutstandingPeriod Costumes – The Crown•Costume Designer: Amy Roberts
I am so excited to see The Crown being honored once again for the incredible costume design. Amy Roberts took home the award last week for Outstanding Period Costumes. I am a huge fan of the costume design work for The Crown. The costumes are representative of the time period, following the lines of historical accuracy. Yet, the costume design team found many ways to breathe new life into these characters- making the show feel modern and fresh throughout the season. Congratulations!
Left Bank Pictures in association with Sony Pictures Television. Amy Roberts, Costume Designer. Sidonie Roberts, Assistant Costume Designer. Sarah Moore, Costume Supervisor
OutstandingFantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes – Watchmen•Costume Designer: Sharen Davis
Watchmen received a lot of honors at this year’s Emmy awards, and rightfully so! Sharen Davis was presented with this year’s Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes award! Watchmen lead the way with fascinating comic-book-inspired characters, bold colors, and innovative silhouettes. The costumes are one of the most fascinating parts of this show, and I am so happy for the Watchmen team in receiving this great honor!
HBO Entertainment in association with White Rabbit, Paramount Television, Warner Bros. Television & DC Comics. Sharen Davis, Costume Designer. Valerie Zielonka, Costume Supervisor
Oh boy! I have been acting like a disgruntled pelican ever since we received the news about the Schitt’s Creek win! The first sign of the now-famous “Schitt’s Sweep”! This is one of my all-time favorite shows and I am so happy for Debra Hanson, Darci Cheyne, and the entire Schitt’s Creek cast and crew for this incredible win. This show changed my life for the better and it is only fitting that the final season is given a send-off as incredible as this sweep.
Not A Real Company Productions, Inc. Debra Hanson, Costume Designer. Darci Cheyne, Assistant Costume Designer
Outstanding Costumes For A Variety, Nonfiction Or Reality Program –
The Masked Singer •Costume Designer: Marina Toybina
Last but certainly not least, we have The Masked Singer. Marina Toybina took home this year’s Outstanding Costumes For A Variety, Nonfiction Or Reality Program award. Such a deserving award. The costumes of The Masked Singer are stunning. At a glance, these costumes are fun, bright, energetic, and inspiring. Yet, the costumes are also so incredibly complex and push the costume design team to constantly challenge themselves. I am such a fan honestly. If you missed my interview with thecostume designer, Marina Toybina, follow this link now!
FOX Alternative Entertainment Studios. Marina Toybina, Costume Designer. Grainne O’Sullivan, Costume Supervisor. Gabrielle Letamendi, Assistant Costume Designer. Candice Rainwater, Assistant Costume Designer
That’s a wrap! Congratulations one last time to all of the winners and nominees. Most of all, thank you to all of our readers for following along with us throughout the Emmys season! Stay safe everyone, wear a mask, and don’t forget to VOTE.
Spencer: Hi everyone! Thank you for being here. Congratulations on joining The Art of Costume team! With everything considered, It’s been an excellent year for costume design – specifically in the world of television. The Emmys are right around the corner and there are so many excellent designers nominated within the costume design categories. I know I can speak for all of us when I say each and every one of these designers are incredibly talented and all just as deserving of an Emmy this year. First I would like to hear from each of you why you wanted to join the team and have there been any shows this year that have left an impression on you? Csilla, why don’t you go first?
Csilla: Thank you, Spencer. I am currently studying costume design, and I wanted to join the team to be among other like-minded people and share our love of costume. Euphoria has been on my mind ever since I first watched it. The whole concept and visual world of the series feel very close to my heart. Unorthodox hits on a different emotional level. I spent the first few minutes concentrating just on the costumes of the show. I was uncertain what period this story was taking place in, and it made the whole concept of the isolation so striking. The wedding scene was so beautiful, uncomfortable, and terrifying to watch. I am a huge fan of both of these series.
Spencer: I totally agree with you Csilla. Especially when it comes to Euphoria-that show was so good I still find myself thinking about the costumes, colors, makeup, music… everything! Elizabeth, how about you?
Elizabeth: I studied costume design in college and I also joined the Art of Costume team to share my love and admiration for costumes with others. This year’s nominees are incredible; there were three that stood out to me, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Carnival Row, and Unorthodox. The costumes brought you into worlds that we don’t typically see or create a new one in Carnival Row’s case.
Spencer: It’s so good to have you with us Elizabeth. Candice, turning it over to you.
Candice: I have always loved costume design and used to scrapbook every magazine article about costume designers I would come across. I wanted to join the team to share my love of costume design, like Csilla, with like-minded people. Schitt’s Creek was amazing and as I re-watch the series I fall in love with the costumes even more. Carnival Row was visually stunning and while watching that series, I remember just saying out loud to myself just how much I loved the costumes each episode. The episode from Killing Eve that was nominated was my favorite episode in terms of costumes from the entire season. Of course, I also want to recreate every look from the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Spencer: I couldn’t agree with you more when it comes to Schitt’s Creek, but we will get into that a little later! Last but not least, Jada I would love to hear from you.
Jada: It’s so important to surround yourself with people who can challenge and push you to try new things and be the best that you can be. That is what The Art of Costume does! I’ve learned so much from the team and can’t wait to see what’s in store. My connection to costume design is that it’s been a part of me ever since I was younger. I went from making my own Halloween costumes to being on the theater costume crew. Ironically this has been a great year for television especially since most of us have been quarantining and were able to binge-watch so many series over the last few months. Even though I haven’t seen some of the shows nominated, the costumes from Euphoria, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Pose, and Schitt’s Creek has definitely left me intrigued and wanting to binge all of them!
Spencer: Thank you Jada, and thank you to all of you for being here. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be having this discussion with each of you. We really have created a great team, and I am so thrilled about our future together. Well, let’s get started then! We are going to go through each of the four costume design award categories. First, let’s talk about the Outstanding Period Costumes category. What a fabulous lineup of shows! The Crown, Hollywood, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Mrs.America, and Pose. Any thoughts?
Elizabeth: I started and finished The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel this year and couldn’t believe I had waited so long to watch it. The story of Midge Maisel trying to shake conventions of the fifties to live her own life is fascinating and engaging, but the costumes bring you into her world. With many period pieces, the costumes can act as props to tell you when and where you are. But with Mrs. Maisel, the costumes are a huge part of what brings you into her world with eye-catching designs and bright colors that tell you everything you need to know about that scene and the characters in it.
Candice: I loved the Old Hollywood take on the 1940’s costumes in Hollywood. The color palettes and silhouettes of the era that were used made the entire season visually stunning. The attention to detail on recreating as close as possible the historic events that are infused into the story-line as well as designing the fictional narratives still staying true to the era and glamour of that time. The ’70s is usually my least favorite era, but the costumes in Mrs. America have made me reconsider that particular stance.
Jada: Although I haven’t seen The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel I have read about it, including Candice’s article on the costume design, and must I say that the costumes are absolutely marvelous! The 1950s-1960s era of fashion is hands down my favorite era of all time and Donna Zakowska does a fantastic job of bringing that to this show. I love how the costumes are so vibrant and lively. You can really tell how much thought and creativity goes into each one of the looks.
Spencer: Lots of love for Donna Zakowska and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in this group. I love it! Personally, I had two favorites this year, The Crown and Pose. I thought the costumes for The Crown this season were just incredible. Amy Roberts did a wonderful job. I can go on and on about the perfection that was the wardrobe for Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret. I think that was the best part of the whole show honestly! Then, of course, I love Pose. Analucia McGorty blew me away once again with the costumes for Pose. They remain true to the NYC Ballroom scene of the early ’90s, yet they always feel new, exciting, couture, and inspiring.
Now it’s time for the Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes, my personal favorite. Carnival Row, The Mandalorian, Westworld, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Watchmen. Does anyone have any favorites?
Elizabeth: With Carnival Row, being an original screenplay with no source material to compare it to, costume designer Joanna Eatwell helped create a whole new world. The look is entirely original with rich colors and attention to unique details while still grounded in reality with silhouettes influenced by late-Victorian and Edwardian fashion.
Candice: I agree with Elizabeth. I loved Carnival Row’s mix of period pieces and fantasy. It did a great job of cohesively blending the designs and species of the characters. When it is a fantasy show, you do not have to be historically accurate in the period pieces used and I love how they incorporated the Edwardian Fashions. The Handmaid’s Tale’s costumes evoke such strong emotions with the colors and design.
Jada: I spent most of my childhood time playing Stars Wars Battlefront with my cousin. With that being said The Mandalorian would have been one of my top choices, but I’m going to go with The Handmaid’s Tale. I love how iconic the red cape look is. There’s so much research that goes into the costumes in this show to display the character’s emotions. Even the smallest of details add so much meaning.
Spencer: Jada we totally got to link up and play some Star Wars Battlefront sometime. I am the best pilot in Pasadena *laughs*. This category is also another hard one. I am undecided once again, between Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale. Shay Cunliffe had the incredible task of not only dressing a futuristic, more fashionable world- she also had to turn back time and develop costumes for an entire simulated world based upon Nazi-occupied Italy during World War II. From beginning to end, the costumes for Westworld are just…beyond. Then there is The Handmaid’s Tale, designed by one of my favorites, Natalie Bronfman. The costumes of The Handmaid’s Tale are imperative to the story. I love the costumes for this show so much because they are so symbolic, through their silhouettes, colors, textures. The Handmaid’s Tale serves as a masterclass when it comes to storytelling through costume design.
Moving on to Outstanding Contemporary Costumes. This is the most packed category of them all in my opinion. Euphoria, black-ish, Grace and Frankie, Schitt’s Creek, Killing Eve, Unorthodox, and The Politician. I mean, there are so many good shows!
Csilla: For me, Euphoria stood out the most. There was an amazing collaboration between the costume and makeup department, they truly created something unique and the whole show played on a different, fresh perspective. The stories of these teenagers were beautifully present through the evolution of their styles. I really enjoyed this stylized version of contemporary fashion. I loved every frame of that show, so fingers crossed for them!
Elizabeth: Every nominee in this category is incredible. However, the costumes of Unorthodox caught my eye immediately. With so much of the story taking place within a New York City Hasidic community where the way of life is vastly different from most viewers. While it could be hard to bring people into that world without exposition; however, Unorthodox manages to do just that. The costume is a huge part of this, with no detail of the community’s stringent dress code or its religious significance overlooked. This accuracy tells you immediately who the people in this community are and what is important to them.
Candice: This is a hard category for me because I loved the brilliance of Schitt’s Creek and how the costumes truly defined the characters. Unorthodox allowed us to see into a community that we normally would not be allowed access. The details that went into making sure that the Hasidic Jewish community was represented correctly while still working to convey a visually compelling story is a true testament to the costume designer’s talent. I love the character’s costumes in Grace and Frankie and how each one has their own distinct style but they still blend together in this hodge-podge of a group that wouldn’t normally gather together except for their circumstance and family. The Politician truly redefined the “Power Suit”. Black-ish is iconic and whenever I watch the series, it makes me wish I could be as cool as costume designer, Michelle R. Cole, and the characters she designs.
Jada: This category is so hard because each show brings something new and interesting to the table. Black-ish introduces heavy topics yet always brings comedic relief. Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda’s chemistry in Grace and Frankie is everything I need and more! However, my vote goes to Euphoria. I love the idea that Euphoria challenges societal norms in fashion. The costumes are so aesthetically pleasing with a striking balance between fantasy/illusion and contemporary design. You can’t forget the makeup looks! They’re so bold yet deep and convey messages about each character’s feelings and personalities.
Spencer: Okay I can hardly wait to talk about Schitt’s Creek. Schitt’s Creek is one is of my favorite shows. The costumes play a large role in that choice. Debra Hanson, the costume designer for Schitt’s Creek, has such an eye and really brought these fascinating characters to life. I am such a fan, and I personally would love to see the finale season of this show celebrated at the Emmys. I also want to mention costume designers Claire and Lily Parkinson who served as costume designers for The Politician. I will forever be obsessed with the colorful wardrobe created for this show, specifically for characters Dede Standish and Hadassah Gold (Judith Light and Bette Midler). They deserve awards for those costumes alone! Finally, Euphoria was beyond fantastic. The costume design of Euphoria by Heidi Bivens captured the street style trends of today’s youth so perfectly. Years from now when e are looking back at this time, we will refer to Euphoria to explore fashion trends of the decade and I assume these costumes will be setting trends for the years to come.
Finally, let’s move into the OutstandingCostumes For A Variety, Nonfiction Or Reality Program. This category includes Dancing With The Stars, Drunk History, The Masked Singer, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Saturday Night Live.
Jada: I’ve watched Dancing with the Stars and Saturday Night Live ever since I was young. I love how fun, expressive, and representative Rupaul’s Drag Race is. One of the major parts of the show is the costumes, which makes it an even tougher decision. But if I had to choose, I would vote for The Masked Singer. The time and effort put into each and every one of these one-of-a-kind costumes is extraordinary. Plus the ability to make each of the costumes ready to perform in takes a lot of talent. Their hard work has definitely paid off.
Candice: It is truly fascinating, how the Dancing with the Stars’ costume designers can create such beautiful costumes that have to work on a dance / technical level in such a short period of time and how those costumes perfectly convey the contestants’ themes before a note of music or dance step is even performed. However, I did love Drunk History’s episode Fame, as it was one of my favorite episodes. The simplistic design of the unitard costume representing, Masterpiece, the poodle, worn by Ken Marino, and the Catwoman scene was comedic gold.
Spencer: I always have a special place in my heart for RuPaul’s Drag Race and the work of Zaldy Goco. However, this year I have to agree with Jada on this one. Marina Toybina’s costume design work for The Masked Singer is beyond impressive. So much work goes into these costumes. These characters that Marina has had to make are so creative and innovative, then she takes these unique ideas and turns them into fully functional performance-based costumes. So much technology is infused within them. The textiles are extravagant. Everything about these costumes just brings me such joy. I am in awe and I think it would be so deserving of Marina to take home the Emmy this year.
Well, team, this has been so fun! Thank you again for joining me. I am so blessed to have you all apart of the team, and I look forward to the great work we will do together. Most of all, thank you to the readers for following along with us. We are beyond thrilled for all of these talented costume designers and are cheering on each and every designer nominated this year. See you all at The Emmys!
This year, the 2020 Super Bowl was followed by The Masked Singer. As the show started, I thought to myself that I had to give it a try and find out what everyone was talking about – it was already on anyways. Little did I know, my girlfriend Kate, and I from that point on would be spending the next four months tuning in every week, just to find out who was in that Turtle costume. The suspense was tearing at my soul, keeping me awake at night scrolling through Twitter just to reassure myself that I was right. (Of course, I guessed right but that’s beside the point.) The costumes seen on The Masked Singer are incredible, and I am so excited to have had the chance to chat with the mastermind behind the turtle and every other costume to dance across your television. Marina Toybina is a six-time nominee and four-time Emmy award-winning costume designer, now nominated for her work on The Masked Singer.
Spencer: Hi Marina, it’s so good to hear from you again! It’s been a long time. How have you been doing?
Marina: Everything’s good! There have been a lot of new adjustments and we are trying to make it work, especially since we are back at work and learning a lot of new ways to adapt to our new norm, for the time being.
Spencer: I am so excited for you as you have earned your sixth Emmy nomination! This time, in the Outstanding Costumes for a Variety, Nonfiction or Reality Program category. What does this nomination mean to you?
Marina: I’m excited and honored. It is one of the shows that we really do put so much into and it’s incredible that our peers recognize and appreciate it. I think it just speaks so much for my team because we do have the best of the best working on this. Countless hours go into each costume and it means a lot to me that we are being recognized for it. As I said, it’s an incredible honor.
Spencer: Before we talk about The Masked Singer, can you tell me a little about how you came into this life as a costume designer?
Marina: I was looking back at the past 20 years and somehow everything always leads you to where you need to be. It’s crazy! I never, in the beginning, thought I would go into costume design.
I started in fashion. I went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) for fashion design and had my own clothing line for a few years. We worked with stylists and created one of a kind pieces for editorials and celebrities, and we started with different names expanding on different genres of fashion. It was my own fashion career that led me into music and I started designing for dancers. I teamed up with the stylists of big-name celebrities and it became this whole thing — “Let’s design the whole performance!” I transitioned into my own way of designing by combining fashion and costume. Since I understood so much of the construction from more of a couture aspect, I learned more about dance in the theater and on the stage and approached working with different materials, textures and patterns –and how to combine all these elements.
This naturally guided me straight into costume design and I’ve been here ever since.
Spencer: Where do you feel like your creativity comes from?
Marina: I haven’t had a very easy life or career. I think a lot of the things I’ve been through have humbled me as a person. Because of that, I feel things deeply and I try to express that through my work.
For me, I find every detail and experience that I’ve had in my own personal life important and meaningful, so I put that much more into my work and it shows in building every single costume I create. Everything matters so much — the timing, who’s in it, the craftsmanship that goes into it, how does it make me feel when it’s finished, and can I tell a story with something that we are creating?
I think every moment and every day is so important that if you don’t treasure the life that you have, you can’t really treasure the work that you produce. By combining my two worlds (personal and creative), this is where my creative attachment comes from and it explains the kind of work that I try to produce.
Spencer: It’s almost like your costumes are a part of you?
Marina: They are! Something happens in the process of design where you truly do escape reality because we have to immerse ourselves into these narratives that we’re creating — whether it’s a fantasy or science fiction, or maybe it’s a dark place or an emotion. You have to think ahead and pay attention to every detail of the reality you are creating. These details can be brand new and you then have to be an innovator; or, you have to do all of this incredible research into the history that goes along with what you are creating. Then at some point, you have to create your own vision of the world you are designing.
Spencer: You’ve worked on some really great shows like So You Think You Can Dance and The X Factor. Do you feel like your experience in performance-based television prepared you for a project as intense as The Masked Singer? I imagine serving as the costume designer for these projects sort of became the ultimate training.
Marina: Oh, 100 percent! I learned how to prioritize which makes me able to work under extreme pressures and deadlines; I learned how to delegate and work with a team; how to work with talent; being able to understand where certain departments are coming from and how to come together to integrate a show. These are all things that matter so much as a designer — and the learning doesn’t stop at the constructional side, or the artistic side of designs, it also expands into being able to understand the business structure of it all.
By doing So You Think You Can Dance, I learned a speedy yet innovative and instinctual way to design. Since we don’t have much time and the show is live, there really is not much room for mistakes. It’s trial and error as you’re going along; so making sure you’ve got the right fabrications, durability and movement, plus making sure I can bring something to life that is literally coming from a roll of fabric that also lets the dancers feel and execute their choreography. I have to take all those things into account as a designer — and quickly because of time constraints!
With reality television, I feel like most people don’t understand that for us to be able to create these shows — coming up with 60 to 90 costumes in literally four days — is a miracle. People are shocked that it’s not a year turnaround prep period before we go into the next season.
It’s been a huge support for me to be able to do the previous shows that I’ve done in order to execute The Masked Singer.
Spencer: Alright I can hardly wait, let’s talk about The Masked Singer. What were your thoughts when you first found out about this rather unique project?
Marina: I loved it. Funny story — I kept missing the original emails to see if I would be interested in the project, so it took two months for the executives to get a hold of me! Finally, we were able to discuss the show and they sent me the original reels from South Korea. Right away, I thought it was the wackiest thing I have ever seen and I was hooked. It was everything I’ve ever done in my design ability and experience, so I saw it as just one more challenge. I asked myself: how do I make it work for this type of stage (meaning TV), and how do I turn all these concepts that I’ve done from tours or different music videos, and my experience with these, forward to a grander scale.
It was great to have the experience of the first season to lead the creative aspect of the show. Since we were still figuring things out in the first season, I got a lot of creative freedom to develop the characters, and understand how it was going to work, as well as team up with incredible fabricators. For the past four seasons, I have been able to work with people and learn techniques of costume design or fashion I never even knew existed. The blessing of doing the show is now being able to be so well adapted and aware of different techniques of creating fabrics, textures, using 3D printing, fabricating, and working with animatronics. I never in a million years thought that I would know anything and everything about carving foam and how to sculpt a mask!
Spencer: I am exhausted just thinking about how complex these costumes probably are to construct. Not only do they have to have that signature “Masked Singer” look, but they also have to be functional for the performer inside. In my research, I read that there are different types of tech built in the inside of the costumes, such as fans? I guess that should have been pretty obvious but the audience might not realize how much work goes into these costumes! Care to elaborate?
Marina: We are creating works of art. Even to this day, my mom watches the show and she says, “Oh, that’s so pretty!” And I’m like pretty? That took six weeks of carving!
It’s amazing to me that the viewers are catching glimpses of important aspects that go into these costumes. People are starting to pay attention to the details — the beading or the fabrics that we use — and that is incredible.
The process is also incredible. We learn every single season and I get lucky enough to bring people on board and explore new ideas. In the season that we’re building right now, I’m actually learning a lot about 3D printing and new ways of creating masks, plus looking for new forms of textures and fabrication that we can build our masks with. Especially with COVID-19, we are creating health-safety environments for our costumes. It’s pretty phenomenal.
Spencer: What goes into coming up with some of these characters? Some of them are fun and quirky like The Taco, but then you have some characters that feel completely original like The Night Angel.
Marina: The big thing for me is that I love for every character to have their own story, feeling, and even give the audience an opportunity to create their own persona. The Banana is a runway type of modern fashion versus The White Tiger that looks like a historical Egyptian God — but, I like to go a step further by really focusing on the storytelling. Once there’s a concept for a certain costume, I start breaking down the character. I don’t want to just have another costume on stage, so we do the research and I spend my time thinking about what could this character represent? Where can I get those fabrics? How can we bring this character to this new modern world? I brainstorm all these ideas with my team and then I start doing the artwork. After this, the network gets involved and we start choosing which costumes we would like to see in the following season. Then it’s chaos!
Spencer: I love talking about this idea of storytelling through costume, Last season you brought back a monster costume that was related to another costume. So there you’re already creating a story.
Marina: I think what is so great with The Masked Singer is that we have fun. It’s a show where there really are no rules. There are perimeters that we have to stick with, but creatively, it’s those ideas that get thrown around and if it’s something we all love and there’s a way to create it and to follow through with certain characters, then we are doing it. I’m so happy that I’m in a position with a network that I work so closely with that I can present those ideas and we can make them come to life.
There is so much that goes into this storytelling that I love to just have that fantasy world where there are no rules. I’m not limited to just one-dimensional characters and that’s what makes the show so fun! For example, The Night Angel, I didn’t want to do a traditional angel so we gave it a twist, which was very much fashion-inspired. With Night Angel, some things made sense, and other things I liked were so wacky, we left it up to interpretation and for the audience to create their own storylines for that character. Same thing for season two’s The Thingamajig — people thought it was an asparagus and we were going along with it. I love it! It’s incredible too because so many kids watch the show, and I get a lot of fan mail with beautiful designs and illustrations from these young kids. I pay so much attention to that — I even have some of the sketches on my fridge! These messages from fans make me think of amazing ideas that maybe I have not thought about and that we should do. Which we have done!
Spencer: That’s what makes this project so fun, though. It’s just so creative!
Marina: I wish for more sleep every day, but we are having so much fun and it is incredible! Even people like you get to really appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into the show. It makes it so worth it for us because it is very, very difficult. I’m so particular about fabrics. We had to do Kitty for season three, but I didn’t want to build the costume until I got the right color of feathers. It was trial and error and getting the right weight of feathers plus figuring out the right fabrication, beading, and color of the pearls… All of these little things matter so much. Until it all comes together for me, I won’t consider a costume finished. All the elements matter so much, which is why it’s so incredible that the fan base has really acknowledged that part of the show.
Spencer: Funny enough. My next question was actually going to be about textiles, You must understand that the nerd inside me just wants to feel these costumes! I’d venture to say textiles play a huge role in creating these costumes?
Marina: On all my shows and all of my projects, including tours and performances, I fabric shop myself. I will always go and make sure I’m present through all the fabric research. I love mixing textures. I love the upholstery fabrics. I love modern fabrics. I love creating our own textures now that we have that kind of freedom. I print my own prints if I can’t find the things that I’m looking for. As far as a building process from the ground up, I’m very much involved. Being able to feel material and understand how I can make that character come to life is so important to me because it’s almost like if I skip that first step of research or seeing what’s available or what resources we’re working with, I feel like I can never move forward and tell my team how to construct. Because then I won’t really fully understand the character or what things I’m looking for to achieve.
Spencer: So season four was just announced the other day. I saw that there’s going to be a crocodile, broccoli, and even a dragon which you know I am a huge dragon fan. I’m stoked. Can you tell us a little bit about what to expect?
Marina: For season four, I feel like we pushed things to the limit. I think I definitely used COVID-19 to my creative advantage by trying to figure out how to create outside-the-box and bring something to the audience that is bigger and better, while also being more uplifting and positive. We had to think about how to create the show in a positive way, especially since we are doing this during these times and facing so many obstacles as a department. I literally put so much creativity and more whimsical touches to the costumes and uplifting color and textures. Overall, we tried to figure out a way to bring something back to the TV world that is bigger, better, and brighter. There are also going to be a few surprises that I don’t want to reveal!
Spencer: I think it’s great for the audience reading this that even you, an accomplished Emmy award-winning costume designer that has worked on so many incredible projects, is constantly learning as you go along. As creatives, we never stop learning, especially when it comes to costume design.
Marina: Every day that I’m with the sewing team or pattern makers, I literally sit over machines and try to figure out what they are doing. Every single part of it! You know, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I really had a moment where I realized there is no difference in construction between fashion and costume. You look at something that you’re inspired by, you lay it out on the pattern table and you go through the exact same fashion process. The craftsmanship behind it is identical. The second I stop learning, I am almost ready to retire. Then there is nothing — to stop learning is almost like you stop growing and you stop being passionate about your art. So, every day I’m learning new ways how to cut fabric, how to treat materials, and watching my incredible team figuring this stuff out with me when we have two hours to finish a costume. It’s pretty incredible!
Spencer: Finally, one of my colleagues at The Art of Costume raised this question and I thought it was such fun! If you were to perform on The Masked Singer, do you have an idea of what your costume character would look like?
Marina: Wow, that’s amazing. Wow.
Spencer: That’s probably a tough question.
Marina: I would be an hourglass because I had lived my whole life on these deadlines and time pressures that every little piece of sand matters.
Spencer: You know, so many people would relate to that.
Marina: It’s the first thing that came to mind, I love all the theatrics. I think if I could, I would figure out how to constantly flip myself back and forth to make things happen. Yes, probably an hour-glass, that’s kind of cool.
Spencer: That’s so cool. I’m obsessed with this idea.
Marina: Now, I don’t know how I could get a person in there. But it would be incredible to flip somebody upside down. Yeah. That’s an incredible question. I never thought about that!
Spencer: Marina, it was so nice getting to catch up with you! I feel like I have learned so much from this! Getting a look at how these costumes are brought to life, such a learning moment. Congratulations on all of the success. I can’t wait to see what’s next and wishing you the best at this year’s Emmys!
Marina: It means so much to me. For example, after season two when The Ladybug was on the show, I got so many letters from fashion students being so inspired in the research that they are doing and understanding how we are crafting these costumes and making them. I then remembered when I was a student how those are the things I was doing — I was reaching out to my favorite designers and learning, watching, and trying to understand. It’s so cool to me to see what the students are picking up on from what we are producing. People are literally looking at the craftsmanship behind the scenes and the design aspect. That to me is the biggest gift. It feels like the biggest honor. Thank you so much, Spencer!
At the height of Emmy Nominations excitement, I had the incredible privilege of meeting costume designer, Natalie Bronfman. Natalie Bronfman serves as costume designer for one of my favorite television shows, The Handmaid’s Tale. The Handmaid’s Tale is an amazing show. The story is riveting, powerful and keeps the world coming back for more every season. But what I really love about this show, is the costume design. There are not many shows out there that utilize the powers of costume design to such extent like The Handmaid’s Tale. Color, silhouette, detail, tonality, character development and symbolism are all sewn within the lining of each and every costume present on this show. On Tuesday, July 28th 2020, Natalie was nominated for her third Emmy award in Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes category for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale.
Spencer: Hi Natalie, it’s so nice to virtually meet you! I know it’s such an eye-roll question nowadays but how have you been?
Natalie: Hi! It’s nice to meet you as well. I’ve been quite well and been lucky enough to avoid the COVID virus, as well as all of those around me. I have absolutely nothing to complain about, except maybe that I really want to get back to work because I’m running out of renovation projects!
Spencer: I hear you there! I am glad you and your family are doing okay. Well, better than okay as just yesterday we learned of some incredible news, you were nominated for your third Emmy in the Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes category! Congratulations! What does this nomination mean to you?!
Natalie: Yes, this is incredibly, my third nomination! When I found out, I was completely gob-smacked! It’s such an incredible honor to be nominated by your peers, for your work. Having said that however, it does take a village to put together a show. I have the most incredible hard-working talented artisans under my umbrella, without whom, this incredible season would not have looked as fantastic as it did… The show was incredible to work on, with the most amazing production and writing team who spun the scariest near-realistic stories ever. I am still at a loss for words. It’s humbling. It was such a pleasure to work with Warren Littlefield, Bruce Miller, & Elisabeth Moss.
Spencer: It’s such an incredible achievement, we are so happy for you! My first question I always love to ask my guests is how you came into your life as a costume designer, and how did you end up taking on a role on The Handmaid’s Tale?
Natalie: I originally wanted to be an opera singer, but I realized it wasn’t really my forte, so I tried to find a way to stay in the theatre world and not sing. I already had a background in fine art and clothing construction from a very young age, so naturally a progression into costume design was second nature.
I took over as a designer in the third season, having been a supervisor for the first two seasons. So that seems like a natural fit since I had been there from the beginning and I understood all the parameters of what it was to be in the world of Gilead on The Handmaid’s Tale. I am forever thankful to Warren Littlefield, Bruce Miller, and Elizabeth Moss for letting me have a stab at the design for season three! It was an incredible experience and I learned a lot about myself.
Spencer: For the first two seasons of the show you served as the costume supervisor. Now for season 3 you have taken on the role of designer. For those looking at a career in costume design, what do these different titles mean in terms of responsibilities?
Natalie: Actually, in the first two seasons, I served as supervisor AND assistant designer. We didn’t have a formal assistant designer because the show was small enough — in terms of number of costumes — that I could handle it and do both jobs.
I think the biggest difference between supervising and assistant designing is that the supervisor is sort of the CFO of the department. They handle all the money, all the HR, all the ordering of supplies, product, scheduling, and just making sure that the work gets done to be ready for the proper time. Assistant designing is helping the designer in any which way that they need. That could mean going to set to make sure the background is being dressed correctly, or filling in for the designer on set when she’s not available, assisting with fittings, attending meetings, keeping on top of the designer to not forget anything in terms of schedule. It’s sort of a second set of hands, but they typically don’t really have a whole lot to say about the design itself. The Costume Designer, in essence, is in charge of the whole look of what the clothing shall be for the development of the various characters. That involves research, doing fittings, drawings, conceptual meetings with writers, producers, directors; and so, in essence, it is the entire creative conceptual aspect of the department. They are responsible for conveying the story through clothing and all that that entails.
Spencer: Wow, so I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to The Handmaid’s Tale, you have done it all! I’m interested to know what your initial reaction was when you received The Handmaid’s Tale script?
Natalie: Well, the funny thing is, every time I handed out a script in the office, all the work stopped because everyone was just so eager to read them. I was the same, but I couldn’t do it during the day. I had to go home at night and read the manuscript. It became so hard for everyone not to read them as soon as we got them, so then I had to hand them out at the end of the day instead. It’s kind of a funny anecdote and a testament to the amazing writing!
Spencer: I mean how can you not read the script! I would feel the same way (Laughs). Sounds like you made the right choice. So you’ve been on the show since the very beginning – how has your connection to the costumes and story evolved over the years?
Natalie: My connection to the costumes is quite strong, for lack of a better word. The wonderful thing about the third season is that we ended up landing in a new city where there were slightly different rules of dress. I did a lot of research on pious communities of all religions and their rules for dressing and why. Then, I delved into the psychology of the individual characters to figure out how that could be translated in articles of clothing. Particularly, with Eleanor, the Winslow’s, and Serena’s trajectory and costume arc throughout the series. There’s also quite a lot of symbolism in the modern-day clothing of the various refugees that we had in the series as well, that would be Moira, Emily, and Luke.
Spencer: You spoke a little about research which is what I wanted to ask you about next. Research plays such an important role in costume design, so what type of research does this show entail? The thing that makes this show so horrific sometimes is that I can imagine a lot of inspiration probably comes from just turning on the news at some point.
Natalie: Actually, I did not have to even turn the TV on to pull any symbolism from it because all the symbolism has been around before. Women have been covered up since ancient Greek times, in various cycles of dress and undress in terms of covering their bodies and their hair and their faces. My inspiration often comes from oil paintings, literature, historical stories I’ve read, archeology, sculpture, and just a human existence on this planet in its various cycles.
Everything on camera we have seen before somehow somewhere in some timeframe on the planet. Various communities have been trying to dominate women for a very long time. It always goes in cycles of submission and then a backlash, where they will not do it anymore.
Spencer: That’s such an interesting point, and really puts the costumes into perspective. Something that really fascinates me about costume design, is its ability to tell stories and drive character development. You can see this through multiple characters- Aunt Lydia and her back-story, Commander Lawrence and his fancy scarves, Emily and her transition from Gilead life- I can go on forever. Do you have a favorite instance of storytelling or character development through costume in the show?
Natalie: Good gosh, there are so many! With Aunt Lydia, we see her very last outfit in civilian clothing in the back story, in very similar military-esque colours in her clothing. It was an olive drab green, sort of an army uniform of sorts, which was a clear indication that she was going to become someone in a type of army in Gilead, later on. Commander Lawrence for example, was a very learned man, full of arts and culture and literature, and sort of a mad genius who helped create this world. In theory, the world would’ve worked, but then when he saw its actual effect on the communities, especially his wife Eleanor, he realized what a shameful thing he had done. So, in his character he is forever grappling with that shame of having caused this monstrous society and then trying to also be the romantic that he was. He is sort of a Byronic character. Fatalistic.
I think my favorite instance is Serena Joy. Her character arc goes from being very down and depressed, to becoming stronger to get her child back, to being duplicitous with Fred, to thinking she is victorious, to being locked up for her crimes. There is an amazing play on clothing and tailoring and colour and tonality. Even in her modern-day clothing. It was a lot of fun to explore that.
Spencer: Ugh, yes Serena is such a great example. The Handmaid’s Tale is a masterclass example when it comes to the use of color. There is so much symbolism and the costume design plays a vital role there… Can you tell me about the use of color in this show and why it’s important to you?
Natalie: Every colour has a meaning, a symbolism worldwide. When we look at something, it is the very first thing we register in our senses. Colours evoke emotion instantaneously. From fiery reds to dark navys. Everything has a meaning and assemble. From across the room you can see where everyone comes from or belongs to in a particular society. The interesting thing about this show was having to think a little outside the box with very strict parameters, which was an incredibly interesting way to work.
As a silly example, you can recognize the FedEx guy from across the street just from his colours and symbols on his person.
Spencer: Speaking of strict parameters, because of Gilead’s very strict way of life, do you ever feel restricted when it comes to navigating the costume journey?
Natalie: No actually, not at all. It’s just a way of rethinking the obvious and rejigging it for the characters to convey the storyline. I had to get very inventive which is interesting because I absolutely love taking objects of regular use and giving them a whole new meaning or usefulness.
Spencer: I wanted to talk to you about the masks the Handmaids are wearing in season 3. June makes a shocking discovery, realizing the Handmaids of the D.C area have their mouths shut using three metal rings in a vow to silence. These rings are further covered with a red mask that goes just under our nose. I imagine the process of researching and developing a project such as the Handmaid’s mask must be pretty powerful work?
Natalie: It was very powerful work. It was a lot of tightrope walking so as not to offend anyone in particular. I did a lot of research of all the major religions in our world including all the historical imagery and reasoning that went along with it. We had also a lot to think about in terms of not completely covering up the actors so that they could still emote for camera.
I played a lot with objects that normally didn’t go together. For example, the handmaid’s veils were made of a relatively light fabric, but were closed off in the back with big substantial fur-coat hooks. These hooks also not only looked over the top, in terms of the locking mechanism, but it also actually had acoustics to it that really slammed home the idea that the girls were locked down and could not speak anymore.
Spencer: Even just talking about the masks with you is rather chilling. Then to make things more complicated – the cast still needs to act with the mask on. Can you tell me about the technical aspects to the mask that made this possible?
Natalie: Well, I stopped the masks for the Handmaids just below the nose because one can be quite expressive with your nose as well as your eyes. For example, when you flare your nostrils that can indicate that you’re either apprehensive or angry, so that gave them one more thing to be able to emote with. The aunts, for example, had the underpinnings of a nun’s wimple. This sort of indicated that even though they were religious, they were frauds so they never got the entire wimple. They did not have their mouth closed off because they were the ones barking orders to keep the girls in line so it would have been contraindicated to do so. The other factions were more of a utilitarian base. The Marthas would cover up unraveling their headscarves a bit, and the Econo women would just simply pull up that utilitarian cowl neck collar that would cover their faces. The Commander Wives on the other hand, had merely a suggestion of veiling as to comply with the rules of the society, but they were above the rules so they’re veiling was very light and airy and nearly invisible.
Spencer: Natalie it has been such a pleasure speaking with you. I truly appreciate you and your work. Such exemplary dedication to detail and I really feel like I learned so much just from speaking with you during this short time. I am so excited to see what you do next!
Natalie: Thanks, it was lovely speaking with you. The devil is always in the details! Everything that you’ll find in the show in season three, from buttons, types of laces, types of hooks, color, shape, and textures, have all been thoroughly thought through and actually do have a symbolic meaning. I have a few new projects in the works and I’ll be happy to share them with everyone soon. Thank you so much.
Spencer: Well you will always have a place here to share your art with us. Looking forward to the next time!