We understand that you traveled the globe to piece together the SWATH costumes. What's that process like?
"Well, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and one part of my job is traveling, but they don’t just let you say, ‘I want to go to Italy to go shopping.' There are different costume houses in the world that have strengths and weaknesses. So, for this era, I went to Turelli and Rome, because they do a lot of operas and have these medieval costumes. I was based in Europe and, except for the armor, that’s where I prepped this movie. I also went to another costume house in Carnaco, Spain, which had some of the armor bits for the every day people in the film. The wedding dress I bought when I was in Paris for the weekend. I have an old-fashioned fabric store in Paris that I go to, and there are fewer and fewer of them. It’s a superstitious place I go where I feel like I’ll always find one lucky thing."
Is it a dream to work on these massive-budget films?
"The downside is the paperwork because when you do a studio movie you need receipts and paperwork that they can understand. The studios are owned by corporations, so the rules for the paperwork emanate from a huge corporate level that isn’t necessarily about costume design. So, it’s quite maddening sometimes because you find the most amazing stuff, but you can’t just buy whatever you want, however you want. If you buy something outside of the country, you have to bring it in and the cost of shipping nowadays is so high that something will cost twice as much."
How do you go about researching costumes for a movie of this epic proportion?
"The Beverly Hills Public Library was a great source. They have a really good art department and it’s basically free. We use different libraries around town, museums, and online research."
How much time did it take from the initial research phase to actually getting the actors in their garb?
"First, I started with the silver army, which you have all seen in the trailer. That’s about a six-month process from start to finish when you’re manufacturing and assembling five or six hundred costumes that are armor."
So, for each piece, about how many hours does that take?
"For one of the pieces of armor, it probably took one person three days. That said, we do that on a few of the costumes, you can't do it on 300 costumes. So, then you have to look for materials that you can use for the other 99.9% of the costumes."
What are some things that we could never imagine that go on behind the scenes?
"I develop these action costumes with a stunt person in them as my fit model because then I know how it functions. I know they can squat in it and lift it over their head. I have to design a costume that works for the action, but still sort of looks like a period piece. It’s very technical. When you have a costume like this, you also have to think about how long it takes them to take it on or off at the beginning and at the end of the day. And you have to make it so they can go to the bathroom, too — that’s always a big concern! And the costume has to somehow be washable because more than one person will wear a costume during a movie. My guess is that that costume was worn by ten different guys in SWATH. So, the funk factor is huge. No matter who you are, you’re going to sweat, especially when you’re doing stunts and getting dirty."
How much are you in the story when you’re creating costumes? Do you become part of the story?
"It’s just in my head, all the time. Sometimes I have dreams about the day. The story is present in what I have left ahead of me to do. It’s just there until I’m done."
Do you sketch something when you see it?
"I remember it. I don’t take out my phone that often and take pictures. I feel awkward about doing that still. I like to remember things. Because sometimes I remember things in my own way that’s more in your imagination and less literal. Whereas, when you have the literal thing you don’t have your own twist on it."
How closely did you collaborate with Charlize Theron and Kristen, especially since they’re both so different. Did you get their input on the costumes?
"Initially, I met with them and talked about the characters and I showed them my ideas. But they were both amenable to and excited by my ideas. Charlize has been a model, but she’s also a great character actress on the inside. So, her priority is character over beauty. Kristen was the same way — she's a beautiful young woman, but she’s not looking in the mirror saying, 'Oh do I look fat in this?'"
Do you follow fashion trends?
"When I’m doing something like SWATH, I haven’t a clue what’s going on in fashion, to tell you the truth! When I’m doing something contemporary, of course I have to be aware of what’s going on. I do like fashion trends, though."
Who are your favorite designers?
"The late, great Alexander McQueen and John Galliano had two of the hugest imaginations out there. I like the classics: If I’m doing a '70s thing, I like Ossie Clark and Yves Saint Laurent. If I’m doing a '40s thing, I like Mainbocher and Dior. It depends on what I’m researching. In contemporary fashion, Azzedine Alaïa holds up through three generations of very specific and beautiful design. Jean Paul Gaultier is also very interesting and has had a long span. I also like some of the new people doing fun, sportier lines —like The Row is doing user-friendly stuff."
What advice would you give to young, aspiring costume designers?
"Be really good with budgets because they keep getting smaller. Take any job that gives you experience in film. Don’t think you have to be in a specific department, because through working in one and seeing what other people do in a movie makes you realize what your role will be if you become a costume designer."
Photo: Courtesy of NBC Universal