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

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

Sofia Pantuovaki photo by Frank A. Unger

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


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

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

Csilla: So, you created your own program there?

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

CsIlla: And then how did your career continue?

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

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

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

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

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

A glimpse into Sofia’s extensive work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance Costume: New Perspectives and Methods p. 495

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

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

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

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

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

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

Csilla: Congratulations again for making this amazing book possible!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Performance Costume: New Perspectives and Methods

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

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

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

Costuming The Dystopian World of See – An Interview with Natalie Bronfman

Natalie Bronfman is an Emmy-nominated costume designer, known for her incredible work on The Handmaid’s Tale. I got to meet Natalie back in 2020, for what would become our first official interview at The Art of Costume. Now, I am lucky to be able to catch up with Natalie once again to talk about her work on the incredible Apple TV+ show, See, starring Jason Momoa, Alfre Woodard, and Dave Bautista. Natalie was costume designer for season two of See, a season full of excellent costuming, armor, textiles, weddings, and war.

See – Season 2, Apple TV+

Spencer: Natalie! It is so good to hear from you again! It’s been a little while since we first met and talked about your work on The Handmaid’s Tale. How has life been treating you since? 

Natalie: Life has been so amazing and full of creativity. I couldn’t ask for more at the moment. Well, COVID could go away…

Spencer: That is great to hear! But yes, I am so with you. So we are going from The Handmaid’s Tale to See. One dystopian world to the next! It sounds like a natural transition, yet they are two very different shows! What was the transition like for you as you took on the second season of See?

Natalie: The transition wasn’t too complicated once I actually got into the flavor of the show. It was a completely different box to think outside of from the show before. Whereas I had a very tight box to stay within on Handmaid’s Tale, on SEE, I had to think outside of the box completely. I had to start thinking with my other senses as opposed to with only my eyes. That made for a very interesting design challenge and was extremely fulfilling because I realized you could do it.

See – Season 2, Apple TV+

Spencer: The show is set in the future, yet its costumes sometimes resemble something of the past. Because of the nature of this show, I am curious to know what sort of research you did and what influences you took in as you were starting?

Natalie: The research for this show was actually really interesting because I am very much a history buff. I pulled from every single era throughout mankind and pieced together the show’s look. It had quite a significant Asian influence, and I melted that with Iron Age, the Renaissance, Ancient Rome, Medieval Middle East, etc.

Spencer: That’s incredible. I love the idea that this is set in the future yet you are looking at Ancient Rome influences. Costume design plays a massive role in this show! Those who survived the deadly virus that decimated humankind emerged blind. How does the story of this show interact with the costumes? 

Natalie: To tell the story through costumes, we have to think what it would be like not to be able to see the costumes – so what are you left with? Well, you can hear things, smell things, feel things and possibly even taste them. We added a lot of elements that were auditory or olfactory such as little bells or metal chains on clothing.

See – Season 2, Apple TV+

For the army, we decorated one of the boots with cymbals which would indicate and demarcate the step of the army. The other army had ball bearings in a little tube on the back of the other foot. That way, when fighting, they could hear which side it was that was approaching, for example. Another example would be when the queen entered the room; she would jingle rings or have actual sound things on her clothing itself, just as did some of the others.

Spencer: It’s such a unique show, and certainly a unique costume design challenge. Being a costume nerd, the first thing I noticed about your brilliant work was the use of textiles and fabrics. How important are the textiles and fabrics in the overall storytelling of the show!

Natalie: Thank you for the compliment! I often would take fabrics when I got them and change them to become richer or more layered. We did a lot of wool felting and embellishing using found objects, which added another layer of texture to each and every garment. Particularly of the royal house.

See – Season 2, Apple TV+

Spencer: Ha! We could talk about fabrics forever! But, many people reading this will probably be mad at me if I don’t ask about working with the dreamy Jason Momoa, who plays the lead character, Baba Voss. Do you collaborate with Jason when it comes to designing the costumes?

Natalie: Yes, we did collaborate in terms of what the taste in style was. He is a very big fan of Japanese culture and style, as am I, and it seemed it was a perfect symbiosis of ideas meeting. He had always wanted to dress up as a samurai, and I always wanted to build a Samurai’s armor. So, you could say it was a match made in heaven in terms of working together.

See – Season 2, Apple TV+

Spencer: All of his costumes are great, truly. There are a lot of characters and tribes in this show. That is a lot of costuming! How many costumes do you think pass through your doors?

Natalie: Gosh, I don’t know off the top of my head! I would say a good 7000 to 8000 costumes. We had so many armies and tribes and so many luxe and multiples to make for each waring sequence – that figure is probably very close to what it is. Before COVID, we had days where we had a 900 background per day for short students, and each and every one of them was individual. It was a great deal of costumes!

Spencer: Just…woah! That is a lot and I am exhausted for you. In the eighth episode, Baba and Edo (played by Dave Bautista) lead their armies into an epic battle that builds to an intense face-off between the brothers. Talk to me about this samurai-like armor Baba wears?

Natalie: Baba’s Armor! It was a lot of fun to create. I had purchased an antique Japanese chest plate that had the little checkerboard pattern in it. When Jason came for his fitting, we talked about it, and we decided that that would become a pattern that he would have on his armor as well. That was achieved by doing a checkerboard of wax, and so the two colours became very subtle, but it was just an extra detail that we knew was on there. Jason‘s favourite colour is pink and mauve, so we created his armour in a very soft dusty pink that had gilding and slight touches of Crimson red in some of the details. He looks so amazing in it and so very powerful. It was just wonderful.

See – Season 2, Apple TV+

Spencer: I am obsessed with the armor. It was made for Jason, it’s so fitting. I LOVED the wedding costumes seen in episode four. There was just something so hauntingly beautiful about the colors you used. I would love to hear your concept behind this scene.

Natalie: I think building the wedding was one of my favourite scenes. Queen Kane’s wedding coat was just a dream to build. It was sort of a mashup of Erte, Fortuny, and Leon Bakst. They are some of my all-time favourite designers, and I have never been able to apply their influence in any costume before, so I thought I would do that there. The coat itself is silk velvet, and it had layers of bejeweled patches made up of diodes in radio parts and hand-stitched beading, and we applied that there for her because it was shot outside. In the back, there were long chains that would drag behind her.

See – Season 2, Apple TV+

The bride and groom had floral coats on, hers being all flowers that symbolized faithfulness and happiness and innocence and fruitfulness, and his was made of a coat of ferns, which I was trying to use as the symbol of the spores underneath the leaves of ferns as the seed of men. The rest of the nobility wore very layered pieces, as well and some of the ladies had rusty old hoop skirts on top of their clothing because that would be something that would be quite precious and something that did not disintegrate in those 600 years. They wouldn’t have known to wear them under, so they would wear them on top.

Spencer: Speaking of the Queen… Queen Kane is one of my favorite characters due in part to her exquisite costuming. I would love to hear about the influences behind her costumes?

Natalie: Oh, she has all sorts of influences; I don’t even know where to begin. I believe she had 26 to 30 costumes in season two. She was one of my favourite characters to design for because we could go very much outside the box with her. Sylvia was also very much game to try things that were unusual, which was such an incredible delight. She was amazing to work with.

See – Season 2, Apple TV+

Her costumes, specifically style-wise, aren’t influenced by one particular thing, except for maybe the color. I’ve started saturating her clothing with a dark red to indicate her blood lust. And at the very end, when she lies in her nightgown on the bed, the colour is sort what it would look like if you were to wash the blood out of a silk dress. This symbolizes that the blood lust is still there, but her power has been diminished.

Spencer: Natalie, thank you so much for joining me! This has been wonderful. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you! Looking forward to our next conversation!

Natalie: Thank you for having me again, and it was a pleasure as always.


Season 2 of See is now available on Apple Tv+

Costuming Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson for Netflix’s ‘The Lost Daughter’: An Interview with Costume Designer Edward K. Gibbon

The Lost Daughter is a brilliant new film, starring Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson. This thrilling drama directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal brings the audience on a memorable ride, heightened by award-worthy costumes. The Lost Daughter costumes were designed by Edward K. Gibbon, a talented costume designer known for his work on Skins, The Honorable Woman, Black Mirror, The Luminaries, and The Sound of Music Live. I fell in love with this film likely due in part to Olivia Colman’s entire wardrobe and the role these costumes played in the storytelling. I was honored with the opportunity to speak with Edward about his career and The Lost Daughter costumes!


Spencer: Edward, thank you so much for joining me! I’ve been so excited to talk to you. This is our first interview, which means I am dying to dive into your background as a costume designer. You have quite an accomplished portfolio. Did you always know you would end up being a costume designer? 

Edward: No, not at all. It took me a long time to work out what I wanted to do when I grew up. When I was a kid, I didn’t even know what a costume designer was. I went to a very traditional low-rent, British public school that didn’t really encourage anything artistic. I started off working in the theater because I had vague ambitions. Then I thought maybe I could be an actor, but the only access I had to start was working the door in a theater. I thought perhaps I’d somehow get into acting this way. So…that didn’t work! 

THE LOST DAUGHTER. OLIVIA COLMAN as LEDA. CR: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

I’ve always loved clothes. I then went to Manchester University in England. I did a general clothing studies course that I thought would be more fashion-oriented without having to have the artistic prerequisites. It was more of a training to work in a factory. I switched to another design course, and I specialized in graphics. I went into graphic design, but I had always made clothes for myself and other people. This led me to start up a little fashion label in Manchester back in the day when you could have a cheap studio. 

Slowly from there, I got into working in theater. In the back of my head, I started to realize I maybe wanted to be a costume designer. In the meantime, I retrained as a tailor. I did that for opera companies for a while. Finally, I got a chance to assist a designer, and it all came into focus. I realized that maybe this was a proper career, and I could do it. I then got a brilliant offer to work on a show called Skins. They took a real pardon on me. I hadn’t got any experience designing on my own. It was the perfect job for me. The show was so brilliant and groundbreaking, and it didn’t matter to them that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing half the time. It was great. 

Spencer: *laughs* Yet, it turned out to be such a fantastic show!

Edward: Yeah, it was incredible, wasn’t it? It was so inspiring on all levels, between the writing and the acting. It was a real group effort between everyone involved, and there were no rules. Skins helped me realize what I could do as well. It came with that boost. Then everything else started weirdly falling into place and has always been interesting. I think that’s what I try to hold on to; I treat each of my projects the same way. Because I don’t have a background in design or costume history… yet I love costumes and clothes, so I try to bring something a bit more fresh with pure gratitude to every project. 

THE LOST DAUGHTER. JESSIE BUCKLEY as YOUNG LEDA. CR: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Spencer: Your background offers a unique perspective! It’s so funny; in many of these interviews I have done, most costume designers say they didn’t realize costume design was a job. They end up in the theater, and I often hear graphic design as a path. There is a thread here!

Edward: Yeah, I know. I often find it quite funny when you meet younger people, and they have this entire route of how they’re going to do things, which is excellent. It’s brilliant. But it kind of amazes me; I wonder how you could be so cued up. Looking back with hindsight, everything I did leading up to now… I don’t think I’d be where I am without all of those moments.

Spencer: Right, I know exactly what you mean. Now let’s talk about the subject at hand, The Lost Daughter, starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. It’s such a great film, and I consider myself quite the Olivia Colman nerd. So naturally, I was excited to watch this. Before we get into the main character, Leda, let’s talk about filming in Athens, Greece! I hear you sourced many of the costumes from the islands?

Edward: Yeah, it was mad because this took place in the middle of the pandemic. Maggie offered me the job literally the week before the pandemic started. No one knew what was happening. Originally it was going to be shot in New Jersey. Things went quiet for a bit, and I thought maybe the film wouldn’t happen. Then suddenly, Maggie was like, “do you want to come to Greece?” Well, yeah! I had been locked in my house for four months by that time. 

THE LOST DAUGHTER. DAKOTA JOHNSON as NINA. CR: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

We did the prep in Athens. I did about two and a half weeks of shopping. Luckily the stores had just reopened. They were really good in Greece with masks; we were being tested all the time. I had a brilliant assistant, Alkisti Mamali. We just hit the shops like crazy for two and a half weeks, getting everything we could together.

We filmed on an island called Spetses, which is incredibly beautiful, about two hours away from Athens. Everything got packed up and we brought a seamstress with us for another week and a half on the island until we shot. We were also fortunate to have quite a few Greek and international designers gifting us things, especially for Olivia and Dakota. It was a mixture of all that, plus we made a lot. 

Spencer: It was a mixture between sourcing and creation.

Edward: Yeah, and I always try to do that. I think it’s because I come from a certain creation background that I love even back in the day on Skins. Making pieces will always give you a uniqueness to the project. Maggie was very into the idea of it being slightly timeless and iconic. It’s got a look.

Spencer: Well, it’s interesting you said that because I felt like the film had a look. I’ve done a lot of these interviews now, but this film was a little bit harder for me to crack, costume-wise. I was trying to figure out the story you were telling with the costumes. 

It’s not really on the nose, but what I thought you did with Olivia’s character was quite brilliant. The film has a dark, haunting tone at times, but I felt like the costumes felt hopeful and optimistic. You could tell that her character is kind of holding herself back a little bit. Something was holding her down as the story moved along, though you kind of see little moments of liberation in her costume. I don’t know if that is how you envisioned it, so I am interested to hear your thoughts?

THE LOST DAUGHTER: OLIVIA COLMAN as LEDA. CR: YANNIS DRAKOULIDIS/NETFLIX © 2021

Edward: I think that’s brilliant, Spencer. You’ve really kind of nailed it in a way. I believe that the whole thing with Leda was really interesting when Maggie cast Olivia. Because when you read the character, she’s very kind of elegant and very sophisticated, which Olivia is totally. But I think Olivia also brought more humor to the character. The aim was to present a woman with a certain elegance and a certain; she knew what she looked good in. It was, as you say, slightly controlled, slightly limited. She was dressing to appear in a certain way which was this way of a professional, middle-aged academic with style.

Because we had the opportunity of the flashbacks, we see Leda when she was younger. She was slightly less put together and more thrown together. So throughout the film, you see that constant change in her. Then the story goes on. This is not a story about someone going crazy, but it’s someone letting things come up from below or beneath the surface. We introduce more color and a bit more shape as Leda moves throughout this story.

Spencer: It’s all coming together. By the way,  I just have to take a moment to say, Leda’s sunglasses game was incredible.

Edward: Oh, they are cool, aren’t they! *laughs*

Spencer: Yes, they were showstoppers! Are they hers? *laughs*

Edward: They are now. *laughs* Most of what she’s wearing is hers now. She loved it! The main ones she wears are vintage Celine that we found in a brilliant store in Athens. So we were so lucky. 

Spencer: It felt like a real iconic fashion moment. Did Olivia have a collaborative hand in this process?

THE LOST DAUGHTER: OLIVIA COLMAN as LEDA. CR: YANNIS DRAKOULIDIS/NETFLIX © 2021.

Edward: Yes, it was really lovely, and that’s a really important part for me. Part of my job is to make the actor feel comfortable and to feel supported. That collaboration on all levels with directors, the writers, and the actors. It’s really important for me to help understand the character and more of what they know about it. This was also really important for Maggie. I’d worked with Maggie previously on The Honorable Woman; therefore, her perception of the craft and the process is very different because she’s been on the other side of the camera.

So sometimes she’d just be like, you know, I don’t mind what they wear as long as they’re comfortable, as long as they like it. This was interesting because it’s always part of my approach anyway.

Spencer: That’s a lot of freedom, actually!

Edward: Yeah, I know! *laughs* And it’s not always like that. There were moments when she’d be like, “well, maybe…” that was part of the fun.

Spencer: I love that! I noticed immediately, though, as soon as Dakota Johnson’s character came on screen, the stark contrast between Leda and Nina. I’m going to guess that this was intentional. What story were you telling with Nina compared to Olivia Colman’s character? 

Edward: I think you’re right. I think it is that complete contrast. There is always that challenge in costuming, designing each person’s unique looks, as well as those contrast and differences. You don’t get very long on screen. It has to be quite immediate, and then you just get on with the story. 

THE LOST DAUGHTER: DAKOTA JOHNSON as NINA. CR: NETFLIX © 2021

So like you said, that was totally deliberate. You see Olivia, and she’s very elegant. She’s neutral, tonal, and covered up even on the beach. Then suddenly, Dakota shows up in these crazy, high-cut swimsuits, clinging gold jewelry and covered in tattoos. Immediately, there are assumptions that you make, and that was Maggie’s other thing; there is always a fine line, to never be judgmental. So we were trying not to be judgmental, but at the same time, give little hints to the character.

Spencer: That’s a good point too. You had to make every costume count, as there were only so many characters. I loved watching Leda’s journey throughout the story because I felt like I was right there with her as she was going through this emotional journey. One of my favorite moments was when she broke out of her usual palette into that reddish pink dress singing “Livin’ on a Prayer”, totally different than anything we saw throughout the rest of the film.

Edward: So brilliant, wasn’t it? I’m so happy. It was one of those things that I never thought everyone would go with. Part of the job is knowing when to stop designing. I had this brilliant image way back of Miuccia Prada wearing this pink dress, taking her bows at the end of a show, and she had this brilliant pink dress on, and it somehow became a reference for me. 

We found this dress in a store in Athens, and it’s actually Max Mara. I don’t think I bought it initially, but I kept thinking about it. I just had to have that dress. Olivia could have just laughed, and I showed it to her, but she sort of didn’t, and Maggie didn’t either. We didn’t know what point in the story we could pitch it. But then it came, and that moment was the moment that she does suddenly break free.

THE LOST DAUGHTER. (L-R) OLIVIA COLMAN as LEDA, ED HARRIS as LYLE. CR: YANNIS DRAKOULIDIS/NETFLIX © 2021

The other hilarious thing about the dancing scene is I’m in the bloody dancing scene. 

Spencer: Wait, what? Are you really? *laughs*

Edward: Oh, yes, don’t look! You’ll see my terrible dad dancing. We were on an island, and because of the pandemic, we had to have a small pool of people who could be in the background and get close to the actors. I ended up literally dancing for about eight hours. 

Spencer: That would be my next question; how long did you have to dance?

Edward: *laughs* Hours and hours! Key hairstylist Daniel Babek and I were doing just mental dancing for hours. To begin with, Maggie loved it! Then she was like, okay, can you just calm down a little bit?

Spencer: This is probably one of my favorite stories I’ve heard all week! Thank you for that. I’m going to go back and watch it now. So I wanted to end with the last shot of the film. I thought this was so interesting. Leda is lying in the waves, wearing a white dress. It’s pretty transparent and covered in her blood, which was a great contrast against the white. I couldn’t help but feel like there was some sort of symbolic nature to this costume that felt similar to a Grecian Statue? I was just captivated by this moment.

Edward: It came about on lots of levels. Initially, it was just my thought that we would see the scene go from night to day. I felt that a white dress would be really beautiful and glowing. As she got wet, I thought it would look incredible as well. The whole white dress thing became a bit symbolic. She wore a white dress when she was first seen on the beach. When young Leda returns to her kids, she brings them white dresses. Then, later on we see Nina’s kid wearing a white dress in the toy store. Even when Leda buys new clothes for the doll, it is wearing a white dress which I actually made.

THE LOST DAUGHTER: OLIVIA COLMAN as LEDA. CNETFLIX © 2021.

Spencer: I figured so; I was going to ask you about the doll!

Edward: Yeah, the doll has a little white collar on her dress, the same fabric. There is a little bit of a reference to the poem that the young lady recites in Italian at the dinner party, later referring to the Greek myth of the woman with the Swan. When we did some tests on the fabric while it was wet, it kind of had this lovely draped effect, almost like a Greek statue. That all felt right. 

Spencer: That was one of my favorite moments. It was effortlessly executed! 

Edward: It just felt so pure, and with the blood, it was amazing. 

Spencer: This is why I love this field so much. I love how you took every moment and made the most of it. The Lost Daughter was an example of peak storytelling through costume design. You took every moment, and you made the most of it. 

So now that we are best friends, what can we see you doing coming up in the future? I’m excited to hear.

Edward: I’ve just finished an Apple TV show called Liaison, an international terrorism thriller shot in London, Paris, and Belgium. 

Spencer: Certainly a bit different than The Lost Daughter *laughs*

Edward: Yes exactly! *laughs* Then in 2022, I’m supposed to be doing a musical! 

Spencer: Brilliant, I can’t wait to see. Well, thank you so much for talking with me Edward. Congratulations on all of the success of the film. It truly was amazing and I hope everyone stops what they are doing and go watch The Lost Daughter. This has been a real honor, and I hope to speak with you again soon!

Edward: I’d love to, Spencer. Thank you so much; this was brilliant!


The Lost Daughter is now available on Netflix!

Jane Holland and the Costumes of Cowboy Bebop

Today I am so excited to speak with Jane Holland, costume designer from one of my new favorite shows, Cowboy Bebop. The live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop takes place in 2071 and follows Spike Spiegel (played by John Cho) as he wanders the galaxy in search of jobs as he begins leading a group of ragtag bounty hunters to chase down criminals across the solar system while trying to earn different rewards. I speak with Jane Holland about her inspirations and the process behind translating some of our favorite characters from the anime to this live-action adaptation.


Spencer: Thank you, Jane, for joining me. I’m so excited to talk to you, I love the show. I powered through it so quickly, I just couldn’t put it down.

Jane: Thank you so much for having me. I am excited to be here!

Spencer: It’s my honor! Every time I have a new guest, I love to hear about their journey to becoming the costume designer sitting in front of me.

Jane: It makes complete sense to me now, but it wasn’t straightforward. I didn’t know that costume could be a profession so I did a science degree because my passion was with words, drama, and performance; and an English and drama degree. I was interested in storytelling; that’s always been my passion.

Through drama, I ended up on a film set, and I was watching and talking to people behind the scenes, and I just thought, that’s where I belong. I want to be doing that. So I got involved in the costume department! I’d always made costumes for production while studying drama, so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar to me. That’s when I realized that there was a job there.

I was fortunate. to have foundd myself working on Jane Campion’s film, The Piano, as a standby. I looked after Anna Paquin and Holly Hunter primarily. I kind of looked after all the women. It was just extraordinary, that film that was so pivotal in so many ways. From a design perspective, working with that costume designer, Janet Patterson, really opened my eyes to what you can do in costume as a storyteller.

So I went from there to the Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney and studied costume design there. I came back and found my feet as a costume designer. Being in New Zealand, I’ve had a real diversity of projects!

Spencer: I love this story, and I feel that it is so relatable to so many in the costume field. I can hardly wait; let’s get into Cowboy Bebop. You did such a brilliant job with the show. I loved it. But have to ask, though, the anime is such a massive hit that is so beloved by fans. I have to imagine this was a bit of a daunting project to take on?

Jane: Yeah, there’s a responsibility for sure. So, going back to when I came onto the project, the enthusiasm was a bit quieter. I was aware of the fans, but I always felt my responsibility was to the anime. If I could find a connection and draw the threads and sensibility of the anime and bring that into the live-action costuming, I felt that if I could embrace the spirit of the anime, then maybe the fans would embrace the live-action costumes.

You have to be open, exploratory and you’d have to be brave. If you’re second-guessing everything and wondering what people are going to think, it can be stifling… So you have to be free! I was sort of feeling that I had a connection and that I was coming from the right place. There’s something about the anime. When I first saw it, I was blown away. The story is just so wacky, different, and surreal. I loved the cacophony of the soundtrack combined with the visuals.

Costume Designer, Jane Holland

My base place was asking myself the question, what was the movement of Cowboy Bebop? Bebop was about breaking free from restraint. It was about improvisation. It was about moving forwards and finding a new way. I embraced that spirit and the storytelling, which became the lens that I applied to my design process. 

Spencer: That’s beautiful. I love the dedication, and I know that your embrace of the spirit of the anime came through in the live-action series on Netflix. Now, taking it from a technical perspective, how do you approach translating characters from the animation and bringing them into the live-action. 

What sort of references besides the anime were you taking in when developing these characters? The show is really unique and stylized, and it’s set in a futuristic time period, but it’s also not futuristic at the same time.

Jane: Right, it’s very retro. We talked collectively about developing the “Bebop Mashup.” The anime has this mesh up, which, as you said, is futuristic, but then it’s retro. So it’s retro sci-fi. It’s full of these collisions; this dissonance then kind of just finds this place. So I think that that was always the challenge, was to find that place. For me, that was the Cowboy Bebop twist.

Spencer: Right, so then how did you apply that Cowboy Bebop twist to our main character, Spike Spiegel?

Jane:  I started with Spike Spiegel and the blue suit because that is sort of the heart of this story. As you begin to drill down into that suit and its relation to the anime… when you really look at it and the shape, it’s kind of unusual. There’s a single boxy lapel that sort of disappears. He’s got this extra long leg, let’s say there’s this real stylized thing about it, but what is with the sleeves rolled up?

Cowboy Bebop – Courtesy of Netflix

I looked at Japanese designers and Japanese tailorings, such as Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons. I looked at the tailoring from these designers because there was something in Japanese sensibility, which does precisely what Cowboy Bebop does. It sort of takes something conventional, and then it just gives that bit of twist we see in Cowboy Bebop. 

I also looked at some Japanese and Korean designers who are making contemporary clothing, but they’re kind of reaching into traditional dress. When you look at that kind of tailoring, the way that a jacket does up or that off-center fascinating… that’s in the anime! There’s a link. I found a thread, which led me to work out how to create something that had that single lapel and then make it disappear and come around the other side. So these designers gave me a way to find out how to make Spike Spiegel make sense. 

The suit is a very bright blue, and it’s unusual. We had to create something that embraced the character of Spike Spiegel, who is effortlessly cool, who then turns into this incredible fighting machine. Spike has this depth to him, with his entire past. But then goes back to being cool and heartbroken as well. I built all of that into the costume. 

In the anime, his fight style is described as water. I took that as has as a motif that can be seen on his trophy buckle in a beautiful moment of triumph. You get this flash of this trophy buckle where you can see t’s a tidal wave, a symbol of water. The trophy buckles, made by our in-house jeweler, also are a nod to the Cowboys. This followed through to the buttons that are engraved with the Japanese symbol for water.

Cowboy Bebop – Courtesy of Netflix

Then on the inside of the jacket, I ended up printing a tiny pattern of falling roses on the lining of his jacket as a motif for Julia. Julia has a lot of hand-painted roses in her costuming. The same person who hand-painted those roses drew the roses that we replicated inside of his jacket. That’s just a little secret in there. Spike has Julia wrapped around him because he’s a guy with a broken heart, and Julia is his lost love. 

Cowboy Bebop was all about finding the essence of the character and bringing the anime together to work out how it might work on a real-life person. Then from there, drilling down how to add as much storytelling in those signature costumes as I could. 

Spencer: That’s so magical and why I love costume design so much. All of the detail you put into everything from the lapel to the lining… It’s really inspiring.

Jane: The anime was really our concept art. You look at a lot of concept art for costuming, and often it really doesn’t make sense. The concept art doesn’t tell you how to make it. You can focus on design concepts, but it doesn’t always work when it comes to actually making the costume.

The anime gave me the concept art, and my job was to work out its design. How does it actually work? How is it going to function? There is a difference between art and design; created design has to function. As a costume designer, I want that artistic freedom, but ultimately it has to function.

Spencer: Moving on to our other main characters, the idea of function was something you kept in mind when translating them. Let’s talk about Jet Black, shall we? Jet feels as though he came right from the anime, but it still has that apparent twist you mentioned.

Jane: Right. Jet Black is more straightforward. He’s wearing overalls that are kind of utilitarian. The design lines you see in the anime I carried through. It is very similar, but there’s a lot more detail in the costume we made as we translate the anime into real life. 

Cowboy Bebop – Courtesy of Netflix

Spencer: It’s an interesting point because the anime is very flat in color; there’s not a lot of stitching detail. So that’s also part of the challenge too. 

Jane: I think it’s great if you think it’s the same as the anime because, well, that’s a job well done, isn’t it? Then he has that robot arm, which was a costume piece as well. We made that. We have a great costume department with and costume props area. The arm was made in the process of sculpting. 

Spencer: We have to talk about my favorite character. I love what you did with Faye Valentine because it’s reminiscent of the anime, but it’s functional, as you talked about earlier. Personally, I feel that her anime costume could not be translated onto a real woman and be functional. What you did with Faye’s live-action costume was functional but still mirrors the anime’s essence. Walk me through your work on this character.

I think it was clear to me that the Faye Valentine of the live-action series needed to do a lot more practically, functionally, than what that costume of the anime would allow her to do. I did the same with Faye as I did with Spike.

I took the character from the script, and I found the resonance. She’s a bounty hunter; she needed to be able to move, to fight, to kick! There was a whole function that was part of it, but there was also something about realizing the design lines of the animation.

Cowboy Bebop – Courtesy of Netflix

It might appear that I’ve moved a long way away from the anime, but actually, I haven’t. The top, that’s not that different. We did quite a bit of trial. We had a full yellow two-piece; and a full black two-piece with yellow stitching. So we’ve still got the color in there. It was about finding the gravitas of the character and what she needed to do. 

It was essential to me was that it shouldn’t be gratuitous and overtly sexualized. Those aspects of her character, that’s up to the actor to deliver rather than me imposing that restriction on her. We’re past that in terms of how we present a leading female character in a show. 

So the design lines are actually very similar. Like the stocking, she’s got those high leather leggings. She’s also wearing tights underneath. There’s a lot that is similar, and I pretty much guarantee that if she just shrugged that red leather jacket off her shoulders and struck a Faye Valentine pose from the anime, you’d say she’s exactly the same.

Spencer: I agree, one thousand percent. If the jacket fell a little bit, then viewers would’ve thought it was exactly the same. Faye doesn’t need to be stuck with being this overtly sexualized character. I feel like your costuming helped give Daniella Pineda the room to bring life to this character. What you did with that costume was quite brilliant. 

Jane: Daniella, she’s just so super cool. We needed something that’s got a little bit of street and a bit of sass. She had to be in something that she could do all of this stuff in.

Spencer: I love to hear that. Did you feel like you collaborated a lot with the actors and actresses on this project? 

Jane: Yeah! I think that they’re critical relationships. They are to me because it’s a very intimate space. I was lucky, being in New Zealand and being so far away, that I was in the states right at the very beginning. I was in Los Angeles, and John Cho and Daniella were in Los Angeles. While I was there, I met both of them. I measured them. We talked about the characters. John and I sat down in a café, and we just talked about concept. We talked about ideas, the feeling of the character, and specifically what the costume would be. I think it was very valuable.

Cowboy Bebop – Courtesy of Netflix

When I arrived in New Zealand, we had to work fast. When John arrived, we had put the suit on. There were so many things we talked about. From the beginning, and maybe in that first conversation, we talked about how Spike stands; it was really important to him. There’s a particular angle with his hand in his pocket. A classic anime pose!  It’s the more information you have to be working together, the better.

Spencer: You’ve talked about aging and dyeing a little bit. There’s a lot of blood, dirt, and action in this show. I’m notoriously obsessed with aging and dyeing. Can you just give me a little vision of this fun project?

Jane: *laughs* There’s this thing where you kind of build this beautiful costume. Then the first thing that happens to it is that they have to walk out, get hit with a bullet, and now there is blood on it. They trash it completely.

The trashing of the costume is part of the beauty; it’s another angle to costuming. It’s part of the craft. You have your pristine new thing, and then how do you make it look lived in? There is such an art to that. The textile artists who work within that have a painterly approach. There’s very little that ends up on screen without going through the aging and breakdown department.

Spencer: What I appreciate, especially when I think of space-oriented movies and television shows, I think of very minimalistic, clean, futuristic silhouettes. But you made Cowboy Bebop feel very real through the aging process.

Jane: It’s suspending disbelief, isn’t it? I mean, there’s a theatricality to any show that is not a representation of daily life. So what happens is Spike goes out, and he gets completely roughed up, and then next episode, he’s sort of clean again. We staged it where Spike has a closet on the Bebop where he opens the closet, and there’s a whole line of blue suits. That’s what you buy into with costume. It’s part of who they are. If they change out of that, there’s a reason. There are a few moments where characters are in a different costume, and there’s a reasoning behind that. But they come back to that signature costume as a place of comfort.

Spencer: The last character that we’re going to want to talk about is Vicious. I loved his black suiting. It’s, I think, one of my favorites.

Jane: When you look at the anime, you’re trying to work out what something is. It can be difficult because, a lot of the time, it’s pretty abstract. There was reference; you can see the design lines that come from the images of the anime. There’s a theatricality to him in the tailcoat that I interpreted.

I tried to find a musical kind of resonance with everybody. I found myself in a bit of a punk world with Viscious, but more heightened and stylized. I ended up drawing from real-life for Viscious by looking at the Antwerp six, such as Ann Demeulemeester, all amazing designers.

When Alex put on that costume, I wanted him to feel the power of the costume. Vicious has that straight leg and these big boots with this beautifully tailored coat. It’s got movement to it, so when he fights, there’s movement. The detailing of the chains that hold the coat together, they were made by our in-house jewelers.

Cowboy Bebop – Courtesy of Netflix

He’s got a trophy buckle as well. His trophy buckle has the cormorant because, in the anime, he always has a cormorant on his shoulder. So I took that cormorant and put it into his costume and on his ring as well. 

Spencer: This has been so much fun, and I’ve had such a good time talking with you. I feel like I’ve learned so much, and I just feel like rewatching the series now. What can we see you doing in the future? 

Jane: I hope for a second season! There’s so much ground to break. The second season is always where it feels like you start to take flight. I mean, you’ve got a warehouse full of stuff, a whole load of reference. It’s such a fun show. I mean the world-building… just oh my God! We had so much fun mixing vintage pieces, mixing different eras. There’s so much more that I want to do with Cowboy Bebop if I have the opportunity!

Spencer: It’s almost like every episode is its own movie. There’s always something different. World-building sounds like an understatement to me. 

Jane: It’s a crazy train! It is exactly like that. It’s like doing movie after movie, and it just doesn’t stop. That’s traveling as well. This is the fun part of it, to create the look of that world. 

Outside of Cowboy Bebop, we’re just finishing off this beautiful half-hour drama piece, which is a Māori supernatural story. Filmmaking and storytelling on a much more personal level, which I’m interested in doing as well. So I’ve kind of got this other little world alongside my career as a costume designer. 

There’s a film that’s just come out in New Zealand called Juniper with Charlotte Rampling in it. There’s always some storytelling to do. 

Spencer: Jane, thank you so much for joining me. This has been a lovely interview, and I’m really happy and excited for you. Cowboy Bebop was incredible, and the costumes, peak storytelling! I just want to thank you for your work on this project.

Jane: It was really great meeting you and nice to talk about the process. The creative process is such a fun thing. I mean, that’s the beauty of it. 


The live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop is now available on Netflix!

From India Sweets and Spices to Paranormal Activity: An Interview with Costume Designer Whitney Anne Adams

Look, I know it is almost time for the holidays, but I miss Halloween. So you could probably imagine my excitement (or dread) when I saw the words “Paranormal Activity” pop up in my inbox. As I started to prepare for this interview, I quickly realized, this was a costume designer after my own heart! Whitney Anne Adams, the brilliant costume designer behind so many horror films of recent date such as Happy Death Day 2U, Piercing, Freaky, and most recently, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin. Plus, Whitney has a new film now in theaters, called India Sweets and Spices.

I was honored to meet Whitney for an interview about her fascinating beginnings, friendship with Eiko Ishioka (yeah you read that right), horror films, Paranormal Activity, India Sweets and Spices, and so much more!


Spencer: Whitney, I am so excited to speak with you finally. I’ve been following you forever, so this interview feels long overdue. Plus, I’m having a hard time putting spooky season behind me.

Whitney: Right! Me too!

Spencer: This couldn’t happen at a better time. Before we get into all of the great projects you have been working on, I would first love to hear a little bit about your journey to becoming a costume designer.

Whitney: It’s funny because I was a complete jock in high school. I was all sports, no fashion. I was even captain of my golf team. But I was in theater and the drama class all through high school. So I loved it, but I had horrible stage fright; I loved the theater, and I couldn’t square the two. It’s like, I love this, but I hate being on stage. 

Moulin Rouge! (2001) – Costume Design by Catherine Martin. Courtesy of Everett

I was really sick in high school, and I had to get a bunch of organs removed. When I was in the hospital, waiting for the surgery that would save my life, I watched Moulin Rouge! over 300 times. I watched it every day to escape to this world where I wasn’t really sick. I just fell in love with the clothes and the visual world of that movie.

I then went to college, and I was pre-med. You know… because that makes sense.

Spencer:  *laughs* Right. We’ve all been there.

Whitney: I had to take chemistry and calculus, and then I could choose one fun class, and it was an intro to theater design. Well, I changed my major three weeks later, and I’ve never looked back. It just all sort of clicked into place. That was the beginning of my journey!

Spencer: At one point, you were acting as Liza Minnelli’s personal seamstress during this time. I also heard a crazy rumor that you were the personal seamstress of famed Oscar-winning costume designer Eiko Ishioka… I mean, is that true? 

Whitney: Absolutely true. I met her. I had just moved to New York. I answered a Craigslist ad for somebody needing a costume intern. And I was like, perfect. I just graduated from college, and I just thought, “I’m ready, put me in coach!” Then that designer, Camille Assaf, knew Tracy Roberts, Eiko’s studio manager; she knew that I was a tailor and put me in touch with her, and I ended up doing all sorts of tailoring for her.

India Sweets and Spices (2021) – Bleecker Street Media

I sewed tons of skirts. Her entire apartment was white, and she wanted a white TV cover to go over her TV so it wouldn’t take away from all of the other white things in her apartment. I also made seat cushions, and she was so exact on the seat cushions. I think I went through 12 different mock-ups before she was happy.

Spencer: I am OBSESSED with this. I am sure any regular person reading this is probably confused, but costume nerds like me are probably dying.

Whitney: I just loved the fact that literally, every single thing in her house was white. It was on the 73rd floor, I believe, right above the Russian Tea Room, looking out on Central Park, and it was absolutely beautiful.

She was working on Spider-Man at the time, so she had all of her Spider-Man renderings hung on the wall. It was all you could look at in her house because everything was stark white besides those renderings. So it was more of a focusing tactic for her, which was fascinating. That’s incredible.

Spencer: I love that. This is a vision I want to keep in my head forever.

Whitney: I worked for her for two years, and I remember every time I would come over, we would get our work done, and afterward, she would make a pot of green tea. We would sit at her table, and she would talk about stories from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stories of Grace Jones and she would just tell me her life story over a pot of green tea every single time. 

Spencer: Absolutely beautiful. But then another dream seemed to come true for you because you ended up becoming the costume design assistant for four-time, Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin, who worked on Moulin Rouge!

Whitney: It was such a crazy moment in my life because she’s the reason I am a costume designer, and I also met her in a completely insane way. I won a costume design contest for the movie Australia. I had to design a costume for Nicole Kidman’s character. 

Spencer: Oh, you got this in the bag.

Whitney:  Well, I freaked out cause I didn’t put a hat on Nicole’s character. I was like, I’m not going to win. I didn’t put a hat on her. I won the whole contest. I won a trip to Australia. So I go to Australia, and I email Catherine’s website. Her assistant, Silvana, emailed me back and said, “Hey, do you want to come by? Catherine isn’t here, but you know, we can hang out.” So we had tea, and we are good friends now. I went back to New York, and two years passed by. 

Then in 2010, Baz Luhrmann was going to be the chairperson of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. I bought a ticket to the gala, and I emailed Silvana. I was like, “Hey, I happen to be going to the same gala. Can I meet them?.” She said she would set something up but then sent me an email an hour asking what I was up to? Six hours later, their producer in Australia called me and asked if I could work for them for three weeks? 

It was on the workshop for The Great Gatsby and those three weeks turned into working on and off for them for a decade. So they’re like my family now, and I adore them. It’s been a few years since we’ve gotten to work together, but I hope we get to do something again in the future.

Spencer: I love that. You just got to do what you got to do to get your foot in the door sometimes. Sometimes a little goes a long way, and now it’s been like a decade-long relationship, that is incredible. 

Whitney: They’re so generous are a huge reason why I have a career today. You know, I busted my butt on The Great Gatsby, and I learned so much. It was an incredible experience that I still pinch myself that actually happened. 

Spencer: That brings us today. I noticed that you’ve been working on a lot of horror and thriller projects lately. Are you a fan of horror, or did you just fall into it? 

Whitney: I’m a huge fan of horror. I remember I was Ghost Face for Halloween, like three Halloweens in a row, and scared people at my middle school, Halloween party by refusing to take the mask off. I was obsessed with the Fear Street series and every single teenage slasher novel that existed. So much so that my fourth-grade teacher called a parent-teacher conference.

Spencer: I could tell through your work that you have a love for horror. The first film I want to talk about is Freaky. Freaky stars Catherine Newton, Vince Vaughn, and my crush Misha Osherovich. It was so campy, fun, and so colorful. It was pretty fashionable too.

Whitney: I’m so proud of this movie. This is my second collab with writer and director Christopher Landon. One of my favorite people. We just decided from the get-go that everyone felt like a real developed character. Because that is one of the things that horror movies always run into.

Freaky (2020) – Blumhouse Productions

We wanted to make sure that everyone had a very distinct point of view. We don’t have time in the movie to dive into people’s backstories, so we wanted to tell everyone who they were through their clothes. Josh and Nyla have such a point of view. Millie; she’s trying to figure out who she is, especially pre-butcher. She’s wearing a hand-me-down sweater from her mom. Her dress is from the discount store. Every single piece in the movie has its backstory.

When it came to The Butcher and switching into Millie’s body, we wanted to figure out a storyline that made sense. Where did these clothes come from? So we figured that Millie’s older sister is a bit of a club-goer. She’s a police officer during the day, but she wants to let off steam at night. So when the butcher looks through Millie’s closet, he hates all of the grandma sweaters. He heads over to her sister’s closet and pulls out this leather jacket, black bodysuit, and these jeans. We wanted to make sure that it felt very genderless with a strong silhouette. 

Freaky (2020) – Blumhouse Productions

Spencer: It’s almost like the butcher was becoming a costume designer in the moment. Okay Whitney with the plot points!

Whitney: Right. I also want to make sure it was affordable for the family too. That jacket came from Amazon. It was a $180 leather jacket. So it’s attainable. I wanted to make sure that every single piece made sense. I don’t want to get some $5,000 jacket. It needs to be something that makes sense. 

Spencer: I love that. Ugh this movie was so fun, and yeah that red jacket… I mean, that jacket is going to stay with me for a long while. 

Whitney: I’m so happy about that. I know that Catherine and I wanted to create something as iconic as possible!

Spencer: Mission accomplished! Speaking of iconic, let talk about Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin. I’ll be honest, when I saw the words “Paranormal Activity” in my email inbox… I was kind of thinking “oh hellllll no”.

Whitney: *laughs* Right!!

Spencer: If there’s one horror movie that scares the absolute *redacted* out of me, it’s the Paranormal Activity series. Of course, I loved the film as always. It was quite the costume design heavy film as well! I hear that you had to travel to a real Amish farm that was in the middle of nowhere. 

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin – Blumhouse Productions

Whitney: Yeah. So that was so challenging! We were based in Buffalo, but we were filming five weeks on this farm. It was an actual vacated Amish farm about an hour and a half from Buffalo. So our closest hotels were about 45 minutes to an hour away from the farm. So were driving back and forth in the blizzard, in the mud, there are no lights in Amish country. 

Spencer: It was like you were living the movie every single day. Let’s dive into the cult that lives on Baylor farm who are passing as Amish. It appears you took a pretty authentic approach to designing their costumes. I mean, they came off to me as Amish up until the last 10 minutes of the movie.

Whitney: You’re like, whoa, what happened now? That was the main goal, to make them as Amish to the outside world as possible. They don’t want anyone coming close to them. This cult, they’re actually the good guys. They’re striving for as much authenticity as possible, but when they’re at their farm, they can let their guard down a little. So, they can do things that are not necessarily Amish.

Whitney Anne Adams and Assistant Costume Designer, Lauren Driskill

I wanted to also use that same idea that with what they wear. For example, vests are usually not worn except for church or ceremonial purposes. So we added those into the film because that is not how the Amish wear vests. Then for the men we uses  hundred percent cotton. When it comes to the real Amish, almost everything that they have has polyester in it because of the lower drying time. It’s easier to take care of and lasts longer. But for me, I wanted to do all of the sorts of wear and tear,aging and distressing. This cult, they go to the outside world as little as possible so their clothes show more wear.

Spencer: That is incredible. I love that through costume design, people may notice these little clues that were there the entire time.

Whitney: Right, that they’re not exactly as they seem. So there are little things like that, that we put in there to show that they’re not actually Amish. But, still made it as close as possible. For example, all of our suspenders were made by a local Buffalo leather maker so it’s as close as we possibly can get it.

Spencer: Unfortunately for you, I am a considerable aging and dying fan. So I have to ask you to give me a little window into what was happening here.

Whitney: I knew going into this project, it was going to be such a process. I needed someone who could take this stuff down and it’s really tough. Every single piece in this movie was distressed and aged. The women are wearing bloomers and underskirts plus their dresses, capes and caps. The men have their broad fall pants and their shirts, vests, coats and hats. I mean, everyone has so much stuff, thousands of pieces! I had a lead ager and dyer, Jessica Wegrzyn, who’s the absolute best. She’s such a dreamboat, and was working so hard all day, every day, to make sure everyone looked as distressed as I wanted them to be.

I want it to show the wear and tear that they’ve experienced on this farm because they are so isolated. Every single piece had like a six-step process. It just took forever, and of course, we didn’t have enough lead time. We also brought in another ager and dyer to help, Troy David, who was incredible. The last week of prep, the first week of filming, we were just aging and dying like maniacs. We didn’t finish aging and dying until our last day of filming. She was also a costumer as well so she was doing double duty. I owe so much of this movie to her. 

Spencer: That is an insane amount of work, I am exhausted for you. Towards the end of the film, things start to spiral out of control. It’s funny, I had to go back and watch this part again before we talked because the first time, I had my eyes closed. I thought… uh oh I didn’t even see that part!

*Spencer and Whitney laugh together*

Spencer: This costume that Lavina is wearing, it appears to be a ceremonial robe. It stands out amongst all the other costumes.

Whitney: I wish that we got to see it a little better because for me, it’s the most important costume in the movie because it helps tie together the history of group. We learn that they descended from a Norwegian town. I wanted to sort of dip into Pagan and Wiccan mythology and take symbols that made sense to our story.

All of her veils are embroidered with this gold thread. We wanted to make it look like both this red robe and veil had been passed down through generations. So we wanted everything to look really old and worn. All of the symbols were very representative of the story like the main symbols we use for the triple goddess where you have the waxing full moon and waning –  three stages of womanhood, which is what happens to the women in this culture, the ones who have to carry Asmodeus. 

The Witches Knot is the symbol of protection. Especially because the whole knot symbol, you don’t have to lift your pen. So it’ like this long line of protection, which is what happens with this long line of women through this family.

Then the Seal of Solomon is also there. I made it a pentagram instead of The Star of David, which is how it is sometimes represented in history. The Seal of Solomon was used by King Solomon to defeat Asmodeus. 

Spencer: I love the attention to detail and the story behind it. It made the film really, real. It made me want to do some research too.

Whitney: It was great to dive into all of that and you know, Lavina also has this ring. That’s the triple goddess ring. She wears that the whole movie, but you don’t really get a good glimpse of it. She’s also covered in these tattoos, which you don’t see because she’s fully covered in her Amish clothing. This entire outfit was made by our tailor, Dana Calanan, who was absolutely incredible in making this robe come to life. 

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin – Blumhouse Productions

Spencer: I’m sad to move on from Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin but me must. Let’s talk about your new film that is quite different than anything we have talked about today. India Sweets and Spices, now out in theateres everywhere! I’m very excited about this one. The film is about a college freshman returning home to her Indian American community for the summer. She discovers secrets and lies in her parents’ past. That makes her question everything. I’m hearing that you only had four weeks of prep for this project?

Whitney: It was wild! I got a call on a Wednesday, got the job on a Friday, and was in Atlanta on by Monday. Idove headfirst into this movie, learning the culture. I immersed myself in it from day one. Luckily our writer, director Geeta Malik was so wonderful. She walked me through her vision for this specific community. It’s not the same for every Indian American community, but we wanted to make her own rules for this community, which is similar to what she grew up in. 

We had five giant parties with all of these wealthy families. Everyone had so many costume changes, both day wear and party wear, full of traditional Indian dress. Then we had distinctions. Elderly women and married women wear saris. All of the younger ladies wore a combination of Lehenga Choli, Anarkali, and Salwar Kameez. This was very important to Geeta, to separate the aunties from the younger, unmarried women. Then the men are all in American suits. 

Our family who owns the local Indian grocery store who gets invited to this party, they’re all wearing traditional Indian dress and are not as embellished as everyone. It makes this big dichotomy between the two groups. We really wanted to use those pieces, textures and patterns to separate the different groups.

Spencer: Funny enough, you seem to have approached this film much like Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin. That authentic, dedicated approach to familiarizing yourself with the culture. For example, perfecting your Sari skills, the craft and the tradition of it all. 

Whitney: Exactly. It’s funny how every movie you approach has the same amount of subject matter. I think you’re completely right, I approached the Amish community in the same way I approached this Indian-American community. I’m an outsider. How do I learn as much as possible and make it as authentic as possible because I want to be true to all of these groups? Luckily with Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin and the Amish community, I could make up my own rules because they’re not traditionally Amish, but this was very important for me to get this right.

India Sweets and Spices (2021) – Bleecker Street Media

It was such a joy, and it was so fun. Luckily, Atlanta has a huge Indian community, and they have great malls there. So that was helpful! 

Spencer: Well, I honestly cannot wait to see this movie. It looks so fun, and I’m just really excited to follow along with you and your career. Funny enough, the ghosts are not leaving us because you just wrapped an exciting new project with some heavy-hitting actors and actresses like Jennifer Coolidge. 

Whitney: I love her. I love her so much. We Have a Ghost has been a big journey. I got to New Orleans in May, and we just finished our 65 shooting days schedule yesterday. We’ve survived COVID, a hurricane, etc. It has been a journey. I was getting through it all with such incredible actors. I mean, I absolutely love Jennifer Coolidge, David Harbour, Anthony Mackie, Jackie Winston, they’re just incredible people and so, I was lucky that we were able to survive this all together.

Spencer: Oh, man! Well, I’m excited about this one. Sounds like we’ll probably be talking very soon. Thank you so much for joining me! 

Whitney: Thank you for having me. This has been such a blast.


India Sweets and Spices is now in theaters! Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin is available on Paramount+

Costuming The Girl In The Woods, With Designer Erin Orr

There is a creepy chill on the air – some terrifying costumes approach! I am very excited to share a look into the costuming for The Girl In The Woods! In the supernatural drama The Girl In The Woods, produced by Crypt TV and premiering on Peacock, monsters are real! They are kept at bay behind a mysterious door in a cult-like colony. Teenage runaway Carrie’s job is to guard that door, but when strange occurrences begin to shake the sleepy mining town to its core, she must enlist the help of new friends Nolan and Tasha. The group becomes an unlikely trio of monster slayers, determined to save their loved ones.

I am honored to have interviewed costume designer Erin Orr before the premiere of the show to get all of the horrific details in costuming The Girl In The Woods! Crypt TV’s “The Girl In The Woods” premieres Thursday, October 21 on Peacock. All eight episodes will drop at once!


Spencer: Hi Erin, I’m so excited to talk to you finally. I’ve been looking forward to this interview for a long while now! How are you?

Erin: I’m great; it’s nice to talk with you today! This is exciting, and The Girl In The Woods was a fun project, so I’m happy to talk about it.

Spencer: I had fun just watching it! Before we get into The Girl In The Woods, I would love to hear a little bit about your journey to becoming a costume designer on the show. Where did this passion for costume design come from?

Erin: I was always very heavily influenced by costume design as a kid and as a teenager, trying to find my way of expressing myself. I grew up watching Blossom, My So-Called Life, and Heathers. Then, of course, Molly Ringwald and the John Hughes movies. I was always very heavily influenced in the way I dressed based on what I saw in film and television. I initially went to film school thinking I would be a writer and director; that’s what I studied in film school. When I graduated, I produced a movie with some friends from film school called George Washington with director David Gordon Green. Then for his second feature, I did the costumes. I’d always wanted to do that, and that was a perfect opportunity. I could just start as a costume designer without really knowing what I was doing because I didn’t come up traditionally.

The Girl In The Woods Costume Designer, Erin Orr

I kind of backtracked a little after doing that movie. I worked as a set costumer for a while in New York on various TV shows and movies. As a costume supervisor for a while, and then I took ten years out of the business completely when I had kids. My husband’s in the business as he is a DP, a cinematographer, and he’s away on location nine months out of the year. We would pack up and travel with him on location, so I didn’t work at all for ten years.

When we moved up to Portland, there was a bunch of stuff shooting here, and I started getting back into the business part-time. As my kids got older, I was ready to jump back in! I was lucky that a director I had worked with in New York was making a movie here in Portland and hired me as the designer. After that, I was able to get an agent and kind of jump back in, which has been great.

Spencer: That’s so exciting. Do you feel over those ten years, your desire to return to the industry was just building up inside of you? Ten years later?

Erin: I always think I always had hopes I was would be able to get back in, but I wasn’t sure that I would… You know, ten years is a long time to be out of the business completely. When I left the business, we were taking continuity photos with Polaroids. When I came back, everything was on an iPhone! Things had changed a lot! In that time, I did a lot of fashion-related things for myself in terms of selling clothes. These have always been my two significant interests in life, fashion and movies. Costume design was my perfect way of tying those two things together. 

Stefanie Scott as Carrie - The Girl In The Woods
Scott Green/Peacock

Spencer: Let’s talk about The Girl In The Woods, shall we! The Girl In The Woods is a supernatural drama. It gives me all of those spooky season vibes I have been craving! Are you a fan of horrors and thrillers?

Erin: I am! Yeah, my favorite ones are some of the older ones, like Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining.

Spencer: Yes! Both are fantastic choices. 

Erin: Especially with horror, I feel like there’s such an opportunity to create an iconic costume. We would joke in the making of The Girl in The Woods; if we were doing it right, people would want to dress up as Carrie for Halloween. There’s this sort of whole other element that comes into horror movies, and designing them with that in mind.

Spencer: I could sense that you are a horror fan, seeing Carrie’s costumes especially. By the way, Carrie would make the perfect Halloween costume! So let’s talk about costuming this show. It’s quite interesting because it shines a light on the drastic differences, thoughts, and cultures between various communities. So I want to start by talking about the mysterious colony, what influences did you take in when the costuming, The Colony?

Erin: We took a lot of influences, actually. Some of the basic frameworks were in the script in terms of the basic colors for the colony. We knew we wanted to have this beige and tan palette, canvas, and off-white colors. From there, we had a lot of references! We reference early military costumes, martial arts costuming, vintage American workwear, Amish and Hutterite societies. Our team even looked at pioneer wear and early-American farming clothing. We sort of took little bits and pieces of all of those things and put them together. 

Scott Green/Peacock

Within the colony, we wanted to create this separation between The Guardians and the regular colony members. Take Carrie and Arthur Deane for example; those costumes are all made out of wax canvas. We wanted their clothes to have more structure and heft than the regular colony members, which were softer and flowing. They don’t have much structure at all. We did a mix of making things from scratch and using off-the-rack pieces that we dyed or altered in some way. Pretty much every piece of clothing for the colony we touched in some way or another, whether it was dying, altering, or switching out the buttons. All the buttons are made out of wood.

Stefanie Scott as Carrie - The Girl In The Woods
Scott Green/Peacock

We tried to make it evident that The Colony shoos technology in every way. The Colony was dressed in clothing that they theoretically could have made themselves, or they could have made using a pedal machine. We only use zippers, I think in one place, which was on Carrie’s jumpsuit. The rest, there were no zippers anywhere else. 

Spencer: I’m obsessed with this concept. I love the fact that the approach you took was so authentic and fully realized. The idea that you used wooden buttons and no zippers because that is what The Colony would have done, just peak costume design.

Erin: Right, and it was fun! It was cool to see it all come together. We also had this framework where we wanted everything to be unisex, there were no dresses or skirts in the colony. Everybody wears the same. We also wanted it to feel like uniformity is a big part of the colony so that everyone’s seen the same.

Spencer: So you touched a little bit on aging and dying. I’m a considerable aging and dying nerd. Were there any fun processes that you used on this particular project that maybe I could get in on

Erin: *laughs* Yes! We used a lot of wax canvas, and Carrie’s Guardian jumpsuit, in particular, was just a white waxed canvas. When we bought the bolt, we then had to age that down. We used different colored waxes that we tinted, and then we put that on top of the wax canvas. Then, we also used some different colored powders on top to create that color. Arthur Deane’s coat was just made of canvas which we completely waxed ourselves, and that was all tinted wax that we would melt in a crockpot. It was quite a process. Our tailor, Savannah Gordon, who’s amazing, was responsible for that!

Spencer: That’s so fun. I could talk about aging and dying forever. But let’s move on to the main character of the show, Carrie, played by Stephanie Scott. She escaped the colony in the first episode, therefore embarking on quite the journey. I would love to hear your process in costuming Carrie, because she transitions from her guardian costume into everyday life outside of the colony. I think that’s an exciting aspect. 

Erin: So with Carrie, Krysten Ritter was the director of the pilot episode and the first four episodes. She had a lot of ideas about how she wanted to Carrie to dress. One of the things that were really important to her was that Carrie wasn’t sexualized in any way because she comes from this colony where that’s not a thing. 

Stefanie Scott as Carrie - The Girl In The Woods
Scott Green/Peacock

She shows up at Tasha’s house, meaning whatever clothing Carrie is wearing from this point would have come from Tasha. But we didn’t want Carrie to look like Tasha either, so we wanted it to be more like… a shirt that Tasha gave her that she sleeps in or maybe her Dad’s Army jacket. We wanted her to have a different silhouette from the other two. Carrie’s silhouette is much boxier, looser, not as tight-fitting. Carrie has this “fish out of the water” feeling compared to the rest of the kids in the town.

Spencer: That’s so interesting now that you’ve mentioned that. Oh my gosh, that’s Tasha’s Dad’s jacket. I think it’s also interesting that you can’t even tell how old Carrie is. Carrie is really stripped-down once she’s left The Colony; you just kind of know nothing about her. The costuming really played a big part in that.

Erin: Right. Thank you!

Spencer: I loved the costumes you did for Tasha (played by Sofia Bryant) and my favorite character Nolan, (played by Misha Osherovich). I thought it was hilarious, opening with their characters creating TikToks. These two characters are bringing the fashion, and it felt so current – can you talk about costuming these two? They work in harmony but also tell different stories.

Stefanie Scott (Carrie), Misha Osherovich (Nolan), Sofia Bryant (Tasha) in The GIrl In The Woods
Scott Green/Peacock

Erin: It’s so colorful. We had a color palette for these guys where Tasha wore reds and yellows, and Nolan was purples and blues. We wanted them to feel different from Carrie. They’re teenagers who use TikTok and the internet. They’re very connected to the outside world and therefore influenced by the outside world in a way that Carrie isn’t. With Tasha, we wanted her to be sort of eclectic and fun who is also a little bit loud in certain ways. With Nolan, we wanted them to be free from traditional gender expressions and mix up many different things.

Spencer: That’s so fun! What would you say like we’re some of Nolan and Tasha’s influences if you were to guess?

Erin: I don’t know that I had a direct influence for either one of them except to say that the actors themselves influenced me quite a bit.

Misha Osherovich as Nolan - The Girl In The Woods
Scott Green/Peacock

Spencer: Oh right, that definitely makes sense for Tasha and Nolan.

Erin: Misha had a lot of ideas and thoughts, and they brought a lot to the table. Sofia had a lot of ideas as well. I feel like with both of those characters especially; it was a real collaboration between Krysten, myself, and the actors. 

Spencer: I love to hear that. Do you enjoy that sort of actor and costume designer collaboration and listening to their ideas?

Erin: Absolutely, I love it. I always say to the actors in fittings, “if you don’t like this… tell me! It won’t hurt my feelings. If you don’t like it, it’s out.” The actors have to like it. The costume is what gets them into their character. I want them to feel confident and when they put on those clothes, they become that character. It has to be a collaboration; if I feel like I’m talking an actor into something, then it’s probably not the right fit.

Sofia Bryant as Tasha - The Girl In The Woods
Scott Green/Peacock

Spencer: Right, and the actors and the costumes, they can’t work together in the sense of telling the story if they don’t feel comfortable with it. Then they’re not telling a story the way that you, the director, really envision.

Erin: Exactly!

Spencer: Erin, I’m so fascinated by work on the show, it brought me into the fantasy, and I’m loving every episode of it. I have not a few more episodes to go, so I don’t really know what’s coming next, but any kind of frightful surprises we’re in for coming up later?

Erin: Oh god. That’s a hard one to answer. I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say! I am also waiting to see where this story goes with bated breath, and I hope we get a season 2 to tell it!

Spencer: Well I am hoping for the same thing. I need more of these costumes… and Misha Osherovich…. Thank you so much Erin for talking to me, I am beyond excited about the audience watching this show and seeing your brilliant costume design!

Erin: Thank you so much!


Crypt TV’s “The Girl In The Woods” premieres Thursday, October 21 on Peacock. All eight episodes will drop at once at www.peacocktv.com/stream-tv/the-girl-in-the-woods.

Deliciously Macabre: The Costumes of What We Do In The Shadows

It’s September, which in my view, is just October Eve. Spooky season quietly lurks in the shadows, pumpkin spice lattes appear in your local Starbucks, and suddenly everyone has the urge to watch slasher films… or Harry Potter. For me, I can also feel my annual obsession with vampires returning! Luckily for me, I was given the incredible opportunity of speaking with costume designer Laura Montgomery, responsible for the costumes of season three of my favorite comedy, What We Do In The Shadows!

Laura Montgomery is a film and television costume designer based in Toronto, Canada. Montgomery’s costume design credits include, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Small Town Murder Songs (TIFF Official Selection 2010), When Moses Woke (Gemini Award Winner for Best Direction in a Performing Arts Program), Coopers’ Christmas (TIFF Official Selection 2008), and What We Do in the Shadows S3. I spoke with Laura about the costumes for the third season, What We Do In The Shadows; please enjoy!


Spencer: Hi Laura! I am so excited to meet you! We are such big fans of What We Do In The Shadows here at The Art of Costume and have been dying for the new season! Thank you for joining me.

What We Do In The Shadows Costume Designer – Laura Montgomery

Laura: It’s my pleasure. I’m a big fan of the show too, so it’s a treasured opportunity anytime I can talk about it! 

Spencer: The first two episodes of the third season, “The Prisoner” and “The Cloak of Duplication,” are complete masterpieces, and I am already in love with the costumes! You must have been so excited to take on this project?

Laura: I was really excited! To begin with, I was a huge fan of the movie. I was the assistant costume designer for the first two seasons to Amanda Neale, the costume designer from New Zealand who had been working with Jemaine Clement on projects – she had also done the movie! When I heard that the show would be filmed in Toronto, I knew I wanted to join the team.

We shot the third season during the pandemic in 2020. There were many reasons, but it was just a safer decision [for Amanda] to stay in New Zealand. So I was just thrilled to kind of take on the characters – use what has been established and be able to put my own little spin on things.

Spencer: It’s a brilliant concept, vampires in a mockumentary format, living in Staten Island, New York! Each character comes to Staten Island with a unique background. Nandor The Relentless is from the fictional kingdom of Al-Quolanudar in Southern Iran and a warrior serving the Ottoman Empire; Laszlo Cravensworth was an English Nobleman, and Nadja is a Romani vampire. Though it is the third season, we are still learning about these individuals.

What do your research and creative process look like when it comes to costuming the vampires and creating the costumes of What We Do In the Shadows?

Laura: The research is my absolute favorite part, and this show is great because you don’t have to be perfect about it. It starts with the conceit that you know these vampires kind of got stuck in the period in which they were human.

As you said, Nandor is from the Persian region in the 1400s. Laszlo has a Victorian feel to him; we think he got turned in the mid-1800s. He’s from England, and Nadja has that Greek-ish background. Her story’s a little bit looser. She was born in, I think, the 1600s, but we go a little more Victorian with her as well. The show is contemporary, so that’s when they were born, but we have the freedom to use elements from the 80s – they’ve lived through all the decades. We can say, oh, they picked up this piece when they were clubbing in the 90s, or they picked up something you know they’ve got all these collected pieces.

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Courtesy of FX

I found it really fascinating last year I did a lot of research into Nandor’s background, and I really wanted to make him as authentic as possible. So I started looking up Persian textiles and a lot of art from that period. I visited a museum in Toronto called the Agha Khan, where they currently have a great exhibition showcasing paintings of this Iranian epic poem. The kings in those dynasties started to get interested in illustrating the poem, so there were many illustrated versions commissioned around the 1400s. So I’ve been looking at those images to bring inspiration, even some of the colors. I was surprised by the way they would wear things the silhouettes.

I was so, so satisfied with the second episode, “The Cloak of Duplication,” in part because of Nandor’s exercise pants that he wears.

Spencer: Ugh, yes, I was going to ask you about those! They were so good!

Laura: One of the producers said that he saw a Twitter thread commenting on their authenticity, saying they’re really Persian. It’s true; they’re from this ancient Persian sport, called Zurkhaneh or Pahlevani. I knew I wanted to get these pants, and we have a couple of Iranian people on our costume team. So I found the pants from a maker who makes them custom in Tehran. I started the conversation with him, and then eventually, someone from our team helped me. So we got them made, and then she had a friend who was in Tehran and would be coming to Toronto, so the friend picked them up and brought them over. It took months, but I was so happy to get the genuine pads and that they were recognized.

Spencer: Nandor running on a treadmill was hilarious to me, and suddenly I stopped laughing when I saw the shorts. I just thought, oh my gosh, look at the fabric – look at those shorts!  I’ve never seen anything like them!

Laura: Yes! It started by searching up Persian sports; people still practice it in the modern-day. Also, during the 80s, there was the wrestler – The Iron Sheik. Do you know who that is? *laughs*

Spencer: *laughs* No, I’m sorry! Please tell me! I am pretty rusty on my 80s wrestlers.

Laura: He was from the Hulk Hogan era. So these two roads are what lead me to those traditional pants Nandor wears.

Spencer: That makes sense, and this conversation reminded me of the first season where Nandor applies for citizenship while wearing his 90s basketball jersey from the Olympics, so it makes sense that he would have something that may be a little dated. 

We have to talk about Colin Robinson, an energy vampire who lives in the basement. Colin Robinson is unique because he is hardly unique nor interesting – which makes him one of the most hilarious characters. Can you walk me through Colin’s wardrobe?

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Courtesy of FX

Laura: Colin was a new concept introduced to the series. For Amanda and Mark Proksch, it kind of clicked into place when it came to the color palette. Colin would always wear beige and keep within that color palette. So that’s where we get the very monotone boring palette. 

What I tried to do this year was elevate the tailoring.

Spencer: Oh, I love that!

Laura: Colin had been picking up things from all kinds of periods, especially the 90s. Knowing this year that he’s about to turn 100, I was able to home in on the 40s and 50s as his era. I started looking at a lot of 40s tailoring. We got a lot of custom pieces done for him this season. I hope it won’t be too noticeable a difference, but we tried to refine the tailoring a little bit.

Spencer: It’s a subtle difference! He’s boring, but also, it’s like it’s still a nice suit, though. He does have a good eye for a decent tailored suit.

Laura: Yeah, I think he would be the kind of person who would really go down a wormhole of the specifics of sartorial details and talk someone’s ear off about things.

Spencer: *laughs* Absolutely; he would! That is a brilliant concept!

Guillermo De La Cruz, everyone’s favorite vampire familiar played by Harvey Guillén, has found himself on quite the journey. It turns out he is the descendant of the vampire hunter, Van Helsing. How do you approach costuming Guillermo – a familiar turned vampire bodyguard? His wardrobe has changed in a more sophisticated way that subtly aligns him with the vampires, without screaming it from the rooftops.

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Courtesy of FX

Laura: Yeah, he’s always wanted to be a vampire, and this is something that Harvey has brought to the table. Because he wants to be a vampire, Harvey always wants to bring in this idea that Guillermo is trying to dress the part.

The trench coat is something that was introduced in season two. When he had to do the fighting, that was his Van Helsing moment. Because he’s now the bodyguard, we had to toughen them up even more. We introduced waistcoats! We’re trying to keep him that soft and cuddly and Guillermo,  but at the same time, he is the bodyguard now. So he has a leather waistcoat with his Bandelier of detachable stakes.

Spencer: It’s so ridiculously perfect; I love it.

Our favorite vampire roommates have found themselves in quite the unexpected position – now leading Vampiric Council found in New York. This transition immediately gave sophistication to the character’s costumes, particularly Nandor and Nadja, as they are splitting the leadership role. Can you explain the development of these costumes?

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Photo By Russ Martin – Courtesy of FX

Laura: That was something that came from the writing. The cape is a piece that we’ve had, I think, since season one. But there was a note in the script saying they dress more nicely than usual. We want to keep raising the bar because, in every season, it seems like there’s some sort of fancy thing that happens. 

So for Nandor, that meant the hat. I was seeping the shape of that hat in a lot of paintings. Then for Nadja, it was really fun to blow out the shoulders and make it special.

Spencer: I love it, such an excellent way to start the season. I’m obsessed with these costumes, and I recognized the cape, but just the subtle touch of the hat said everything to me.

Laura- Oh, just wait. I have a favorite costume coming up, and there’s another character’s costume. I just think it’s so hilarious.

Spencer: This isn’t fair; now I am going to want to do this interview all over again in a few weeks! You’ll be hearing from me!

I was excited to see Kristen Schaal return to reprise her role as The Guide, aka as The Floating Woman. I am absolutely in love with her costume! Can we just talk about this costume for a second?

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Courtesy of FX

Laura: In the beginning, I think she only had one or two costumes when we saw her in season one, but already she wore the hat really well. It was a French hood with a veil that she wore in season one. I just decided; she’s obviously a fashionista. So for this season, she has a whole closet because she’s in, I think pretty much every episode. I wanted to play with the silhouettes – she has a lot of structure with a mix of 1600s meets very modern. There were a lot of designer influences – a lot of Alexander McQueen and Gareth Pugh.

Spencer: I must mention the physically younger generation of vampires we saw in Nandor and Nadja’s first official Vampiric Council business outing. A group of vampires calling themselves the Council of Vampires shows themselves to be a minor problem for the official Vampiric Council. From a costume point of view, I thought these scenes were so interesting because they were vampires in more contemporary fashion – wardrobe-wise. Yet they still had that vampire look – how did you approach these scenes from a costume perspective?

Laura: That is such a fun thing about the show is that we have our vampires, but then there are also these contemporary characters. These new vampires, they were young. But then there’s always that idea of how old were they when they turned? So it was very fortunate because the 90s are really in style right now. The 90s are back, and that’s when I was a teenager, so I feel like I know that era so well. It was so fun to see Urban Outfitters have all this stuff I was wearing in high school.

The show is not trendy at all. We always say there’s a fine line, they’re not cheap, but it’s tacky. Our main characters look a little dated compared to the 20s vampires; this was the first time we got to do something a bit more trendy.

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Courtesy of FX

Spencer When I saw them on screen the first time, I was like, whoa whoa, who are they and what are they wearing!

Laura, I am already in love with this season and the costumes of What We Do In The Shadows. I am so excited to see what’s next and I am also happy to have learned that you will be continuing forward as costume designer into the fourth season as well! I know you can’t reveal much about what’s to come – but I imagine there is a lot to look forward to!

Laura: Everyone says that the scripts are even funnier, and I don’t know how that’s possible. We just started pre-production now, and we start shooting soon, but the scripts are great from what I’ve read!

Spencer: Oh gosh, I am so excited. Until the next time, thank you so much for joining me; I can’t wait until we meet again!

Laura: Oh, you’re welcome! Thank you!

See the costumes of What We Do In The Shadows on Thursdays on FX. Next Day FX on Hulu.

Jeriana San Juan and The Costumes of Netflix’s ‘Halston’

This year, audiences were blessed with a real Netflix treasure, Halston. Netflix’s Halston is a masterpiece, strengthened by the performances, sets, music, but most of all, the costumes. Costume designer Jeriana San Juan is nominated for a 2021 Emmy, and wow, talking about well deserved! Let’s dive into the costumes of Halston and why I think the costumes by Jeriana San Juan are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Included are some quotes from my interview with Jeriana, which can be heard in the YouTube video below or by listening to The Art of Costume Blogcast through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen!

Jeriana San Juan was the costume designer on this project, but she also worked as a consultant, a real inspiration to actor Ewan McGregor. You see, Ewan had to become Halston in every way possible, meaning he had to know what it’s like to be a fashion designer. “We worked together on how to pull fabric off the roll, how to manipulate a model wearing clothes,” Jeriana told me in an interview on The Art of Costume Blogcast. Jeriana continues by saying she also showed Ewan “those little details like how a designer works, where your eye goes to and when, how you reflect in the mirror for the whole image.” I love this story because it highlights the magic and worth of fashion and costume designers.

One of my favorite parts of this show had to be Krysta Rodriguez’s interpretation of Liza Minnelli. Who doesn’t love Liza with a Z, not Lisa with an S? Krysta’s performance was perfect, but then paired with the brilliant costuming of Jeriana San Juan…a match made in heaven. I loved every look from the “Liza With a Z” performance to Liza’s rehearsal outfit in France. Honestly, I could do an entire show on Liza’s costumes alone. Don’t tempt me with a good time!

Halston was known for his tie-dye silk chiffon caftans, which served as a real breakthrough in the designer’s career. Jeriana approached this “unique challenge” by immersing herself in the research, gathering photos, and even visiting archives. “There are three that are authentic pieces; one was a very special piece,” Jeriana told me, explaining that one of the caftans was actually a garment of the real Halston collection.

My favorite episode of television this year has to be “Versailles.” The Battle of Versailles Fashion Show is one of the more legendary fashion events in our history, taking place on November 28, 1973, in hopes of raising money for The Palace of Versailles restoration. The show pitted French designers Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Marc Bohan, and Hubert de Givenchy against American designers Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, and Bill Blass. Anne Klein, and of course, Halston!

Images Courtesy of Netflix

We had these moments in the script that felt almost mythological,” said Jeriana. “When I initially even took on this project, I just always thought in the back of my mind we would never get to really do Versailles. We just wouldn’t; it’s too massive!” Not only was Jeriana responsible for the costumes of Halston and all of the American designers, French designers, and everyone in the crowd. This episode could have been its own mini-series! Jeriana had to find the voices of each of these designers in small little segments, piecing together books and images of the show from photographers such as Bill Cunningham and Andy Warhol. This episode also gave Jeriana a chance to do more dance costumes, as Liza performed “Bonjour Paris” at the fashion show. “I LOVE dance costumes,” Jeriana excitedly told me, mentioning her use of the Halston signature clear sequins for these costumes.

The time has come for us to visit Studio 54! Wow, what a dream! Jeriana was charged with recreating some iconic regulars visiting Studio 54, such as Bianca Jagger, Steve Rubell in his infamous Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat, Divine, and of course, Liza Minnelli. The masterful costume design combined with the colorful sets brought the audience into a world that felt like it could have been the real Studio 54. I remain blown away. The scenes might have been short, but they left a long lasting impression.

When working with the crowds of Studio 54, Jeriana focused on color and playing with textures. “Studio 54 was a real celebration of sequin, beads, denim, t-shirts, and disco heels. There was a combination of textures there that I just appreciate,” said Jeriana. “I really had just too much fun.

Images Courtesy of Netflix

I absolutely loved this show. Each of these episodes was its own work of art that can be binged or seen on its own. However, a large amount of credit goes to costume designer Jeriana San Juan, who gave a masterclass in costume design. Her work told Halston’s story through all of the highs and lows of his life. She used fabric, color, and textures as her weapon and delivered a show that I will always go back to for years to come.

Listen to The Art of Costume Blogcast Interview with Jeriana San Juan on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on Youtube! Don’t forget to follow Jeriana San Juan on Instagram!

Looney Costuming with ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ Costume Designer, Melissa Bruning

When the opportunity came to me to interview Space Jam: A New Legacy costume designer, Melissa Bruning, I immediately said yes! Look, I grew up on the first Space Jam. I remember often camping out in the backyard as a kid. My father would always wheel out the tiniest tv with a VHS player, leaving it up to my brother and me on what movies we would watch. My choices were always The Fifth Element (one of the greatest films of all time) or the original Space Jam with Michael Jordan! So obviously, when Space Jam: A New Legacy came out, I was stoked!

I get it; when you think of Space Jam, costume design probably wasn’t the first thing to cross your mind. Rabbit season, duck season, basketball, Martians, Tweety Bird… what role could costume design really play in this film? In this week’s episode of The Art of Costume Blogcast, Elizabeth Joy Glass and I sat down with costume designer Melissa Bruning to talk about her work on Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Melissa told us her immediate response to the initial outreach over being costume designer of Space Jam: A New Legacy was “hell yes!” Imagine the opportunity! While she was, of course, excited, there was a task ahead. This task would be pretty daunting for any costume designer, giving the “Toon Squad” basketball uniforms a modern redesign. I asked Melissa about this task and her relationship with the animators. “They were my best buddies,” says Melissa and continued to say the main concern was that “not only would the uniform [have to] look good on Lebron, it had to look good on the toons.”

Looney Tunes in new uniforms by Melissa Bruning - Space Jam: A New Legacy
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Melissa had to take a lot of things into consideration when creating the concept. While “Daffy Duck could pretty much wear anything, same with Granny,” not all of the Looney Tunes look great in whites or orange. Remember, the Looney Tunes play basketball in the crazy, video-game-like world of the Serververse… so it is very dark with bright neon accents. With that being said, Melissa and the team settled on the blue color with a new, modern twist of the classic Warner Bros. circle. The new uniforms incorporate all of the same elements of the traditional uniforms while breathing a new modern life into them.

Images of Tune Squad uniforms.. Illustration by Christain Cordella. Photos Courtesy of Melissa Bruning

There were many fun costumes we saw on screen, such as Lebron James appearing in the crazy world of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Matrix,” and the 1942 film “Casablanca.”

Costume Concept Illustrations for the various looks of LeBron James by artist, Christain Cordella

There were costumes made for so many other of our favorite movies and television shows. But one that got away still hurts my heart! Elizabeth and I thought to ourselves, wouldn’t it be cool if we saw Lebron James as a Game of Thrones character? Turns out, the costume was made, but it didn’t make it on screen. My heart! “It was a replica we had made of The Hound from Game of Thrones. It was amazing. We did three fittings in it, and it was heavy as hell,” said Melissa Bruning. Elizabeth and I both screamed, “OH MY GOD!”.

LeBron James in armor inspired by Game of Thrones. Illustration by Christain Cordella. Photo Courtesy of Melissa Bruning

Imagine reading on the script as a costume designer,  ‘all of the Warner Bros. villains show up to watch the game’. Where do you even start? Melissa told us she “tried to clear about 250 different categories”. If you look closely, you’ll see Batman villains, Lord Voldemort, The Wicked Witch of The East, Baby Jane Hudson, and Pennywise the Clown from “It.” I could write an entire article on all of the characters seen in this film. “I had one separate costume shop and one separate assistant who, for about 15 weeks, was just making background,” said Melissa Bruning.

The wonderful Don Cheadle played Al-G, a rogue A.I. The costumes on Don’s character were some of the more fun costumes we saw; Elizabeth even mentioned they were her favorite!  While you might think costuming Looney Tunes would be the more difficult part of the job, Melissa had a different idea. “I think that the Al-G clothes were the hardest of the movie. What does an algorithm wear?” Melissa decided to focus on things that would make Al-G “shiny,” concentrate on circuitry and sparkle, like the sparkly tracksuit. But also, Al-G adapted to the different personalities relevant to the situation, such as a studio head or a Hall of Fame coach. “He would do whatever was the most pleasing for whoever was looking at him,” said Melissa.

Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

The costume design process behind Space Jam: A New Legacy was incredibly fascinating. For more behind-the-scenes details about the film, please enjoy our interview with costume designer Melissa Bruning. She goes into detail on her ideas behind the uniforms, working with Lebron James, and all of the crazy cameos that took place!  That’s all folks!

Now available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts!

Interview with Mare of Easttown Costume Designer Meghan Kasperlik

When it comes to contemporary costume design, people quickly think of a business consisting of nothing but shopping and pulling together rolling racks of clothes from everyday stores. While these elements are, of course, a part of the process, contemporary costume design has every motive to be a strong proponent of storytelling. The HBO limited series Mare of Easttown with costumes designed by 2021 Emmy-Nominee Meghan Kasperlik is proof of the vast potential of storytelling through contemporary costume design. I had the chance to dive into the process of costuming Easttown in a interview with Mare of Easttown costume designer Meghan Kasperlik – now live on The Art of Costume Blogcast.

Featured Image: Kate Winslet as Detective Mare Sheehan – Photo Credit: Michele K. Short /HBO

“This one is extra special to me because I am really excited that people are seeing the storytelling of costume, and it’s not just about having a fashion moment in a contemporary costume. It’s actually the authenticity of the characters and costumes that really elevated the storytelling. It’s really exciting that people recognize that!”

Meghan Kasperlik – The Art of Costume Blogcast
Kate Winslet and Jean Smart in Mare of Easttown – Photo Credit: Sarah Shatz / HBO

The costumes seen in Mare of Easttown are rightfully gaining a lot of praise for their authenticity and loyalty to the genuine natures of small-town Pennsylvania. While these costumes are nominated within the Outstanding Contemporary Costumes, they still have the transportive energy of any period or fantasy costume. Any lover of costume and fashion would see the dedication and thought costume designer Meghan Kasperlik put into each costume. It was evident Meghan took many traits of these characters into consideration, such as who these characters are, their jobs, and their roles in this town each day.

“It was very important that all of the costumes really looked authentic, and that they looked lived in, and that maybe this person picked it off the floor and smelled it and thought, “Oh, it’s fine today, I can wear it one more time!” Meghan continues to say, “This specific show was really meant to be, who are these characters, what happens in a day to these people, and they don’t change their clothes. It was really about how lived in we can make these characters.”

Meghan Kasperlik – The Art of Costume Blogcast

Part of Meghan Kasperlik’s research process included visiting a Wawa, a convenience store and gas station commonly located along the East Coast of the United States. She observed locals and noted what they were wearing, what they brought with them, what they bought, and how they bought it.

Julianne Nicholson as Lori Ross – Photo Credit: Michele K. Short / HBO

Then, of course, it came down to the ultimate task, costuming the main character of the series, Mare Sheehan. The brilliant Kate Winslet played Mare. One might ask, how can you go about transforming one of the most famous, well-loved actresses on the planet, known for their beauty and charismatic energy.  Fortunately for Meghan, Kate was all in when it came to the transformation, accepting the wig, laying in eyebrows, and of course, Mare’s wardrobe. 

Everything about Mare’s wardrobe was intentional, from the muted colors to the layers of clothes Mare hid under. It was imperative to Meghan that Mare’s wardrobe portrayed “a woman who would maybe buy new clothes when she felt it was necessary, but otherwise it would be a jeans and a t-shirt situation.” Mare often wore a Filson jacket, which Meghan referred to as Mare’s “suit of armor.” Adamant that Mare would never be seen with a handbag, Meghan designed Mare’s wardrobe to be about layering. 

Kate Winslet as Detective Mare Sheehan – Photo Credit: Michele K. Short /HBO

The attention to detail by Meghan Kasperlik and her crew was beyond impressive. I loved the color palettes, aging and dying, the layering, and of course, the use of graphic tees and local band t-shirts. We talked about the authenticity of the costuming, designing Mare’s wardrobe, and the costumes for some of our favorite characters such as  Detective Colin Zabel, Siobhan Sheehan, and of course Helen Fahey, played by Jean Smart! What is not to love? I could talk about Meghan Kasperlik and costuming Easttown forever, but why listen to me when you could just hear from the designer herself? Fortunately, Meghan joined me on a special bonus episode of The Art of Costume Blogcast.

For the full interview with Mare of Easttown costume designer Meghan Kasperlik – Listen below or head to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen!