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Q&A: Designer of ‘Penny Dreadful’s’ Hauntingly Beautiful Costumes

Dark and demented, Showtime’s new horror fest “Penny Dreadful” seems to molds monsters out of a seemingly normal world where the enlightened few are aware that something is not quite right — a fitting mix for the Victorian England-set drama that follows a moxie band of ghoul hunters that includes Timothy Dalton’s wealthy African explorer Malcolm, Eva Green’s strong-willed Vanessa, Josh Hartnett’s quick-drawing American renegade Ethan and, because why not, Harry Treadaway as a young Victor Frankenstein.

Created by John Logan (“Skyfall,” “Jersey Boys”), who executive produces with Sam Mendes and Pippa Harris, the show’s name is derived from 19th century British pulp fictions that were targeted at youth who, if they were alive today, would probably be avid Ryan Murphy and Quentin Tarantino fans.

Developing a fantasy world with a foot in history can create multiple challenges for the crew, especially when it comes to vintage-style costumes that have to believable, if not a little bizarre. Variety talked with costume designer Gabriella Pescucci (pictured below) who, with costume supervisor Uliva Pizzetti, created the looks.

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How many of the costumes were “made from scratch” and what percentage are vintage?
I cannot say the exact percentage, but where possible I used vintage clothes. In other cases, I used pieces of authentic embroidery, lace, or buttons that I found in the London vintage market, applying them on corsets or dresses made with new fabric. I also used vintage men’s jackets, waistcoats, scarves, and hats when the actors measurements and characters would permit.

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Was there a specific color scheme that you wanted for each character?
Vanessa, Eva Green’s character, is a young tormented woman who doesn’t like the superfluous, which women’s fashion was full of in the 1890s. At that time, black was a widely used color, and not only for mourning … The elegant physicality and the pale color of Eva’s skin led to me to choose dark colors for her. Josh Hartnett was dressed in bright colors in the Wild West Show [in the pilot], but that was the only situation I choose a bright color for him – that scene was meant to be a little bit vulgar, but funny.

penny-dreadful-alice-eve-timothy-dalton

Did you base any of these designs on the cartoons in old Penny Dreadful stories?
I did look carefully at the Penny Dreadful drawings. They are very ironic and a little over-the-top. The purpose was to scare and impress the readers. But, I have tried to give a more realistic impression.

Penny-Dreadful-victor-frankenstein

Some of these characters, such as Treadaway’s Victor Frankenstein (pictured above) and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), have the names of well-known fictional characters. Are there nods to the original authors’ character descriptions in those novels?

I did re-read Oscar Wilde, but for Dorian Gray, John Logan and I wanted to draw from more modern inspirations to create a more timeless version of the character. [In our version,] Frankenstein is a young doctor, who studies the human body, but he’s not a rich man. So, his clothing needed to be absolutely ordinary, which also helps to conceal the mysterious experiments he’s conducting in his laboratory.

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