“We have to sell an illusion… Reality is boring.” BAFTA Film Craft Costume Design Talk

I was scrolling through Twitter earlier this week, the prime example of procrastination, and stumbled upon a BAFTA announcement of a costume design talk. Luckily I was in time to grab a pair of tickets so yesterday Hannah and I made our way to BAFTA 195 Piccadilly to hear a conversation between Sammy Sheldon Differ, Jany Temime and Steven Noble.

Sammy Sheldon Differ with one of Keira Knightley’s costumes from ‘The Imitation Game’.

Sheldon DIffer and Noble are both nominated for BAFTAs tonight for The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything respectively. Temime is currently working on Spectre but remained tight-lipped.

Jany Temime.

Jany Temime.

The conversation was intended to be inclusive rather than specific about certain designer’s films but inevitably these conversations came up too. The whole event was fascinating because we were able to see designer’s interact with each other and it is not that common to see this. The Hollywood Reporter hosted a round table with the costume design nominees back in 2012 but there hasn’t been one since.

Steven Noble (this is pretty much how he was dressed yesterday - I love it).

Steven Noble (this is pretty much how he was dressed yesterday – I love it).

The first topic of conversation was about the process of designing costumes for a feature film. Sheldon Differ started by talking about reading the script and then starting the research. She collected research about the period (if its a period piece) and also some more abstract research about the emotion of the story. Then comes the creation of boards (to display and organise this visual research), leading onto sketches and then making; where possible. The job is “personifying through research”. But the process can change from job to job because every film has different needs.

Noble agreed with Sheldon Differ’s process and treats the first read of the script as an audience member – the first perception of the characters and the story. It’s a “very organic process”.

Temime had a slightly different process as she said that after she’s read the script she wants to talk to the director right away to find out what his or her vision is. It isn’t Tempe’s film so she wants to make sure that they’re on the same page.

Noble: “Do you ever go back to those first impressions?”

Temime: “Sometimes.”

Then came the discussion of what the deciding factor for working on a film is. Temime said straight away that for her it is the director. If she loves the director then she’ll do the film regardless of the genre. You want to work with people you love. (And the director is normally the one to choose the costume designer.) Noble agreed but said that for him it was 50:50 between the script and the director. Temime agreed that the story is vitally important but the script itself will evolve throughout the process. She said that the script for Spectre is probably on its 13th draft so if she just went for the script which version would she choose? Noble has just finished working on A Monster Calls (directed by J.A. Bayona) and said that in the end they had no script and no shooting schedule! Never an ideal situation when shooting a film.

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The focus then came to Tempe’s work on Bond – more about Skyfall than Spectre (both directed by Sam Mendes). Temime was definitely aware of the “history behind you” and being “responsible for an image”. She made the analogy that a Bond film is like a Christmas tree. Every year you want the same general idea but something different. She feels the need to give the audience what they expect but also to surprise them.

This then lead to a discussion about the constraints of working with a brand or with product placement. Temime is currently obsessed with the watches in Bond – because she has to be due to their contract. She feels that it is more difficult to work with a brand than not – they have a distinct expectation of you. Noble added that people working in fashion work in a much different time frame than costume and film. The fashion brands want to see the script, see where their product will be worn and tend to veto the use if it will be damaged or is worn in a death scene or something they don’t want associated with the brand. Sheldon Differ interposed that she has had occasions of fashion houses getting back to her once filming has finished. Noble concurred this situation. Temime ended saying that she has found fashion people very difficult to work with (no-one’s forgotten Black Swan yet, right?) because “fashion people are completely different from us”. Costume designers are expressing so much more through clothes.

The Imitation Game Movie New Pic (2)

The Imitation Game (directed by Morten Tyldum) was the next discussion launched. Sheldon Differ said that the difficulty she had was making the design faithful and interesting. Nothing that takes the audience out of the story. She looked for reference of colour and happily found some so that the film never looked muted. She tried to be as truthful as possible but there is always this contrast for the audience between realism and view of the period. This is why period films designed in different eras tend to be “visible” (the 1970s version of The Great Gatsby versus the 2014 version for example). Sheldon Differ only met Turing’s nephew after he’d seen the film and he said the costumes were very representative of what he knew of Alan – best compliment she could receive.

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Noble had a similar issue when designing The Theory of Everything. Director James Marsh told Noble that he didn’t want to create a social realist film and he didn’t want to document each decade. He was much more interested in showing an emotional timeline. Noble had to argue for some kind of guide to ensure that he was working from the same period as the make-up, hair and production designers. That symbiotic relationship is key to creating a seamless film. The design is able to travel through fairly smoothly. Key pieces were placed on background artists and a mixture was created. In the same way that you don’t suddenly have a new wardrobe every year, neither do film characters. The costumes needed to be true to the period but fresh for the audience.

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Gravity posed a particular difficulty for Temime. One directive she was given by Alfonso Cuaron was “do not have two teletubbies”. The costumes for Sandra Bullock and George Clooney needed to be completely different from true astronaut suits but still look realistic. It was a technically boring film for Temime because she needed to research precise reasons for the positioning of parts of the suit so that she’d be able to move them. Then there was the issue of white. She thinks they worked with around 50 different shades to allow for different shooting. Temime agreed to Gravity because she wanted to work with Cuaron again.

ex-machina

Sheldon DIffer talked about the difficulties of working on Ex Machina to create a very specific costume for Alicia Vikander’s Ava. There were experiments with UV powder to try to get the wire mesh to glow in different light but this never worked as intended. Eventually the fabric was made using a metal powder and they were able to generate this undulation to make it look as close to “skin” as possible. Another constraint was that the director, Alex Garland, didn’t want to see any seams. (He was one of the main reasons Sheldon Differ signed up.) The suit had to be weaved together and Vikander had to squeeze into it. (So much so that she fainted during one of the early fittings.) Sheldon Differ had to work very closely with the visual effects department so that she could give them the best result that they wanted.

Under-The-Skin-Scarlett-Johansson1

Under the Skin posed different problems for Noble mostly because Scarlett Johansson only wears two costumes throughout the entire film. Jonathan Glazer had been working on the film for about 11 years before Noble came on board and he wanted to protect his “baby”. There were limited special effects in the film so Noble doesn’t class it as a science fiction film in the same vein as Gravity and Ex Machina – he shies away from them and has great regard for Sheldon Differ and Tempe’s work on them. Johnasson’s character in the film was envisioned by Noble as an Eastern European view of the West. The way things are put together in a way that doesn’t look bad but doesn’t have a Western eye. The majority of Johansson’s clothes were from the high street (Next, Forever 21 and River Island) except for a Dolce and Gabbana camisole and Mulberry boots – that had to be heavily adjusted for the scenes in the wood.

Harry-Potter-and-the-Prisoner-of-Azkaban-film-picture

Harry Potter has been mentioned earlier but this was the first time the series was fully examined with Temime. The question was whether she felt pressure entering a series but Temime said that she started working on The Prisoner of Azkaban before The Chamber of Secrets had come out and by that point the films were just successful children’s films. Cuaron wanted to make the film for teenagers so both of them went into the process knowing that they would be changing the aesthetics of Potter dramatically. The films got bigger as she went along and generally the process got easier – Azkaban was the most difficult film. The problems Temime had were making the cast look younger on screen and getting them to separate themselves from their characters. Allusions were made to on-set antics from the cast…Temime clearly has stories to last a lifetime! There was mention of The Goblet of Fire being less easy to work on due to Mike Newell taking a more “Chris Columbus” view of the series but when David Yates came on board with The Order of the Phoenix she was able to continue with her established style and had more and more freedom.

The final point came with requirements of a director. Talent, vision, clarity and an understanding of the process of a costume designer.

Questions were a little monopolised with my most loathed question: what advice would you give? The designers were all helpful and generous with their advice.

Overall, the talk was fascinating and the three designers gave the impression of being long held friends. Temime in particular was full of joy, laughter and you can be sure that with some alcohol in her she’d tell you some wonderful gossip. I wish the best of luck to Sheldon Differ and Noble tonight at the BAFTAs but in my heart of hearts I believe that Milena Canonero has got the award sewn up for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Unfortunately neither are nominated for the Oscars but they are both nominated in the Period Film category at the Costume Designer’s Guild Awards (once again against Canonero).

Hope this was an interesting round-up and sorry if it went on – they were all so fascinating!

S x

(This talk only referenced a few of each designer’s films so don’t forget to check out their other work!)

The Costumes of ‘Agent Carter’ that Already Make it Great

It may not have escaped your notice that a) there is an Agent Carter TV show about to start (but not in the UK because TV schedulers are ridiculously stupid) and b) I freaking love Agent Peggy Carter and Hayley Atwell. Proof to be found here, here,  here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Told you. Agent-Carter-poster-570x760 So Agent Carter is set in 1946 after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) but before those of the Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter (2013). Peggy is working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) dealing with the sexism that accompanied women working in the 1940s. The imdb synopsis for the show is ridiculously inaccurate: Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 20.01.18 Yes Peggy was involved with Steve Rogers but that wasn’t all that she was. Moving on. This post is mostly to appreciate the costume design work by Giovanna Ottobre-Melton that we’ve already seen in promo pictures. I’m excited and so should you. The images gathered below have been released by Marvel and, I think, are all from the first two episodes.HAYLEY ATWELL Peggy’s blonde! She’s undercover! In a gold low-cut dress – very different from the dresses we’ve seen Peggy wearing so far.HAYLEY ATWELL, DOMINIC COOPER I just included this for the shoes.agent-carter-1-800 Wide lapels with both the blouse and jacket and the blouse lapels are beautifully edged to add structure and focus. Adds a contrast with the stricter tailoring of the jacket.B6RrJ5XIYAAtvni.jpg-large More tailored 40s but with some gathering at the waist to soften the shape and pink detailing to brighten the navy blue.2051104_CA_Agent_Carter_KDM_ A different version of the earlier wide lapelled jacket and blouse but different shapes. My favourite part is the double lapels on the jacket.Agent-Carter-600x450 More blouse and fitted jacket combination but this time – check out those pinstripes! Amazing! The waist dart that finishes just below the bust changes the pinstripes and gives further detailing. The horizontal pinstripes at the centre front are another detail that adds to the suit.HAYLEY ATWELL

Here is a better photo of the edged wide lapelled blouse – reminds me a little bit of Peggy’s blouse in CA:TFA.

Ottobre-Melton is the fifth costume designer to take on Peggy Carter: Anna B. Shepherd in CA:TFA, Ellen Mirojnick and Timothy A. Wisnick in MO-S:AC and, briefly, Judianna Makovsky in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). She’s got some big shoes to fill but these images fill me with more anticipation and happiness.

S x

Costume Review: ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1’

There be spoilers in costume discussions…

Kurt and Bart had some big shoes to fill when they took over costume design duties from Trish Summerville but Mockingjay is a very different beast from Catching Fire, which was itself noticeably different from The Hunger Games (designed by Judianna Makovsky). Summerville was able to play around with lots of extravagant costumes for scenes in the Capitol and for the victors but Kurt and Bart have certain restrictions working on a film mostly based in District 13.

Katniss

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As with all the inhabitants of District 13, Katniss is provided with a utilitarian costume of grey cargo trousers and a grey shirt. (Oddly this costume is slightly reminiscent of her reaping costume in Catching Fire.) Shown above is her Mockingjay costume designed by Cinna before his death. The costume takes references from real soldier’s armour and is functional as well as interesting. The initial idea behind the Mockingjay costume was as a symbol but it was realised for practical and protective wear. Whenever Katniss has been in the games her “protective wear” was decided by the Capitol and was fairly limited in its effectiveness. This is battle ready. It marks a huge step forward for Katniss and her role in the rebellion.

Katniss-VV

Katniss’s key costume piece is returned to her and remains with her when she and Gale go hunting. Her father’s leather jacket became an iconic piece of clothing for her and solidifies who she is.

Peeta

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Peeta spends most of this film in the Capitol and his costumes reflect that but there is so much more to them than just extravagance. His first appearance is in the white suit we see above. The lines are sharp, minimal and reflect Snow’s roses. The high collar of the shirt is noticeable here but is nothing to compare to the constricting collars yet to come. Peeta’s colours darken as his physical and mental state deteriorates. His gaunt appearance is emphasised with the tightening of the collars. His suits become his own personal straight-jacket.

Gale

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Gale’s costumes follow the standard clothing of District 13 and the soldier’s armour. His shining costume moment comes with Gale’s key scene in District 12. This is one of the most vulnerable moments that we’ve witnessed from Gale and the softness of his costume (seen above) reflects this.

Effie

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Effie’s costumes take on a very different role in this film. The first time we see her she purports to be a political refugee and fights against everything in District 13 (in her mind at least). Once Plutarch gives her purpose to help Katniss she begins to regain her identity through her clothing. Yes she is still limited by the same clothes as everyone else in District 13 but she uses these to her advantage. She is a creative person and creates the new Effie. She still has her high heels and accessories from the Capitol and she uses these to help rebuild herself.

Finnick

finnick

Finnick doesn’t have too much screen time in this film and his costumes are generally limited to hospital clothes and the standard District 13 uniform. But, as with Gale, soft knitwear comes out when he is speaking in the propos. Finnick is not talking as a soldier but a victim of the Capitol. He needs to be sympathetic, sincere and approachable. The public need to believe and trust him. And the style of knitwear flashes back to his first appearance in Catching Fire.

President Snow

President-Snow-Mockingjay-Instagram

Snow is trying to keep control over Panem. District after District are joining the rebellion and his main weapon (Peeta) hasn’t been put into action yet. He remains dressed in the sharp tailored lines that we have come to expect from him. These suits reflect his power and tight control despite troubling circumstances “moves and counter moves”. There are also many more instances of white roses included throughout the film and Finnick’s revelation makes them all the more disturbing.

Haymitch

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Haymitch enters the film just when Katniss needs him to and after he’s sobered up. For the majority of the film he is dressed in the District 13 uniform with the concession of a grey woollen hat and layers of grey cardigans. Could it be that without alcohol these are the only form of protection he has left? He sported similar jumpers in Catching Fire so the idea of safety in soft wool is not completely ridiculous.

Caesar Flickerman

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We always expect Caesar to be a bright and colourful influence on the film and this time he doesn’t have Effie to compete with. His suits are all fully patterned but there general tone is deeper and richer. There is much less extravagance shown here. This is no time for frivolity and Caesar’s costumes reflect this, even though this may not be instantly visible.

Overall, I was very impressed with the costume design in Mockingjay. The film has a more solemn tone and the costumes needed to reflect that. I’m very interested to see what Kurt and Bart have waiting for Mockingjay, Part 2. The world has entered a much grittier political ground and the historical references in the costumes are great for echoing that.

S x

Costume Plot: Tom Ripley in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’

To celebrate the release of The Two Faces of January today I thought I’d look at the Ann Roth and Gary Jones’ costumes from The Talented Mr Ripley – another Patricia Highsmith adaptation. (SPOILERS for The Talented Mr Ripley abound and if you haven’t seen the film – why not?)

The film (and the book) look at the life of Tom Ripley mostly concentrating on what happens following the murder of Dickie Greenleaf. Costume plays a huge part in this. In the same way that Catch Me If You Can is concerned with taking on different identities so is this film – but with very different outcomes. The aim was to do a normal costume plot but I realised that it’s more interesting to split Ripley into his different incantations: Tom Ripley and Tom Ripley as Dickie Greenleaf – the Dickie Greenleaf he wanted Dickie to be.

Tom Ripley

Ripley in New York

The first time we see Tom he is playing the piano wearing a borrowed jacket and it is this jacket that sets off the whole chain of events. Without the Princeton insignia he would never have been approached by Herbert Greenleaf. But he still made the decision to lie. Ripley has never fitted in and this was an attempt to not seem like an outsider. To belong in the entitled world he watches and attends to in the bathroom of the opera. Back in New York we have the first sight of Ripley’s corduroy jacket that makes regular appearances throughout the film.

Ripley in Italy

The clothes he wears when in Italy are the firm establishment of him and his differences from Dickie. His wardrobe is limited, well worn and not fashionable or particularly well maintained. The clothes serve a purpose but they are just another way in which he doesn’t fit in. When Dickie mentions getting him a suit made he feels like this is his true acceptance into Dickie’s world. However short-lived. His suit at the airport also show the first of Ripley’s button-down shirts. This is a common recurrence and helps to add that “buttoned up” view of Ripley and firming up his outsider status. He is dressing the same way in Italy that he dressed in New York. (With the swimming “trunks” a notable exception. They are seen only once and even on the beach Ripley cannot fit in.)

Ripley in Italy 2

The whites and blues are becoming more common here and contrast against Dickie’s cream colours plus his silk polos. Dickie is the wealthy American abroad and fully inhabits the part.

Ripley in the Bar

We have Dickie’s Italian friend, Ripley and Dickie. The style differences between the three is very noticeable. Even in a laid-back environment Ripley appears severe and overly structured.

Ripley in Rome

Dickie mentions getting Ripley a suit made. This feels like Ripley’s true acceptance into Dickie’s world. However short-lived. (Notice the return of the cord jacket I highlighted earlier.) Any acceptance is destroyed by the meeting with Freddie and Ripley’s subsequent game of dress up in Dickie’s clothes. The foreshadowing is combined with Ripley’s true enthusiasm and joy of “being” Dickie. If meeting Freddie was the beginning of the end, this revelation sped up the process.

Ripley on the Boat
The costuming of Dickie and Ripley is particularly important here because it enables the hotel concierge to fairly legitimately mistake Ripley for Dickie. We needed to see them dressed in a similar fashion so that someone who doesn’t personally know the two of them could be easily mistaken. Ripley’s shirt is undoubtedly a poorer quality than Dickie’s but that slight difference wouldn’t be noticed for such a fleeting moment.

Ripley post Dickie's death

From now on we have a different Ripley. We have Ripley keeping up appearances as Ripley as well as “being” Dickie. The key difference for this section of the film is Ripley’s hair. As “Ripley” it is usually parted on the right and when he’s “Dickie” it’s parted on the left. These are the examples of Ripley being Ripley but with Dickie’s hair. The first image is from Ripley’s return to tell Marge that Dickie isn’t returning. He’s already discovered that he can impersonate Dickie and his journey is about to start. This is the first appearance of the black polo neck jumper but this piece becomes important in showing Ripley’s inner turmoil. Then we have Ripley meeting Marge and Peter. He’s back in a suit we’ve already seen, as well as a knitted tie we’ve already seen. Then we have Ripley disposing of Freddie’s body. He may have been dressed as “Dickie” when he killed him but “Ripley” is doing the dirty work. Ripley has been the killer really – not Dickie. Following yet another murder Ripley has retreated back to the black polo neck jumper.

Ripley

The hair parting has returned to “Ripley” and Ripley has come to Venice to see Peter. He starts the journey with the black polo neck and the cordroy jacket but these are quickly replaced with a white polo neck – actually belonging to his Dickie persona. Ripley for Peter is very different from Ripley for Dickie or Marge. He is closer to the Dickie persona and is much more comfortable in who he is. He fits with Peter. He starts wearing more of his Dickie clothes and is less awkward and ill at ease. The corduroy jacket disappears. The button-down shirts disappear.

Ripley

On the cruise away with Peter (when the search for Dickie has been stopped and the matter apparently settled) Ripley has fallen back to the black. His short-lived happiness is destroyed by the presence of Meredith. She remarks that she barely recognised Dickie – this is Ripley as Ripley. He’d left Dickie behind but unfortunately for Peter, that is not to be. The big black coat he wears drowns him as Ripley is drowned in his own lies and deceptions.

Ripley as Dickie

I always thought it would be better, to be a fake somebody… than a real nobody.

Dickie
Ripley’s confidence levels soar when he’s Dickie. He has beautifully cut suits, sharp shirts and silk ties. The Dickie he thinks Dickie should’ve been. He even surrounds himself with his own Marge – Meredith. Most of his suits are in dark colours but the first suit has the warm tones that we associate with the real Dickie.

Dickie

We finally see Ripley having his suit fitted. The best costume here is Ripley’s dressing gown with silk pyjamas.

Dickie

In fact the only thing that looks like Dickie is you.

Freddie has a point. The first costume is one of Ripley’s most Dickie-ish costumes. The warm but muted colours, the soft fabric quality – these are obviously a step up from his Ripley clothes. The next polo shirt is the one we see later when he plays piano for Peter. A light cream shirt makes a nice comparison from the last time we saw Ripley – disposing of Freddie’s bloodied body. Then there’s the white shirt he wears talking to the police another time. His guilt compared with the purity of the clothing makes for the perfect dichotomy.

S x

Sheena Napier: Costume Design Talk at the V&A

The last costume talk I attended was last September with Deborah Nadoolman Landis and the last V&A talk was with Jenny Beavan back in January 2012 – so this talk was well overdue.

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Sheena Napier may not be a “household” name like Beavan and Landis but she has worked steadily in the industry (mostly designing for TV) for years and has been nominated for an Oscar (for Enchanted April), an Emmy and won a BAFTA (both for Parade’s End).

'Enchanted April' 1991

‘Enchanted April’ 1991

The talk started with Napier talking through how she got started in the costume industry. She went to art college to study theatre design but discovered that her poor maths skills (her words not mine!) caused problems with set design but, more importantly, she was much more interested in costume as social comment and social history. At the time costume was a vocational course rather than a degree so Napier left. She went on to work in the theatre and despite initial intentions to return to college she never made it back.

'Enchanted April' (1991)

‘Enchanted April’ (1991)

She started ironing for the opera and then worked for the wardrobe master at the Festival Theatre (I want to say Chichester Festival Theatre but I didn’t catch it – I’m sorry!). Napier said that John Bartlett was the greatest teacher she ever had and he taught her everything about costume. He was a perfectionist and wanted everything to be made properly – no shortcuts. He taught her tailoring, costume making and the importance of attention to detail.

'Backbeat' (1994)

‘Backbeat’ (1994)

Napier told us horror stories relating to time shortages and occasions of working for three straight days and nights to get costumes finished (we’ve all been there) but said that this camaraderie in the environment strengthened her love of costume and the industry.

'Ravenous' (1999)

‘Ravenous’ (1999)

She took over from Bartlett as wardrobe mistress for five years (making good use of the costume cutting books he bought her) and relied on his advice:

Tell them you can do the job, then you have to do the job and you’ll find that you can do it.

'The Heart of Me' (2002)

‘The Heart of Me’ (2002)

After working in the theatre Napier took some time out and had a knitwear craftshop in the country until opportunity came knocking. A friend of hers at the costume department at the BBC told her how desperate they were for design assistants. Napier’s knowledge of costume houses and fabric sourcing locations gained from her work in the theatre meant that she was able to become a design assistant and completely jump the traditional previous step of dresser – with a little bit of tension from some members of the department. She signed a three-month contract and left three years later.

'The Heart of Me' (2002) [Going against Napier's wishes see if you can spot Olivia Williams' dress later on in this post...]

‘The Heart of Me’ (2002)
[Going against Napier’s wishes see if you can spot Olivia Williams’ dress later on in this post…]

She knew that the BBC costume department was on its last legs so after some success working for the BBC (particularly her work on ‘Allo ‘Allo) she was able to leave to design Enchanted April. The film was made by the BBC in partnership with Greenpoint Films but when it was bought by Miramax it was widely distributed and became (in Napier’s words) a “proper” films. (This was the film that marks Napier’s Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design.)

'Poirot' Five Little Pigs (2003) [Notice a younger Little Finger from Game of Thrones?]

‘Poirot’ Five Little Pigs (2003)
[Notice a younger Little Finger from Game of Thrones?]

The success of Enchanted April led to designing Backbeat but then a critically unsuccessful film left Napier out of work for a while. Napier learnt the importance of saving money and to spend the time off in a positive way. The next film she mentioned was Ravenous which has gained a cult following but she’s not personally a huge fan of.

'Poirot' Five Little Pigs (2003)

‘Poirot’ Five Little Pigs (2003)

Ravenous was then followed by The Heart of Me and then Poirot (the show Napier is most famous for). She told us that she wasn’t particularly keen on taking the job because the show had already been on the air for 15 years and she felt like it would be taking over someone else’s work. She was one hour late for the interview (and she’s never late) but she loved David Suchet and the director and their work process. They talked through every character’s life and story and she felt that this was something she would enjoy doing. Her first Poirot episode was Five Little Pigs and she thinks it is still her favourite (and mine).

I want you to be able to know something about [the character].

'Poirot' Death on the Nile (2004)

‘Poirot’ Death on the Nile (2004)

This was specifically important with the Poirot adaptations where a story must be condensed to such a degree that character details are inevitably lost but costume can be used to create the depth and understanding of the character for the audience.

'Wah-Wah' (2005), designed by Sheena Napier.

‘Wah-Wah’ (2005), designed by Sheena Napier.

Napier told us of the trials of late casting that she first became aware of when filming Death on the Nile. Besides Suchet the first actor was cast five days before shooting – frantic costume fittings became standard for most of the shoot. She also told us that she turned on a tv and found an old episode of Poirot playing and realised that they were using the same cardigan! Due to late casting, limited budgets and time constraints costume making was impossible (apart from for Suchet) and there was (and is) a limited costume pool for the 1930s. Napier made the decision to start buying and storing pieces and she has a 150 sq ft storage space that is filled. She loved working with Suchet and was able to focus on attention to detail (as taught by Bartlett) but also try to make each episode look different. She was particularly fond of The Labours of Hercules which she thought was the most stylish episode. [Napier thinks that http://recycledmoviecostumes.tumblr.com is a little unfair.]

'Ballet Shoes' (2007), designed by Sheena Napier.

‘Ballet Shoes’ (2007), designed by Sheena Napier.

[One fun note was a photo of a pair of cufflinks that were nicknamed the “murdered man” cufflinks and appeared on every murdered man. They were never seen but were a fun in-joke.]

'Wild Target' (2009), designed by Sheena Napier.

‘Wild Target’ (2009), designed by Sheena Napier.

Then we looked at Napier’s work on Parade’s End. She brought one of Rebecca Hall’s (Sylvia Tietjan) dresses with her that had been made based on an original dress. The dress combined some original very delicate pieces of beading (one of the few times when Napier allowed her maker to cut up an old dress) with modern fabrics. There was an original dress that she wanted to copy but all the modern fabric she found was too heavy to replicate the tiny pleats in the dress.

'Parade's End' (2012) [This is the pink dress Napier brought with her.]

‘Parade’s End’ (2012) [This is the pink dress Napier brought with her.]

We then moved onto The Village; the second series filming now. The budgets have gone down but expectations have gone up! There was another story of late casting – this time the day before shooting and the producers didn’t seem to be too interested in arranging a fitting.

'Parade's End' (2012)

‘Parade’s End’ (2012)

The last completed work Napier has designed is The Great Fire and this lead to discussions of costume authenticity. Although she appreciates the attention to detail that Bartlett taught her she also understands that the story is the most important factor.

We’re not curators, we’re storytellers.

'Poirot' The Labours of Hercules (2013)

‘Poirot’ The Labours of Hercules (2013)

If an actor isn’t comfortable in something or the shape isn’t as flattering as it could be things will be changed. It isn’t about Napier, but about the actor on screen. They need to be able to sell the character and can’t do that if they’re uncomfortable.

'Poirot' Dead Man's Folly (2013). The final episode of 'Poirot' filmed but not the final aired.

‘Poirot’ Dead Man’s Folly (2013). The final episode of ‘Poirot’ filmed but not the final aired.

There followed some questions:

It is possible to identify when period films were made (for example a 1930s film made in the ’70s). How important is it to be timeless?

The Heart of Me was made in the Merchant Ivory mindset where everything was meant to be perfect. This is no longer true. Everything is seen from a modern perspective and the director is the boss – what they say goes. For example, directors tend to hate hats (actors generally like them) but the directors are likely to get the final word. No matter how inaccurate.

'Marple' A Caribbean Mystery, designed by Sheena Napier

‘Marple’ A Caribbean Mystery (2013), designed by Sheena Napier

Favourite time period?

She was excited to do The Great Fire because it’s a period not commonly done but she loves all periods and contemporary. Her main interest is in characters. But if she could “wear” a period it would be the 1910s shown in Parade’s End.

'The Village' Series One

‘The Village’ Series One (2013)

So there we have a great talk by Sheena Napier. There are a number of films and tv shows that I haven’t seen but I would be seriously tempted now!

S x

Puttin’ on the Glitz: Fashion & Film in the Jazz Age

At the end of March I attended an event at the British Library hosted by Amber Butchart and (Lord) Chris Laverty. I covered this event for Joe Kucharski over at Tyranny of Style and I’m posting the link here in case you haven’t seen it!

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The event was great and it’s worth thanking everyone all over again. And, contractually*, I have to say how charming and handsome Chris is. Amber was perfection and wears a turban like nobody’s business.

I hope you enjoy and don’t forget to check out the rest of Tyranny of Style.

S x

*not really.

Natasha (Black Widow) Romanoff’s Journey from ‘Iron Man 2’ to ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’

Natasha Romanoff has an interesting journey in the Marvel films, not least that her character arc moves through different films with different protagonists. As the only female Marvel superhero (at this point) she sits in the ground between “pleasing” fanboys and being a strong character in her own right. The success of this in the films can be argued, just as her costumes can, but her existence is something we should be happy about. As a starting point.

(Mild spoilers for all three films.)

Iron Man 2

Costumes designed by Mary Zophre

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The first time we see Natasha Romanoff she is called Natalie Rushman and is applying to take over from Pepper Potts as Tony Stark’s personal assistant. She is dressed competently with elegance but not overstated. Her clothing isn’t threatening but still maintains an air of sex appeal – to gain the attention of noted womaniser Tony. The use of monochromatic colours also works to make her blend in with the background. An ideal situation for a spy.

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Now that “Natalie” is in Tony’s employ her costumes become much more fitted, colourful and sexy. She is doing all she can to fit in with his world. She is fulfilling his idea of the perfect personal assistant – she needs him to keep her around and to confide in her. (The dress looks like a combination of a few Roland Mouret designs.)

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This dress is in a much more sober colour but still has the fitted look of the earlier dress. This dress fits more with the Pepper Potts personal assistant role – is she changing her cover to become more like Pepper because that’s who Tony trusts implicitly? (The dress looks very similar to Black Halo’s Jackie O dress.)

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This party dress (Dolce & Gabbana) is much more in tone with the earlier coral dress. She is fitting in with the party crowd but still able to stand out. The second photo shows a scene cut from the film where Natalie is more openly and obviously flirting with Tony. This dress plays into that perfectly. She may be his personal assistant but she is also still a guest at his birthday party.

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Then we have the reveal of the worst kept secret – Natalie Rushmore is Natasha Romanoff who is Black Widow. A spy working for Nick Fury in S.H.I.E.L.D. This is the first iteration of the iconic catsuit. It’s very fitted (as you would expect) and the piped seams are there to draw your eyes down the whole of the suit. Add this to the low zipped neckline. Any ways that could be used to sex up a skintight catsuit without being too overt have been used here. It still works as a functional outfit but you wouldn’t exactly see this costume on a male spy/agent.

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Although “Natalie”‘s cover is blown with Tony she is now employed as Pepper’s assistant. Her costume now takes on a more sombre tone that is more fitting for Pepper and less seductive. Her role is to observe and protect Pepper and she is more likely to be kept on by being competent at her job than by looking sexy. The dresses still fit with Natalie’s overall look but they’ve been adjusted for the scenario. The perfect spy.

The Avengers

Costumes designed by Alexandra Byrne

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We have a new film and we have a new spy position. We never hear Natasha’s spy name here because her cover has already been “blown”. From the dialogue we gather that the mission began as a seduction and this is where the fitted black dress comes in. (Fitted but with a noticeable flair in the skirt to enable the gymnastic fight moves.) The dress also works as her Iron Man 2 costumes did in lowering people’s expectations. She is able to overcome the three Russians aided by this fact. One great touch is the exposed zipper at the back of the dress. Not only is this a modern touch but its adds a layer of toughness to the elegant dress – toughness that we expect from Natasha. She is a highly competent and dangerous spy but uses her sexuality and femininity to trick men. Is this an act of strength or weakness?

A2

The next time we see Natasha she still seems to be undercover but in a different persona. She is dressed to fit in with the world of Calcutta and also to put Bruce Banner at ease. We see that she’s hidden a gun so she is prepared for violence but she needs Bruce to trust her and a catsuit just won’t cut that. The colours are all warm toned and combined with the warm lighting and colours of the set mean that she stays fairly hidden in the shadows. The shawl that Natasha is seen wearing here plays into Bruce’s red toned shirt, creating a comfortable colour scheme between them.

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Now we have Natasha as herself, as a fully fledged S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. She is not in any spy persona. She wears tightly fitted jeans (to allow for combat?), a tough leather jacket (her personal form of protection?) and a red top to keep the warm tones that we set up in Calcutta. This Natasha is practical, not overtly sexual. She works in a male-oriented world and needs to be taken seriously be those she works with. Particularly when one of them is the first ever superhero and the other can turn into the Hulk.

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The new catsuit. This is still fitted by the fabric seems much more hardwearing and likely to give protection. The seams are no longer piped but flat felled to add strength and stability. They made add a level of sexiness but they are more practical and less obvious. The zipped neckline is still low but there is much less skin exposed. The Black Widow belt buckle (first seen in a much smaller form on the Iron Man 2 catsuit) is more focused and obvious here; as are the number of Natasha’s weapons.

A4

The Avengers saved the world and are taking a break. Natasha has gone back to jeans, a warm toned top and a leather jacket. This time the jacket is much lighter (still playing into her warm tones) and is less of a “threatening” statement. She will always favour leather for its protection but she trusts the people around her ad has gained their trust.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Costumes designed by Judianna Makovsky

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Another film, another catsuit. This suit seems to be a middle ground between Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. The neckline is closer to Avengers, but the fabric appears much more lycra-based as in IM2. The level of weapons seems closer to Avengers, with the belt buckle closer to IM2. There is much more panelling in this suit than in the other versions and means that, as a look, the suit has gone back to its more sexualised roots. There are leather side panels, bulked up shoulder pads, elbow and knee pads and a combination of flat felled seams and piped seams. But in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Natasha is barely seen in the catsuit. She remains Natasha Romanoff rather than Black Widow.

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From now on we have Natasha as Natasha. Many of her costumes remind me of Veronica Mars’ costumes – the jeans, jackets (corduroy and leather), stripes, hoodies. As personality comparisons go Veronica and Natasha aren’t too far removed. We’ve got incognito look one but it’s worth noting that the green corduroy jacket is still in the warm tones that we established in The Avengers.

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This is the most Veronica Mars-y costume. Natasha has chosen greys and more muted tones to help blend in to the background and hide from S.H.I.E.L.D. The greys are still warm in tone and we’re seeing layers as an off-duty form of protection.

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We’re back to pre-hiding Natasha. Black jeans, black top and a leather jacket. The main interest in this leather jacket is its clear 1940s Aviator influence. We’ve had those influences before surrounding Captain America: on Steve in Captain America: The First Avenger, on Peggy in CA:TFA and on Steve in The Avengers. This is one of the few obvious ’40s costume references in the film and it’s interesting that it’s found on Natasha rather than Steve. His costumes are much more modern than they were in The Avengers when there were clear repeated ’40s links.

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The last time we see Natasha is after her Senate subcommittee interview before she is off to find a new identity for herself. This is ‘blank-slate’ Natasha, but ‘blank-slate’ with leather protection everywhere. The leather blazer is smart and practical but tightly tailored at the waist. This is probably overkill and done to stop any chance that she won’t look like “sexy Scarlett Johansson”.

[I left out one costume due to major spoilers, lack of photo and specific spy mode.]

Natasha’s next appearance will come in Avengers: Age of Ultron, once again designed by Alexandra Byrne. Personally, I’m hoping for a return to The Avengers catsuit and hair. And maybe a comment on the arrow necklace she was spotted wearing in CA:TWS.

S x