Channeling History

Couturiers and the clothes they create

For costume designers, TV minis and movies are a major undertaking, especially when it comes to period dramas. This year’s crop of Emmy-nominated couturiers created clothes that detail everything from the fantasy of Arthurian legend to modern lines of the 1950s.

The Mists of Avalon

Carlo Pogioli

Pogoli illustrated the time period of TNT’s “The Mists of Avalon” with natural, handmade fabrics that were dyed in a different color scheme for each character. Pogioli and his team, which included 50 seamstresses in Prague, several from England, an Italian crew, 15 more people crafting jewelry and 20 creating armor, fashioned approximately 4,000 costumes for the mini. “When you do this kind of movie, you do the same costume in double and triple,” he says, because a costume will need to be seen in different stages of action. As with most costume design, only 60% of what was created appeared in the finished film.

Feast of All Saints

Van Broughton Ramsey

Showtime’s Anne Rice mini “Feast of All Saints” spanned three time periods in the 1800s. To conjure costumes for New Orleans’ wealthiest classes in 1804, 1820 and 1840, designer Ramsey went to the city to research what they wore and replicated everything down to the corsets, shoes and parasols. “It was like doing three projects at once,” he says. “For example, the hoops (in skirts) changed in each period.” One of the most difficult aspects of creating the clothes for the mini was finding the right fabrics and enough of them in time, like fine tissue tafetas in period patterns. But, Ramsey says, the most important part of creating the costumes is getting an exact fit on an actor: “If you don’t get the right fit, the beautiful work you’ve done won’t look good.”

James Dean

Yvonne Blake

Research and preparation for TNT’s “James Dean” included a bevy of materials from docus, films and videos to photos, books and first-hand accounts from people who worked with Dean. Blake also enlisted the help of director Mark Rydell, who knew Dean and his longtime girlfriend Christine White. Blake’s biggest challenges were re-creating scenes from Dean’s movies as well as what was happening on set. “You’re showing a little bit of what was in front of the camera, but everything behind. You see the crew and directors and finding out how they looked. It’s hard to reproduce things that everybody knows,” she says, adding that it’s the details that count, including jewelry and watches.