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Creating the Seven Kingdoms. Part IV: The Capital

Having already focused on three of the major players of the Seven Kingdoms (the Starks in the North, the Lannisters in the West and the Tyrells in the Reach) we are going to change the focus a bit and instead of focusing on a family or a region we are going to focus on a city and how costume design can help visualize and even explain its intricate inner workings.

The Seven Kingdoms, as Martin created them, have a long and sprawling history behind them that has helped to form the traditions and culture of each of these kingdoms, shaping them into what we know.

And, as we've established in previous articles, the most important task that the Costume Design faced was being able to create the sense that these cultures not only truly existed, but that they had existed for a long time. So, how do you design for a city that has no history?


Without further introduction, let's turn our attention to Westeros' prosper and rich capital and see how the political game can shape the look, feel and even the personality of a city.

KING'S LANDING AND THE CROWNLANDS

King's Landing, the capital city of the Seven Kingdoms, the political center of Westeros and the seat of the King's power, was founded only three centuries ago by Aegon I Targaryen at the site where his army first landed and began his campaign to conquer and unify the kingdoms. Or so Martin tells us.


Three hundred years may seem like a long time, but, the truth is, 300 years of history pales in comparison to the thousands of years of history behind Winterfell or Highgarden or The Eyrie. Here's a little morsel of information to put things into context: according to the book's lore, the Starks have ruled the north for, approximately, 8,000 years before our story begins.

This relative "youth" keeps the city from having a unique identity of its own. It hasn't had the time to develop one. So, how do you design costumes that will properly transmit visually the culture and history of its inhabitants, when there isn't really one there, to begin with?

A good place to start is, as always, with the basics. King's Landing stands proudly at the mouth of Blackwater Bay, where the Blackwater Rush meets the sea, which favors a rather warm and humid climate. The geographical location also facilitates trade both in and out of the Seven Kingdoms, which secures wealth and privilege for the city.

This facilitates two situational factors that are very easily integrated into costume: climate and wealth. So let's break this down.

Heat and humidity are the two main ideas pertaining to King's Landing's climate. It's only logical then that most of the local clothing is rather loose, avoiding tight fittings that might be uncomfortable when dealing with heat and, particularly, humidity.


Note that this type of dress (which is worn both by the Palace servants and the common people on the streets) is very loose, avoiding being form-fitting, and therefore preventing the garment from sticking to the body, which in humid climates can be a real nightmare.

On top of that, these garments are made of light linen, allowing perspiration and a certain level of lightness to the costume. A more fitting material than wool, considering the region's climate.

Another element affected by the climate is the predominate warm palette of reds, ochres, and pinks that prevail in the city costumes.


Which leads us to the second intrinsic characteristic of the city to take into account: King's Landing is a neuralgic center of commerce for Westeros. It's the main entry source of the copious amount of commerce coming from the exotic Essos. Which allows the city an easy access to all sorts of luxuries that wouldn't otherwise be available elsewhere on the continent, such as silks and dyes. This geoeconomic aspect facilitates the costume's richly colored palette.
They're near the sea, they can trade, they have silks, they have colors, much more sort of Mediterranean feel. There's more jewelry. But it's just the color is really lifted...We decided really, through the buildings, through the architecture, and through the climate, to make it much more "Persian" I guess in feel.                                                             --- Michele Clapton, costume designer ---  
This, in turn, allows the whole look to be brighter and more alive than in regions like the North both for the nobles at the Court and the commoners in the streets.


And, at a surface level, that's all there is. Which doesn't leave the designer with much to work with as these two aspects of the city tell us hardly nothing about the culture or even the identity of the city.

But nothing is as simple in Martin's world. There is another essential aspect of the city that directly defines its ethos and that would be almost irresponsible not to mention: the politics. King's Landing might not be the ancient cradle of any deeply rooted culture, but it is the seat of the King and Court, which means that politics become the central identity and beating heart of the city.

That is central to the story and, because of it, it becomes a central aspect of the Costume Design. And it does this by literally taking a page out of history and using costume as a way to display rivaling political factions as well as political dominance.

Whatever family controls the Iron Throne also controls the look and fashion in the city.


Throughout the seasons, as the power struggle makes the wheel of power turn, different families wield influence on the capital and each brings a distinct style with it that affects the overall look of the city; from the whores in Flea Bottom to the nobles in the Red Keep.

This is very cleverly shown through what designer Michele Clapton calls the "trickle-down effect": whatever the King and Queen wear is eventually reflected in the Royal Court, then the lesser nobles, then the wealthy merchants and so on and so forth until it reaches even the brothels.


Evidently, there is a distortion in costume quality the lower we go down the social scale, but there is an undeniable influence between what the court wears and what the commoners wear. This is a phenomenon that we see even in our day to day lives: rich people prance around in designer clothes, while the middle and working class wear the exact same style of clothes but cheaper.

This is more like a pattern of behavior than an actual characteristic of the city's look. Which, in turn, reinforces the idea of the city's lack of culture. The city is a political creature: it evolves and adapts according to whoever has the upper hand politically.

This means that the more political influence a family has on the court, the more prominent that style will become.


Accordingly, during the first two seasons, during the height of Lannister power, the look of King's Landing is heavily influenced by Lannister fashion. And so, most of the ladies we see follow a style heavily influenced by Cersei's asymmetric kimono-like wrapped dresses, with armor-like metal belts, and large billowing sleeves.
Cersei is all about fashion and styling. She tends to wear very soft wrapped silks which are embroidered. It's like a kimono style, but with a slightly medieval cut. And she has a lot of metal belts, because I like the idea that she's armored in a sense...The court often wear very similar pieces to her, the wraps and metal belts, and then that's copied in ways to the working class.                --- Michele Clapton, costume designer ---  
But, as season 3 progresses, and as the Tyrell start their cunning maneuvers to overpower the Lannisters, more and more background courtiers start to gradually switch to Margaery Tyrell's fashion style of plunging necklines and sleeveless and often backless gowns. This helps to effectively convey, through visuals, their rising social and political influence at the expense of Cersei.
Margaery Tyrell sweeps into King’s Landing and takes it by storm. As such, her wardrobe is very unique and very much at odds with everything else in King’s Landing [i.e. the Westerlands style, because Cersei used to be the trendsetter]. It’s a very structured look – the new style coming in after the war. For the first time in a long time, Cersei won’t be the trendsetter in the capital. It’s a fun way to reflect their future rivalry.                                                                      --- Michele Clapton, costume designer ---   

This, at first, is just a subtle change in the background costuming, but it slowly gains traction as the Tyrell-Lannister rivalry comes to dangerous heights. It is definitely a very smart way to reflect how the Tyrells slowly rob the Lannister's influence over the court, making it their own.
[During Season 3] in King's Landing, Margery [Tyrell] is beginning to influence the dress of the younger girls in court, whilst the older girls continue to follow Cersei [Lannister].                                                  --- Michele Clapton, costume designer ---   
This shift towards Tyrell fashion is finally completed in season 5, when, after Tywin's death, Margaery finally manages to control Tommen and the whole Court, further forcing Cersei to the sidelines. 



A change that is very interestingly represented in the frame above: as Cersei climbs the stairs to attend her own father's funeral, the whole court stands next to Margaery all dressed in an unequivocally Tyrell influenced style.

In the end, it's the integration of those power dynamics into the costumes that make the Costume Concept for the Capital, a city that as far as culture and tradition have barely anything to work with, so very interesting.

A GAME OF THRONES

King's Landing stands as the political stage where the story's game of thrones really takes place. The political rivalries created here transform into full blown-out war and bloodshed throughout the continent of Westeros. The words spoken and the political acts performed in this city turn into deadly swords elsewhere. That is the city's ethos. That is the city's true personality.

And the Costume Design finds a very simple yet striking way of reflecting it. By taking influence in the power dynamics of costuming in the real Royal Courts of Europe's history, Michele Clapton brings life through the costume dynamics to King's Landing and creates a living city that feels real at every turn.

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Comments

  1. I think King's Landing style implies the climate is a bit too worm, both because it makes Cersei's long sleeved outfits seem too heavy for the climate, and the is so much area in the South it just seems a bit wrong. And for some reason the handmaids seem to dress really similar to prostitutes.

    But I think it's still nicely unique rather than typical medieval look and and the trickle down effect was well thought out.

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    1. Thanks for this inward look at Martin's work, someone I simply dislike as a y/a writer and of course for adults? Rather read non fiction, though you do make me visualize the setting and scene along with the analyzing costumes - fabrics used to move the viewer through the series? Thanks

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