"At home, we have only black moths.
Formidable creatures, to be sure, but they lack beauty.
They thrive on the dark and the cold."
They thrive on the dark and the cold."
- Lucille Sharpe -
CRIMSON PEAK is Guillermo del Toro's new film. Released this past October, the movie is written by del Toro himself and Mathew Robbins (who has also collaborated with the likes of Spielberg and Lucas throughout his career). The movie aims to be a gothic romance movie through and through, and it stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain.
The story goes as follows: Edith Cushing, a young budding American author, meets and falls in love with a handsome and charming but impoverished English baronet: Sir Thomas Sharpe. They eventually marry and return to England, to the Sharpe's dilapidated mansion: Allerdale Hall. There they live with Thomas's sister: Lucille. The deadly apparitions that haunt the house will force Edith to slowly uncover the buried secrets of Crimson Peak.
In the movie we find two opposing female characters: Edith Cushing (young, bright and filled with life) and Lady Lucille Sharpe (cold, calculating and as barren and death as the earth they stand on), which create a beautiful contrast with each other. As Lucille states at the beginning of the film; a moth and a butterfly.
And the way each of them dresses supports this difference. Kate Hawley (costume designer for PACIFIC RIM) did a spectacular job with the designs. But that's what any good wardrobe design should do, so what makes these specific designs worth talking about? Well, the fact that they follow the historically correct fashion more than many, but still manage to incorporate unique design elements that help build character. These are not fantasy designs where, literally, you can create the designs from scratch and make them to reflect the character as you see fit. These designs need to be true to the time period, which means that they need to have a certain shape and style, and because of these, the designer has to find more creative ways to bend and work with those shapes to fit the character.
To better explore these wonderful designs I'm going to split this post in two parts: this first one will be dedicated entirely to Lucille, and the next one will be dedicated to Edith.
PART I: THE MOTH
Lucille Sharpe is Thomas's older sister and lives with him in the family house. She's cold and frigid and a loner. She's emotionally distant, dominant and strong-willed. She, like the house, is rooted in the earth that saw her grow: scorched, famished and barren.
Lucille has, basically, four different costumes: the crimson silk frock, the black velvet frock, the blue velvet frock, and the nightgown.
Right off the bat, the first annotation on the designs: the movie takes place during the year 1901, but Kate Hawley took the decision (alongside Del Toro, obviously) to dress her character with outdated clothes. She's dressed to match the fashion of the 1880s. She's out of fashion by twenty years.
|As seen here, the shape and consistency |
of the dress is clearly distinctive.
This is actually a very clever decision. The Sharpe's are completely broke. They have no fortune left so their costumes (both hers and Thomas') are good quality dresses, but old and worn, showing that they don't have the money to buy new and more fashionable frocks. But that's only an aspect of it. There is also a character related issue behind the decision. Lucille is a character stuck in the past. She's dragged by it. So she dresses as if time had never passed.
The first time we're introduced to Lucille in the movie, she is wearing a gorgeous crimson silk dress with bustle and tail.
It's a rigid dress (just like the character) and it does so much to easily establishing her within the story. It's very significant that the first time you see her, she's dressed in the titular crimson.
Another significant aspect of the design is that, despite following the general shape of a real late Victorian gown, they designed the tail (by the material chosen and the use of pleads) to give a very specific contour that is much more dramatic than historic. So that when she is sitting at the piano, the tail resembles a pool of blood. Establishing her dangerous side.
|That's the reason why the designer|
named this frock as
"the drop of blood dress"
It's also relevant the fact that the back of the dress is designed to look like a human skeleton's spine. The idea was to underline the starvation and hunger she's gone through her life and how she's been defined by it. Through the way the dress is brought together, it gives the feeling that bones are protruding from her. She's a walking skeleton.
"It was about trying to feel like her spine; I was looking at pictures of starvation
in the world of Allerdale. And Jessica’s a beautifully curvy woman if you see
her in person, she’s actually quite voluptuous in a petite way,
but I wanted to get that sense of bones so we did that with colors."
- Kate Hawley, costume designer -
She wears this dress during the picnic at the park in Boston with Thomas and Edith. It's a black velvet day dress with very little bustle and no tail.
Like the rest of her dresses, this one is outdated. Its shape and general outline are clearly taken from the 1880s. And again, it's a very restricting dress. It's very sober, very depressing.
The design starts to incorporate elements from Allerdale and the dresses she'll wear later, as if every second that Edith spends with the Sharpe's, is dragging her a little closer to Allerdale and Lucille's grasp. It starts to incorporate the claw-like acorns that accompany all her dresses once she's already back in the house as well as the "dead leaves" garland. Again, underlining the dangerous and deathly side of her character. But she's not yet back in Allerdale, and the red bright rose pinned on her chest is a clear reminder of that (and a call back to her previous frock).
|The rose looks like a bloodstain|
on her dress
Actually, the garland worn here is exactly the same worn with the latter dresses, only here is placed differently. less menacingly at least.
It's a very visual design that helps maintain the ominous feel of her character.
This is the design she wears throughout most of the rest of the movie. She wears it for the first time when Edith first arrives into Allerdale Hall and through the whole second act of the movie until the last few scenes. It's a deep green-blue velvet dress with a small bustle (actually the size of the bustle gets bigger as the film progresses as if it were itself an umbilical cord attached to the house).
The main purpose of this design is to show her as part of the house and as a result of it as well. And because of this, both the color, the motifs and shapes echo the architecture of Allerdale Hall.
The material of the dress is thick velvet. This is a rather heavy material, it has weight and a rigidness to it that matches the house very well. The feel and texture of this specific velvet also underlines the viewer's perception of her as a moth, The house is filled with the insect motif. It's on the walls, it's on the floor and it's also covered with both dead and alive insects.
It's also a very constricting design (late Victorian dresses were much more constricting than those of the Edwardian fashion) that helps visualize certain aspects of the character. Lucille is somebody who has had to keep buried deep many of her feelings and her true nature. That psychological self-repression is externalized on the self-repression she inflicts on her body.
This is a character that hides behind a mask. That is underlined by the way she dresses.
The picture above is a frame from one of the movie's featurette, and it's actually a shame that this never made it into the movie itself. It shows that Lucille is wearing a real late Victorian corset. This is important in the sense that these types of corset went well below the hips, which meant that they were more constricting than prior types of corset. The usage of these corsets restricted a lot a woman's movement. This is key for a character who, essentially, is trying to keep it together in order not to break down completely. And so, by keeping herself constricted and tight, she keeps her mind that way as well. Again, a psychological trait is translated into costume.
Another important element of the design which is common to all the dresses mentioned before is the fact that her clothes always come all the way up to her neck. It covers her completely. And the same goes for the hair. Her hair is always pulled back very tightly, again, reinforcing that constraint and repression of the character.
In this design, we find again the garlands and claw-like acorns described in the Black dress. Only this time, there's even more of them. Now there aren't only on the front, there are also on the cuffs and on the chest, neck and back.
This garland of leaves and acorns encircles Lucille's dress like a vine that simultaneously protects and strangulates her. It's almost like the vegetation is growing out of the earth and twisting itself around her. As if she's slowly becoming part of the architecture.
As she says in the movie; she's tied to the house, she can't leave it. And that tie strengthens her and asphyxiates her at the same time.
“Lucille, who is absolutely tied to this house, says a line about how
she can never leave this house. Looking out at a vine that is
dead, she says, ‘Nothing grows here anymore.’
So we started making these leaves.”
- Kate Hawley, costume designer -
It's particularly hard to find good complete pictures of this design because she wears it only during the climax of the movie and that's entering into spoiler territory, so I'll do the best I can with my memory and the few pictures I've found.
This design consists of a white low neck flowing nightgown and a green silk, sleeveless robe with a crimson silk belt.
This design is remarkable at various levels. First and foremost, this is the only design where she appears without any kind of restriction: the hair very loosely done in a braid, no corset, no tight clothes.... she's, for lack of a better term, completely free.
It's only logical that she wears this look once Edith sees her as she truly is, without masks. And so, she also unmasks her body.
It's a gown design with movement in mind. She has to move a lot in it, and the way the robe and the gown were put together makes her movement so much beautiful. It allows us to see the beauty, as well as the danger, in her movement.
In regards to its design, it's a fairly simple gown. It's in this simplicity where lies its beauty.
"It’s one of those simple ones that sort of wasn’t hard to create,
but it felt so right after all the constriction, the way we
see her through the whole movie. Just to see
Jessica [Chastain] in that, and the movement and things —
it was one of my favorite garments."
- Kate Hawley, costume designer -
What makes these designs great is its capacity to complement the character and its world in a very clever way. Its effect is very subconscious for the average viewer, but it's there nonetheless.
It helps to reinforce certain ideas about the character and her view of life. And to create contrast with our main character.
Where Lucille is all dark, heavy and tight, Edith is bright, light and flowing. Truly a moth and a butterfly.
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