Terry Dresbach

AN 18th CENTURY LIFE

Category Archives: Costume Design

Details…the Latest, Claire ‘Blueberry’, and Analiese ‘Dressage’

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I have an endless stream of these pics. They will take us all the way through Droughtlander. It is not only a way to share the kind of detail my team accomplished, but also a look at how staggeringly enormous S2 was. It is overwhelming in retrospect and interesting to now be dealing with the concern that I overwhelm the blog. Can viewers take it all in?? I really don’t know.

Anyway, the Blueberry was created because I found this gorgeous pice of fabric, once again at Britex. I was really playing with colour and decided to embroider the brilliant red leaves on it. Not only did it make for a stunning costume for Claire and highlighted the opulence of Paris, but it highlighted the beautiful colours in the fabric in a really dramatic way.

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This costume of Annalise’s is one of my favourites. Annualise gave us, as did Louise, the chance to once again, define Paris and to define Claire, in juxtaposition. We went to town on this costume, the same way did on Louise’s costumes. It was an opportunity to just show the viewer how complex and detailed 18th century clothing could be.

In story terms, it highlights how foreign and decadent this world is that Jamie and Claire have to navigate. How they stand out in contrast to that world and yet carry the simplicity and elegance of Scotland and of the 1940s into the French court.

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Louise – Versailles

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Louise was absolutely essential to our entire structure. She was actually a cornerstone.

I set a very public goal before we ever started filming Outlander. To be as authentic as possible. Of course you can never be truly authentic. There is no way to make thousands of garments by hand, in the time we have. We can’t use actual 18th century materials, in short we are making costumes, not reproductions. But I did not want to present a contemporary view of history. As I say over and over, “History is pretty good, just as it is! It needs no help from us.”

But we knew that we were going to play this time travel note with Claire. The ONLY way that works is if the world around her is very, very true to the period. Otherwise it is just a mess. We lose all accuracy, and Claire’s message gets completely lost in the jumble. Louise (and Mary) are the female supporting characters, they are Parisians. They MUST be absolutely SPOT ON.

Louise’s character really lends itself well to the task. A somewhat vapid coquette, a member of the Parisian Aristocracy, she is an 18th Century fashionista of the first order. She can carry the water. Louise can define Parisian fashion for us, and create a backdrop for Claire. She is our contrast.

We looked to some really spectacular gowns worn by Madame Pompadour and other ladies of the French Court.

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One of the costumes we do that with is her Versailles gown. I chose the most flagrant fabric I could find. A wildly sensual embroidered silk. the colours on it are outrageous.

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Trying to remember the name…something Peony. Very Chinoiserie, which was an influence of the period through the silk trade.

The most fun thing about the gown was that no matter HOW MUCH we threw at the gown, it just absorbed it. Bows, furbelows, lace, flowers, jewels, nothing was too much for this dress. I think we could have added even more but had to stop at some point.

It is rare to have so many great pictures of one costume, but the publicity dept. shot this from every possible angle. Fantastic. I have added a few more, so keep scrolling, there are a zillion pictures. I think the best thing is just to post them all. I guess this dress really can never be too much.

Enjoy!

Outlander Season 2 Gallery Pictured: Claire Sermonne as Louise de Rohan Photo: Jason Bell/Starz/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television

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Furbelow construction –

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Voila! Louise.

Red

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Not sure there is very much more to say about the red dress, that hasn’t been covered extensively.

Mood boards and various notes, below…

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Dior

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Interesting re invention of a classic Dior from the late 40s. The New Look has been reinterpreted so many, many times.

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I was so worried that because Cait is so very fair, that she would be overpowered by brilliant red. It is neither an easy color to use onscreen, but it can eat up a mere mortal. The color made Cait glow like some sort of natural candle flame.

Extraordinary. The dress will NEVER look as good on a mannequin as it does on this particular living, breathing, being.

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A quote from Cait-

“It’s a beautiful dress and such a fan moment in the books. Jamie has to say, ‘You can see all the way down to your third rib,’ and it had to fulfill all these different things, so Terry did such an incredible job with it. But walking anywhere, I had to do this kind of sideways crab walk. It was like, ‘Wide load, coming through!’ I thought all that I was missing was the, ‘Beep! Beep! Beep!’ that these massive trucks had.”

One of Balfe’s favorite additions that the writers made is the fact that Claire helps design the dress herself.

“It was nice to be able to see Claire explore her femininity, because she’s usually such a practical and pragmatic person, and not at all interested in her appearance. Being able to see her dressing up for the first time ever, that was a nice element.”

( Fifteen yards of Duchesse Satin)

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When trying to figure how to address the notes from the book, I came across this painting.

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It gave me the idea that if Claire took a traditional bodice, such as this-

Red Sketch 1  took the embellishment off, and then she opened up the front seam, she would end up with this  –Red Bodice 2

I think it worked for the story and paid homage to the book and the fans of the book/

 

One last thing- I insisted that we make this. So my amazing team did. They are, once again, the best.

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There you go

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Master Raymond

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He was always by my favourite and there is no costume I have looked forward to doing more on Outlander.

Let’s start with the mood boards.

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Master RaymondWe were pretty deeply into embroidery at that point, really playing with what we could do.

I wanted him to have just one costume. His pharmacists coat. Does Master Raymond take it off and hang it on a hook at night, or does he lie down in a pallet in the back of his shop, never taking the magical thing off?

I thought that I would like to tell a story about his work. So two images illustrate principles of alchemy. The Tree Of Knowledge and The Hand Of Mysteries. The other two are diseases and the herbs that cured them.

The Coat:

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IMG_1064 (1)We decided to represent the disease with a monster, having found a fantastic array of monsters while doing research.

The Bird represents Yellow Fever, placing his yellow claw into the eye. One of the symptoms of yellow fever was that the white of the eye would turn bright yellow.

The other panel is Gout. A delightful Gout monster is gnawing on the inflamed foot.

The herbs which are supposed to cure it, are woven into the disease. I don’t have my notes with me, on which herbs they are, but it is not hard to find the info, if you are interested.

I don’t remember the genesis of the back, if it was a compilation of images we’d found, or if it was based on something we found. I fell in love with these illustrations of potion bottles. There was also a lot of skull imagery. An easy combination.

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Work in progress-

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  • A very special shout out to my Embroidery team – Liz, Fiona, Julia and Francesca, and to Helen Galogly, our textile artist. They are the best.

Enjoy!

France.

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Confession. These costumes, I barely remember. I wish I could give everyone a deep, meaningful account of the thought process that went into these costumes. But I can’t.

We were deeply deeply into Season Two costume making when it came time to get Claire and Jamie on the ship from Scotland to France at the end of Season One. We were up to our eyeballs.  We knew we would need to make a new costume for Jamie, and that was manageable for us. Our men’s cutting team are amazing wizards. But we lost our women’s cutting team in the middle of Season Two prep, and were struggling to get all of our women’s costumes Done, and were using a rotation of temporary cutters. Cutters are the members of a costume team who translate the designers sketches into pattern, then cuts the fabric and supervises the costumes construction. Essential members of the department. Losing them was a terrible blow to us, and we were really scrambling to make all of our deadlines. So having to make another costume for Claire was going to be tough.

I remembered that we still had, one of the very first costumes we had ever made for Claire somewhere in the racks. I think it was the second costume we’d made for her, and for some reason we decided not to use it, and never finished it. We dug it up and found our solution. We could finish it without having to design and cut an entirely new gown.And it was actually quite perfect for a traveling costume, procured for Claire by the monks. A pretty gown, but nothing spectacular. It was completely believable that it would have belonged to someone else.

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One of the things I loved best about this gown was the lovely embroidered stomacher we had made. It came from a piece of embroidered fabric we picked up shopping at the Portobello Market in London. It was also one of the first examples I had seen of metal plate embroidery, which a had completely fallen in love with, and we ultimately used on Claire’s wedding dress.

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We didn’t even have an embroidery team at that point in the very beginning of Season One. But Liz Boulton had let me in on her skill as a historical embroidery. I asked if she could embroider a petticoat to match the piece of antique fabric, and we ended up with a very sweet gown. It was perfect for embarking on a new life in France.

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Jamie was an entirely different matter. He had to be smuggled out of France after suffering through soul shattering torture at the hands of Black Jack Randall. He had been stripped bare of everything, literally, figuratively, and emotionally, and brought back from the brink by Claire and his own strong core and will to live, that we had seen many times.

He too was given clothes by the monks. We dressed him as a middle class merchant, trying to do everything possible to make him look unremarkable, a task as difficult to accomplish wth the very real Sam Heughan as it was with the fictional Jamie. We made a costume out of linen, and topped it with a tricorn hat. Very un- Jamie.

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But they both passed.

There are two other costumes of note as we travel with our heroes into France.

*** Note: I have searched high and low for a pic of Jared. I am putting in the description anyway, because he is important. I will try to find one ***

First we meet Jamie’s cousin Jared, a Scotsman living in France. A wealthy and successful wine merchant, Jared is solidly bourgeois, wearing silk as was common in France, but fairly plain and simple. We kept him in earth tones, as a nod to Scotland.

Jared was so important to us. He is the justification we desperately needed when it came to the costumes. Jamie and Claire needed to move in the very wealthy circles of  the French Court. It would have been impossible without the appropriate wardrobe. Jared offers to bankroll them, making it possible for them to move into the inner circle, dressed in the most fashionable attire.

Our next character is very important on the journey. The Comte St. Germaine. He is the first representative of the French Aristocracy that we see. He is elegant and dangerous. I also wanted to dress him in colors we would have never used in Scotland. I put him in brown and pink after seeing a beautiful 18th century painting of a man wearing those colors. Rich, decadent and very sensual.

He was our first look at what was to come when Jamie and Claire finally arrived in Paris.

This was one of our first embroidered men’s costumes.

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Buttons!! We were coming to terms with how quickly we were going to run out of buttons, and decided to start making our own.

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Claire 40’s. I should really do a whole blog about now her at this point. But I am going to fall seriously behind. I think her clothes speak for themselves. They are all repeats of her clothing in S1. Just didn’t seem like she would have any interest in clothing at this point in the story. One interesting thing, when Frank comes to her bedroom for the big talk, she is wearing her negligee from the honeymoon, under Mrs. Graham’s robe.

The only piece we made for her was the rather sad suit she wears on the plane, something she buys for the sake of propriety, nothing more.

I would love to post picture of it, but this damned site will not allow me to upload pictures, AGAIN!!!!!!!! ARRRRGGGH. I wanted to do another post.

Fingers crossed I can do one on Sunday!!!

 

Unfinished Business

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Before we are swallowed whole by Season Two, I need to wrap Season One. I have been meaning to post my mood boards since forever. I’ve had to edit them down, because there are sooooo many images. So here they come. But not all at once.

This is Claire.

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Modern History

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There is an ongoing discussion about historically accurate Costume Design onscreen and what audience taste is for history. It is VERY interesting to reflect on having just finished doing the French Court for television after creating 18th century Scotland for Season One.

 

There is a reason that until just very recently there were not a lot of period pieces on television, with the exceptions of very small and contained BBC Dramas. It is an enormous endeavour and something that American studios and networks had no real experience with.

Hollywood is a town driven by fear. Fear of risk, ultimately. And doing giant period pieces is most definitely a risk.

Somehow, and I would love to know how, the period door was opened by Rome, (famously a complete production nightmare) followed by The Tudors, The Borgias and then nailed open by Game Of Thrones.

It is a logistical nightmare that television is just not set up to do.

 

First of all, there is just the time element. Look at it this way, making an hour long tv drama, is like making half of a movie once every week to ten days. It is GRUELING. Even with a contemporary setting, it is an experience of full on adrenaline pumping maniacal running from the tsunami of getting it done in time. In a contemporary setting, often a hospital or a courtroom, you rarely have more than 50 extras at a time, and even if you do, they bring their own clothes! Each one shows up with three choices and your team chooses the best option.

Period dramas often have scenes with hundreds of extras at a time, none of whom can bring different options for period clothing, in your palette, consistent in both construction and quality, week after week, month after month.The rental houses don’t have them either. They have some, but not hundreds and hundreds, designed for your show. They MIGHT have enough for a 2 hr movie, but not enough for a 13-20 hour television show.

Secondly, Hollywood is not only fear based, it is deaf. One might assume that studio and networks understand HOW shows are made and what challenges are faced in producing them. They do not. Oh, how they do not. The producers directly on the show usually do not know how a costume department works. Not even in the most general sense. Maybe a producer, usually male, is married to a costume designer, usually female, and if that is the case you have a bit more of a chance. She has a chance to talk to him into the wee hours about the challenges.

So you have to figure out how to MAKE hundreds and hundreds of costumes. This is something television is completely unprepared for. It is just not part of the system. Everything in TV is done at the last minute on incredibly tight time budgets. While you are shooting one episode, you are simultaneously prepping the next episodes.

Are there stunt doubles, riding doubles, does someone spill wine on their costume, is there something torn, how many extras shooting how far away from dressing rooms, we need 50 costumers for how many days???? It is a logistical nightmare, and every costume has to be made. In a drama there is a lot of stunt work, blood and wine spilling, so costumes have to be made in multiples of three, it is staggering how much has to be done.

Every episode, episode after episode, year after year.

You as the costume designer, now have to get the money, and even more importantly, the time to create hundreds and hundreds of costumes, NOT INCLUDING the costumes for the principal cast, which will have to be of a better quality. (Even principal costumes are purchased on a contemporary show) There is NO WAY the most expensive tv show on air, could afford to dress hundreds of extras in the kind of quality you would dress principals, it would be millions of dollars.

You not only need all the fabric, hundreds of thousands of buttons and trims, but you need the people to make all of those costumes and the infrastructure to make it all. You need to dye and age the costumes so they will look authentic. You need the shoes and gloves, hats, all the period accessories and you have to make it ALL. It is just a massive undertaking.

It is an undertaking that once proposed, will be met by those who are handing out time and money, with complete disbelief. “just go rent it all”. And there you are back at the beginning. But let’s say they do believe you, you still need the time, money, crew and the sheer organization to essentially, build your own costume house. This is just not going to happen 9 times out of 10, and the costume department has to make it up however they can, cobbling things together as they go. It will be complete headache that is going to last for years.

Better to make a contemporary show.

Or, you find another way around the mountain.

Maybe in a focus group, some 18 year old boys said, “History is boring”, “Their clothes look funny”, maybe some 40 year olds said it. It only takes a few to strike fear in the heart of a studio. To be fair, we are talking about millions and millions of dollars that are going down the drain if there are no butts in the seats or on the couch. And the bottom line is that Transformers or the latest super hero movie, is going to put waaaaay more butts in the seats than the latest rendition of Jane Austen. For no reason, perhaps than more 18 year olds go to the movies than 50 year olds. In the end, the film business is indeed, a business.

So you have now added that fear of financial disaster to the logistical nightmare.

“What if you make it look more modern? Make them look like us? Change the weird hair and makeup first of all, and can’t you do something to make the clothes look more like something our audience would wear??”

You have to be willing to fight tooth and nail against that, and be willing to risk your job to do that. Not likely most Designers are going down that path. It is actually the way we make our living and pay our mortages and bills with. How many walk away from employment for a creative principle, so that they can embark on a near impossible and incredibly costly endeavor. One they may have never done before, and can’t actually prove is doable.

So you end up making history look modern. Everyone is in leather, or the latest runway fashion is tweaked into an interpretation of history. Eventually it becomes the norm, and then becomes a source of creative pride for directors and producers, who put out brave statements to the press about how incredibly creative and innovatively they are choosing to interpret history.

It becomes a paradigm shift. The choice to make something that is historically accurate become a radical creative decision.

At it’s heart is a tangled ball of reasons. Money, time, logistics, public opinion, which is the original thread? Hard to tell at the end of the day.

I understand that shift better on the other side of 18th century Paris. It was a staggering undertaking, one only made possible by being the costume designer married to the executive producer. And a singularly confident executive producer who has enough self confidence to trust his own choice of costume designer, production designer, etc. One who has the faith to take the gamble that you are right about what you THINK you might be able to pull off.

There were definitely days, when I wished my executive producer might have had a little less confidence and belief in our ability, so that I could just take back my theory and go to the mall.

But we did it. We pulled it off.

I am not going to reveal how until the show airs. But it is a fascinating process. Maybe we will call this Part 1 of a multi part series.

Are Costumes Part of The Story?

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For those of you who follow me on Twitter, there has been a lot of discussion about spoilers in relation to Costumes.

Heated discussion.

I have expressed my disappointment that the costumes have been revealed outside of the context of the story.

“But they are beautiful”, “why don’t you want anyone to see them”, “it keeps us happy”. “it’s good for PR”, “it keeps us going during Droughtlander!”. There is more, some really nasty stuff about me censoring people, chastising fans, sending minions out to harass and belittle, all sorts of fantastic motivations attributed to me.

All around a simple statement about wanting costumes to be revealed within the story.

But after lots of heated discussion, I think we finally got somewhere. At least I feel like I did. Perhaps a better understanding of what the issue is. I don’t think a lot of people know the purpose of costume design. Not just the audience, it is a prevalent issue within our business. We are a long way from the last Golden Age Of Hollywood, where storytelling was at the heart of film and television. Films like The Godfather,  Goodfellas, shows like The Sopranos, where costumes are not there just as eye candy, but a vehicle for telling a story. (we have entered a new Golden Age, but haven’t quite caught up about costumes)

In truth I left the business over this very issue. Not spoilers, because they didn’t really exist ten years ago as Social Media was not part of the equation back then. But the pressure from above to throw character development overboard in favour of “fashion”, became just to overwhelming to the creative process. Everyone had to look like they stepped out of the pages of a fashion mag. Young characters  struggling to make ends meet, tripping around on pair after pair of seven hundred dollar shoes and couture clothing. Waitresses wearing Gucci, everything had to be shorter, tighter, sexier, more low cut (don’t get me started on cleavage). It didn’t matter who the character was, where they came from, who they were, what there economic status was, everyone had to look the same. Lawyers dressed as sex workers. Costumes as part of character was out and “style” was in.

The era of the stylist began. I remember when producers and studio execs started calling Costume Designers “stylists”. We would cringe and politely correct them. “We are Costume Designer”.

But that era was ushered in about twenty years ago. So an entire generation of viewers has grown up with that on their screens. Cute clothes, “I want to wear that!!” Nothing whatsoever to do with Costume Design.

What does this has to do with spoilers? Well, I had to realise that my approach to costume design had become somewhat arcane. How on earth could seeing a costume be a spoiler?? In the age of cute clothes on the screen being the focus, I guess a costume can’t be a spoiler. It is a magazine page, often with a link that tells you where you can get “the look”, that your favourite character is wearing. More and more historical shows “contemporize” history, so that you can go to the mall and buy what your favourite historical character is wearing. Who knew so many men wore leather pants in centuries past?

But that is not what I do. That is not what a lot of designers do. And I think there is a disconnect a broken link between what we do and the audience expectation, and it causes confusion when we object or express distress over spoilers.

Costume Designers don’t pick “cute clothes”, we design characters to serve a story. We carefully craft Costumes within the story to create subliminal messages about who our characters are, what is happening to them, how they relate to each other and most importantly  to serve the story. That is the difference between us and Fashion Designers. Fashion Designers design for anyone who sees themselves wearing those clothes, Costume Designers design for particular characters within a particular story. We are Storytellers. Look at the Costumes, not just on the big period pieces, but on shows like Breaking Bad, True Detective, lots and lots of shows, they are the same, and they are brilliant, because we all have the same goal, to make you BELIEVE what you are seeing is real, if only for a brief period of time.

There are a few posts here on the blog, about “What we do”, and “Storytelling”, outlining how and what that approach is and how carefully we plan it. There is nothing random about the costumes you see on the screen. There isn’t a closet of cool clothes that someone chooses from according to the mood that day. Costumes are carefully chosen for that particular scene, based on the writers words and many discussions about what needs to be conveyed in a given scene. What do we want the tone to be, how do the Costume Designer and Production Designer work together with the writer, director and show runner to tell the story?

So how is a Costume a spoiler? If we carefully orchestrate a Costume for a scene where we need to to tell the human story, stories of pain, joy, loss, whatever, we want you to feel it in the moment. It is designed for that particular moment. It is part of a tapestry, as I have said before, and when you pull out random threads the entire piece is impacted. When a costume is seen outside the context of the story, that thread has been pulled.

So, where do I go from here with this?? Nowhere. It is a losing battle. In the age of Social Media and instant gratification, the need for constant fullfilment is a tide that cannot be held back. This is what it is. When they made Casino and The Sopranos, and even Dallas or Dynasty, there were no cell phones, no selfie sticks, no Twitter, no FB. We just watched and enjoyed the finished product. That was it. But those days are gone. Perhaps only in theatre can that tapestry be protected.

I read a piece recently about how some artists are now putting their unfinished work on social media as they work on it. I suppose if then Mona Lisa was painted today, Da Vinci could have posted his progress for comment and audience input as he worked. It seems like a kind of communal ownership of the creative process, the audience as shareholders. Maybe that is a good thing, we evolve and nothing remains as it has been.

So, in the end it is what it is, I guess. Nothing will change that. But I wanted to at the very least, give you some insight into what I think the confusion and the disconnect is about. That is why I do what I do in terms of pulling back the curtain. While I don’t want to reveal the final creation until it is complete, I do love sharing the creative process. I think it really adds to the audiences’s appreciation of that final piece to understand what goes into it.

I have no interest in chastising or scolding. No ill will,  no annoyance, no censorship requested. don’t want to kill the fun. I get it, I understand the joy and the enthusiasm.

Just explaining, sharing and hopefully illuminating, putting a different perspective out there for consideration and understanding.

That is what this blog is all about. to showcase what Costume Design really is. And we move forward.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the spirited discussion.

 

Consider The Kilt

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There was a fascinating discussion today on Twitter. (Yes one can have fascinating discussions on Twitter)

It was about the wearing of the kilt, by Jamie, in Season Two. When would he wear it, in France, and why? What did the kilt mean in terms of story??

So, I ask you, to consider the kilt, and it’s history, with a lot of editorializing thrown in by me.

1. The kilt originated as nothing more than a practical garments. An ingenious, multi purpose garment, one that does a million tricks with the push of a button! Many countries have similar garments in their culture, a single piece of cloth that provides all manner of service. But I do not believe it was necessarily anything more than a practical garment that evolved over time. It made no particular meaning or symbolism until…

2. The Jacobite Uprising of 1743. The war between the English and the Scots. As I said, I do not believe the kilt was a symbol of national pride, until the English took it away from the Scottish people, mainly the men, after the uprising had been put down. Why? Why did the English embrue the kilt with power? What was it a symbol of? Was it similar to what happened in Ireland, when the English banned the Gaelic language? There are some who would describe that as cultural genocide. The wiping out of cultural symbols by a conquering force. It is way of absorbing that culture into the conquering one, removing it’s differences, making it all homogenic. We all look the same, wear the same clothes, eat the same food etc. The message is, “You are one of us now”.

3. The wearing of the kilt is reintroduced by the English aristocracy. But it was part of a romantic movement of the period and an endeavor to create tourism. The clan tartans. “What clan are you?” Pick it out off the wall, buy a copy printed on a coffee mug, take it home to whatever country you are from, make a pillow out of it, whatever. The tartan as curio.

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4. Wear it as your own. Following the lead of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who had Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the English monarchy and aristocracy of the 19th century, begin wearing the kilt as their own national garment for formal occasions, and not so formal I suppose, given all the pictures of English princes tromping about the heather in Kilts. So the conquering country removes the kilt from the country it comes from, and then adapts it as it’s own.

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5. Well, we are all past that now. Long ago history, the 18th and 19th centuries. Then somewhere in there, the kilt becomes a symbol of emasculation. It becomes a man in a skirt. Not sure if that charge is leveled at the Aristocracy who wear it, but certainly it is common to laugh at men in skirts. The Germans in WWI referred to the Scots as the “Ladies from Hell”. That view of the kilt as a feminine garment is still pervasive today. Wear a kilt and there will be a comment about a skirt. Probably not by a Scot, but by anyone else.

The wearing of a skirt makes you a woman, and that, we understand all to well, is an insult.

6. The other pervasive view today is that of a sexual nature. A quick Google search of kilt, will bring no shortage of photos of burly, shirtless young men, their abs glistening under layers of oil and tans they certainly didn’t acquire in Scotland, wearing kilts. Often they are raising their kilts, or an errant breeze is lifting them, allowing us to be tittilated by their nakedness underneath. The kilt becomes an symbol of voyeurism and sexual randiness. And hence the “cheeky” question that is constantly asked by any man in a kilt…””What are you wearing under your kilt????”.

scottish-kilt

I have lived in Scotland for two years and have yet to see any of what has happened regarding kilts since 1743, embraced by anyone Scottish I have met here. As a matter of fact people here seem to bristle about it all. I am not so sure it is so cool with them. There are no doubt those among the Scottish who see it differently than those I have met, but I have yet to come across one.

Our lead actor Sam Heughan has worn and celebrated the kilt with great pride and dignity, as have all the men in our cast. I have the utmost respect for how he has tried to educate the world about the kilt and what it means. I have considered it an absolute honor to be able to showcase and cerebrate the kilt in the way it was intended. A garment worn by the Scottish People. Not something to make money off, to be laughed at, or to be turned on by. It is a garment that belongs to the people of this country, and it deserves to be honored as such.

I was not really looking forward to kilts, because like most people I only knew them in the ways commonly presented and described here. It has become one of my favorite things about doing this show. Not only is it a genius of a garment, but it has a powerful history, and a story worth telling.

So here is to the kilt and to the Scottish people who are making it their own again.

custom-header

 

*edited 14 July

What we do.

58

 

What We Do_edited-1

Let’s see, what are we currently doing?

Well, we have found the 24,000 buttons, give or take a few thousand. It seems I underestimated how many we needed.

We have dyed and decorated about three – four thousand shoes. We’ve made about a thousand costumes in the last six months. That means frock coats, waistcoats, breeches, shirts, cuffs, stocks, coats, gowns, skirts, stomachers, caraco jackets, capes, petticoats, chemises, corsets, fichus, cuffs, shawls, reticules. We have accumulated gloves and jewelry, made and decorated hats, dyed and printed thousands of meters/yards of fabric.

Last weekend Ron and I did our first appearance together at a fan convention organized by UK Outlander fans. It was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to give a talk about what I do, what we do in the costume department, and it inspired me to reach out to the broader audience and share a bit more of the process of costume design.

It is the same basic process that all Costume Designers and Costume Departments work to, with variations on the theme depending on if you are working on a Space Odyssey or a Western. But there are always particulars to any creative project.

As I have referenced before, no two snowflakes are alike.

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do Outlander three years ago. Yes, it was a book series I loved and read many, many times since they were first released, but I knew how huge it was, and one of the reasons I got out of the business over a decade ago, was the dwindling amount of time given to prep these massive shows. Prep, as we call it, is the period of time before a show begins where each department pulls everything together needed to do a show. The Art Department builds the sets, Costume Department makes the costumes, Props make all the props, Writers write, and so on. You live and die over the course of a season depending on how much prep time you get. That amount of time decreases every year in our business, so you rarely get the time needed. I knew there wasn’t going to be enough time to do a massive show like Outlander, without it being completely crazy. But Ron wore me down, and I finally agreed.

So this process begins with reading the scripts. That’s when you get a feeling for the tone and direction of a piece, where you begin to get to know the characters and the story. But at this point there were no scripts yet, but there was a book and I figured that would be a tremendous help as I knew the story and characters so well. Sometimes scripts are really bad, but sometimes you get an opportunity to work with a gifted writer like Ron Moore, and that makes everything better, on every level.

So, that was a plus.

The second plus, was that I was married to the Executive Producer of Outlander, and figured that would put me ahead in the information department. Information in the film and television business is like some sort of secret buried treasure.Those of us who make the costumes and build the sets, spend weeks trying to glean any information we can. What are we doing? When are we doing it? Where will it be, and WHO is doing it?? All of those answers are locked in some secret vault, and we are safecrackers doing everything we can to get in. Usually we end up just hurling our crowbars at the damned thing after all else has failed. Living with the vault keeper seemed like it might help.

So based on those two “pluses”, I threw my brain and every bit of sense I possessed, out of the window, and signed on. In retrospect, I cannot help but laugh, that cynical me, who knows exactly what this is like, was so still idealistic and optimistic, still believing that this one would be different than all the others. This is a woman who once went temporarily blind in one eye on a show, due to stress. believe me, I am no lightweight, I am a tough broad, but the closest thing I can think of to being in the film business would probably be the military, albeit with no REAL weaponry.

We needed about 20 weeks minimum to prep a show of this size. When all was said and done, we had eight.

Eight weeks out, we had a raw space, no tables, no sewing machines, no phones, no racks, no crew, no cast, no costumes. We had also discovered that we were not going to be able to rent any costumes except the barest minimum. Every TV show and movie in Hollywood was shooting in the UK, and the vast majority of costumes were not available.

To top it all off, I had personal challenges. My family was unprepared for me to get back in the business, we had two teenagers still in school, and had just moved into a new house. I had been out of the business for ten years and all of my crew had scattered, not that I could take any of them any ay. I knew NO ONE in the UK in the costume game. No contacts, no one who knew anyone, no one at any of the rental houses, no dyers, no equipment hires, no suppliers, not even fabric stores. Like any business, you spend years building contacts you can call on when you need them, and I had nothing. But yeah, let’s walk away from life as we know it, kids pets, unpacked boxes, and do this!!

So, back to prep. The first thing you need to do is to find is a really good Costume Supervisor.

A Costume Supervisor is your right hand on all things of a practical matter. They are the Project Manager. While you deal with everything creative, and even though you are responsible for the budget and oversee the running of the department, you need someone who will deal with all the nuts and bolts. So the supervisor, hires the crew, and has ALL the contacts and connections for everything else. In this case, as I had none, this position was the key to happiness and fulfillment. Will any crew member be good or bad? In our business, we try to get a crew together that we can keep for years and years, so starting from scratch is scary As I had none, I hired a costume supervisor recommended by our UK producer. It is a leap of faith. The wrong choice can be disastrous.

Once the supervisor was in place, we could get started. But it wasn’t quite so easy. Just as there were no costumes available, there was almost no crew available either. Every studio is currently filming in the UK right noes, taking advantage of tax breaks, like Canada in the 90’s. Almost everyone is employed. Crew is at an absolute premium, so finding anyone to work in such circumstances was problematic at best. The few people who were available, were highly sought after in a highly competitive market.

Another challenge.

So we searched for crew, and while we were climbing that little mountain, we turned our attention to building a costume house.When you do a show you need access to resources, supplies, and vendors. Very few of those exist in Scotland. If you want to rent a costume, it has to come from a costume house inLondon. If you’re in the States, it comes from a costume house in Los Angeles. But that means that someone has to fly to London to find that costume, that fabric, the buttons, everything, every time we need something. We didn’t have time for that. So we had to build our own Costume House, filled with everything we need.

Our Costume Supervisor had found an Assistant Designer, and the beginnings of a crew of 12. We needed sewing machines and the tables to put them on, lighting, phones, desks, shelving, office supplies, hangers, irons, steamers,racks, dyeing vats and dyes, aging supplies, sewing supplies, hooks, tapes, linings interfacing an endless list of items. And understand that it is not a home sewing kit, it is an industrial sewing kit. Hundreds and hundreds of spools of thread, a couple of thousand hangers, thousands of yards of fabric. It is big, really big.

Where do you hang all the clothes, and store all the shoes, and accessories? Racks and shelves, enough to hold hundreds and hundreds of costumes. You have to install a racking system that goes from floor to ceiling in the warehouse. Floor to ceiling shelving systems also have to be built, and hundreds of boxes purchased to store everything in. The aging and dyeing department has to be set up. They are seriously an industrial endeavor. They need to dye and age hundreds and hundreds of items. Chemicals, machinery, these women actually blow torch costumes to age them.

Setting all that up takes months that we didn’t have. But you have no choice but to go forward and hope for divine intervention.

The Assistant Designer is absolutely essential. They have to live in your head. The Assistant Designer is the one that you download everything to. They are the one who see it through, taking your sketch to the cutters, who make the patterns and cut the fabric. They makes sure the fabric is dyed exactly that right shade you want, and make sure it all happens on schedule. They gather all the bits and pieces, help with research and sourcing materials, schedule the fittings, and interface with our set crew.

While the Assistant Designer is buying bolts and bolts of woolens and linens in London, the equipment begins to arrive, and the fabric is shipped in from London, The cutters and makers are starting to show up. But we still have no actors, so we start them making extras clothing, while we wait.

When I am not figuring out how much rack space we need, I am designing, thankfully for characters I know so well. In the beginning of a show, everyone wants to see sketches, the studio, the network, directors and producers. The first part of my job is to put what is in my head onto paper. So, you do a million sketches. It is harder than one would anticipate. Not only do you have to a lot of them, because you need to convey a real overview of the entire season and all the characters, but those drawing need to be good. So you draw, and redraw, then redraw again. A lot of designers hire illustrators, but I can’t do that. Drawing is what I do, and it is where the design is formed. I wouldn’t be able to do it any other way.

On Outlander it became very clear not long after arrival, that everything I thought the costumes would be, was completely irrelevant, due to the climate. I had to throw out everything I had designed before coming to Scotland. If the characters of Outlander had pranced around in the fine silks associated with the 18th century, they would have all died. Scotland is so very cold and damp, and it was clear that people would have had to wear fabrics much heavier and warmer.  I had to figure out how to redo the 18th century silhouette in heavy woolens. Something a lot easier to do with paper and pencil than actual fabric. But eventually it began to take a shape of some sort, though it felt very vague and theoretical.Nothing to really grasp a firm hold onto. No solid research, paintings that can be anything the painter or subject wants them to be. Surrounded by chaos and stress, you just have to hold on and have faith in your own experience and talent. It was a shaky hold after being out of the business for ten years.

Sam Heughan was cast first as Jamie Fraser. He was the easiest actually, because I never saw him as having more than a couple of costumes, and because I had such a clear image of him in my mind. Plus he is a delightful and lovely human being. we have been very blessed with our cast. All lovely and accommodating people. We took care of Jamie Fraser and waited for the rest of the cast.

I am not sure how to describe how absolutely mad things are at this point in production. Building the studio, writing scripts, a million meetings, building sets, finding crew, all at once, everything down to the wire. Waiting for cast, waiting for Claire. All in one breathless, gasping rush. It’s a pretty stressful place.

Finally Caitriona Balfe was cast as Claire, two weeks before we began shooting. Then the rush really began! I wish I could tell you how we pulled it off, but I can’t really remember.  It was pretty tough going, there were a lot of tears, people falling apart, and sleepless nights. Maybe it is a good thing that we really can’t remember how we did it,  otherwise we might have all run screaming, as we approached Season Two. I think it was just cobbled together out oa f mad combination of faith, panic and experience. Things come back to you from years and years ago, like riding that proverbial bicycle, just as everything is about to burst into flames.

But It seems to have all worked out. The response from the fans and the press to the costumes has been wonderful and extremely gratifying for the entire Costume Department.

We are now a department of fifty, instead of fourteen. My Costume Supervisor stuck with me, I have two wonderful Assistant Designers. We’ve added an embroidery department with four embroiderers and five super embroidery machines. My Alchemy lab (aging and dyeing) are still in their room grinding up frogs and bats blood, or whatever the hell they do in there. An amazing textile artist has joined our staff, as we continue to discover that we may as well just make everything, since it is what we do. The walls are all in place, the machines hum, the crew is solid, and there are fewer and fewer tears. Things still get really crazy sometimes, but a rhythm and flow is beginning to take place, and a system is taking hold, that keeps us afloat when the going gets rough.

And here we are just beginning Season Two, sewing on about 30,000 buttons.

I often rage against the machine. The pace, the stress, the lack of humanity. My “justice issues”, as Ron calls them, run rampant. I am the child of union organizers, after all, and this business needs all the “justice issues” one can possibly throw at it. But Ron gave me a lecture the other night about who I am and what I do. That I need to accept it and make peace with it. I am considering the possibility.

Maybe, just maybe, this is what I do. But don’t quote me on that!