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Q&A Time!

I've wanted to do this for a pretty long time but never quite found the moment or actually believed anyone would submit a single question. Alas, I finally decided it was time, so today I bring to you, dear readers, the Costume Vault's very first Q&A!

First and foremost, thanks to all of you who submitted questions! Also, and more importantly, thank you for submitting such thoughtful questions. I was totally expecting silly questions for shits and giggles (nothing wrong with those, I absolutely love them) but actually got very thought out and interesting questions. You're amazing!

Secondly but no less relevant, I apologize for the delay in publishing the answers to your very lovely questions. I'm a terribly slow writer who also happens to have very little time to write lately. It's a killer combination.

With that said, here we go!

What do you look for in a costume design?
By Anonymous

What I mainly look for in a film costume design is for it to tell me a story. I look for a narrative use of costume design. 

Like most everyone, I love a pretty costume, but if it's just that and it's not doing anything else within the story, it loses interest for me really quickly.

The thing is that every element put on screen is there to serve the story. You can do that in many ways: building a character and its arc, building a world and its evolution, creating a mood, underlining a theme... And while that is pretty much accepted regarding the photography department and the production design department, I feel like most people miss that the costume department is also meant to do that. 

You see, fashion design is often understood as a "vapid" branch of art (which is not), and that (misogynist) misconception is often translated to costume design as well but it couldn't be further from the truth.

That's actually why I started this blog: to underline the power costume has to tell stories and all the ways it can do that. So, basically, that's what I look for in costume design: a good story.

What draws you in to review a costume design?
By Anonymous

What draws me to review a costume design is two-fold: either I like a specific costume design a lot (and have a lot of thoughts about it), or I don't (and also have a lot of thoughts about it).

Basically, what draws me in to review a costume design is to have something to say about it.

At some point in my years writing for this blog, I was told that covering certain movies would bring in readers. So I started reviewing movies even when I hadn't much to say about them... and I didn't really like the experience. So I'm not doing that anymore.

You could say that what draws me in to review a costume design is having an opinion on it. So I suppose the question I should be answering is what type of costume design interest me enough to have an opinion on it. And that's pretty difficult to pinpoint.

It can be anything from a design having a positive element such as an interesting use of historical fashion to create characters and arcs (Crimson Peak), or an interesting use of historical inaccuracy (La Reine Margot). It might also be a design having a rather negative thing such as a terrible design choice (The Spanish Princess, Beauty and the Beast) or nonsensical design choices (The Star Wars Prequels). I can also be a design being unexpected or far removed from what I thought it would be. It can even be a design being much better or worse than I thought based on the trailer. Truth be told, it can be anything really. 

Unfortunately, I really don't have a more concrete answer than that.

Historical inaccuracies in costuming: pros and cons!
By Pristina-Nomine (tumblr)

This is a fascinating topic, but I tend to not get into it because the reaction most people have regarding historical inaccuracies in costuming is rather vitriolic, and I tend to avoid conflict (despite what people who have only read my Padme articles might think). 

Most people I know of tend to fall under two radically different ends of the spectrum. It's either "historical inaccuracies are the worst possible thing in costume design and the very presence of them in a film will ruin the film for me" or "I absolutely couldn't care less about historical accuracy in costume design and don't even bring the topic to the table because this is fiction damn it!". And yet, I, personally, fall somewhere in the middle.

"Historical inaccuracy" is, for me, a merely descriptive term. It is not positive or negative. It simply is another tool in the storyteller's toolbox. And as with every tool at the storyteller's disposal, what makes it good or bad is how and why you use it.

You see, a well-thought use of historical inaccuracy in costume allows you to detach your story from reality. It allows you to clearly indicate that what you are seeing is more than a historical recreation: it's a story, not history.

For example, in La Reine Margot Moidele Bickel decided to base all of her designs on a myriad of artistic influences from different periods and different places, disregarding the set period for the story almost completely.

The design is taking elements from every historical and pictorial fashion and none at the same time. It borrows from Spanish, French, Dutch, and Italian art references, creating an alien entity that is all and none of these sources at the same time. This helps build a fictional world. The same way Dumas' book adapted history to fit fiction, Chérau's movie adapts history to fit art.

All these help accentuate the reading of the story as atemporal and bring forward the idea of a universal story that goes beyond being a historical account of a person's life.

Historical inaccuracy in costuming can also be a very effective way of inserting visual thematic ideas onto your story that might not be explicit in the text.

In Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran creates a unique and whimsical wardrobe that reimagines the 1870s through the lens of the 1950s specifically to draw a parallel between the stiff social rules and hypocritical double standards of Russia's 1870s and America's 1950s, adding a conceptual and thematic layer to every garment and matching Wright's vision of the story.

Historical inaccuracy can also be a handy tool to visually build characters through visual contrast.

In Crimson Peak, Kate Hawley chose to dress Lucille, the story's main antagonist, a good twenty years out of fashion. This creates visual contrast with the story's protagonist, Edith, who is dressed according to period.

This 20-year gap in the costuming is strictly inaccurate in terms of the period but it builds both the characters and the themes of the story. The 1900s fashion worn by Edith, with its billowy sleeves and shirts and ties, represents the working woman, the future. On the other hand, the 1880s constricting fashion favored by Lucille represents the past, the binding restrictions of an era gone by. Edith looks to the future, while Lucille is stuck in the past.

Last but not least, historical inaccuracy can be an extremely useful tool when it comes to creating a mood and underlining the film's tone and approach to the story.

In Moulin Rouge Catherine Martin distillates the essence of the period and translates it to fit the hyper-stylized kitsch world in which the story takes place. You see, what defines Moulin Rouge is not being a musical or being a period piece: it's being an ode to Kitsch.

Accordingly, the designer doesn't constrict herself with the period-accurate clothing guidelines and instead is able to go wild with the visuals in order to capture that Kitsch aesthetic.

In this case, the whole movie is so radical style-wise that I truly believe that an actual period wardrobe would have stuck out like a sore thumb. In the end, the highly stylized costumes are helping define the characters throughout the whole movie whilst also enhancing the dreamlike quality of the movie and building the kitsch aesthetic of the film.

On the other hand, there are some dangers and recurrent pitfalls in the use of historical inaccuracies in costume design.

For instance, the repeated use of certain commonplace inaccuracies has created visual cliches that, at this point, feel rather trite and lazy and don't bring much to the table.

Shakespeare in Love encompasses quite a few of these: from our historical hottie wearing leather pants and a loose shirt open to reveal some chest to our love interest sporting mostly loose locks. These have been repeated constantly and make me want to gouge my eyes out. They do not add to the story or the character and are only there because the mainstream viewer is so used to them that won't even notice them.

Historical inaccuracy can also feel extremely out of place when clumsily handled. For instance, Grace's hairstyle choices during the first season of Peaky Blinders managed to stick out like a sore thumb by virtue of being the only glaring inaccuracy in the show's approach to costuming and styling. A poorly placed inaccuracy can create a visual dissonance and that is never ideal.

Most importantly for me, it can feel condescending when done for less than stellar reasons. The Tudors is the best representative for this. You see, ignoring historical accuracy in your costumes to "better appeal younger audiences" (which actually means "make it sexier so they want to continue watching") is taking your audience for illiterate idiots and it's cynical, lazy, and downright insulting.

Last but not least, the use of historical inaccuracies in film costuming can be easily misread or directly undetected as it creates a visual image that necessitates actual costuming and historical knowledge to decrypt and read.

For example, let's look at the Crimson Peak example that I mentioned earlier. It only works if you recognize that these two characters are dressed according to different historical periods and that one corresponds to the "correct" period whilst the other is "older". Here, for instance, my partner, who saw the film with me, did not read that at all because he did not even realize these two characters were dressed according to different periods. That's a risk you run when playing with accuracy.

So yes, playing fast and loose with a period can be both a really good idea or simply come off as lazy. For me, it mainly comes down to why are you messing with historical accuracy and what is your goal when doing it. Of course, the execution makes a difference, but a good execution for a flimsy reason is still a rather big no for me.

Related Articles:
La Reine Margot. Part I: A place calling itself France
(Anna Karenina was my number 6)
Why Oh Why? Peaky Blinders and the mystery of Grace's Crappy Hair

Opinions on the SW sequel trilogy costumes as a whole?
By Pristina-Nomine (tumblr)

Overall, I think the costume design for the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy is quite good.

Creating a new generation of Star Wars films posed a particular challenge to the Costume Design Department. Kaplan's designs had to balance the fine line between being coherent with the aesthetics of the original trilogy and being its own entity.

Their level of success in achieving it depends on which movie of the trilogy are we looking at.

For me, the costume design of The Force Awakens does a great job at it. It integrates very successfully these new characters into the Star Wars world that we know (quite a big task on its own) and even brings in new ideas into the mix. But looking back at it, it still plays it a bit safe.

The Last Jedi, on the other hand, doesn't do that at all. And it pays off. It works. I particularly enjoy Kaplan's and Johnson's approach to leadership positions. They chose to incorporate more traditionally feminine elements into the image of power and leadership and it makes for a rather refreshing take on the aesthetics of command.

But when it comes to The Rise of Skywalker, well, let's say they dropped the ball on that one. Not only does the design feel inconsistent with the narrative (I mean, dressing Rey in pristine white for this particular storyline feels nonsensical), but it also feels choppy in its execution. Like, every garment looks too clean and lacks texture. It feels like we are dealing with action figures, not characters. And it makes me really sad.

In the end, my feelings about the costumes on the Star Wars sequel trilogy line up pretty well with my feelings about the movies themselves. They are overall quite good. They had the potential to be great  but dropped the ball right at the finish line.

Related Articles:
Star Wars The Force Awakens: The Scavenger
Star Wars The Force Awakens: The Stormtrooper2015's Favorite Costume Designs
(The Force Awakens was my number 2)
2017's Favorite Costume Designs
(The Last Jedi was my number 06)

What are your feelings on media like "Bridgerton" that are definitely historically based but also have a fantastical, alternate-universe feel to the design?
By E. S. Willett

I'm going to be honest here: I haven't seen Bridgerton and I don't plan on doing it. I've seen the trailer, read a few articles and I can pretty safely say that it is definitely not for me.

I have no problem with media incorporating fantastical elements into a period story (like they do in The Terror, which I love) but I really don't like it when they downright create an alternate universe of the period. Somehow, that is asking too much of me and can never get to truly suspend my disbelief.

And it is not because they have actors of color in a story that takes place in a historical setting (even if it's an alternate universe of that history). I have no problem with media that does that. Both Much Ado About Nothing and the second season of The Hollow Crown do it and I love both of these.

As for the designs themselves, they don't tend to be the reason I dislike that type of media. As I mentioned before, I have no problem with costume design playing with the period and going crazy as long as they have a solid thought process behind it.

So you see, my feelings on the designs for these types of media tend to be rather positive but my feelings on the media itself tend to be rather negative.

What's your Favourite Costume Design ever?
By Annonymous

Truth be told, I hate naming favorites because I simply cannot choose amongst the many I love. So, basically, I'll cheat and give you three favorites instead of one. Sorry, not sorry.

The first of these is the Costume Design for The Lord of the Rings. This is the film that made me realize the work and craftsmanship behind the making of a movie and made me want to work in the business. And this is the Costume Design I used to dream about owning as a child.

My second favorite is the Costume Design for Marie Antoinette. I loved it from the very moment I laid my eyes on it and it still features in every single one of my dreams. This was the Costume Design that made me start learning about the art of costume design.

Last but not least, my third favorite is the Costume Design for Crimson Peak. I absolutely adore it and I think it is wildly underrated. I remember leaving the theater and immediately needing to preach its greatness. This, actually, was the Costume Design that convinced me to make this blog a long-term project.


Thank you all so much for your questions! It was really fun to answer them! If you have any other question you'd like me to answer, you can send them to me here. Once I have enough questions, I'll publish another one of these Q&As. Until then, be safe and take care!


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