When making Netflix’s new Western “The Harder They Fall,” director Jeymes Samuel was inspired by his early love of the genre. “This is the Western he wanted to see as a kid,” costume designer Antoinette Messam says of Samuel’s film. “This is who he wanted to see in his Westerns and how he wanted to see those people dressed.”
The movie is set in the late 1800s and Messam makes it clear, the film is not a historical reenactment, but Samuel gave her free rein to use influences that would enhance her designs rather than be period-accurate when it came to dressing the cast, which includes Jonathan Majors, Regina King, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and Idris Elba.
Messam gravitated to denim as her fabric of choice, with the aim of showing the influence of African indigo in a color palette that ties the worlds of the film together. “I also had to balance out Jeymes’ favorite color, which is red.” The story revolves around Majors’ Nat Love and, she says, “He was the anchor, and everything was spread like a wheel from him.” Nat, who seeks revenge on the man who killed his parents, sports a “very russet coat, a chambray denim shirt and dark denim pants with the red accent and black. That is him dressed up,” Messam says.
When Nat is with his true love, Beetz’s Stagecoach Mary, and about to propose to her, Messam says he is cleaned up, because this is just the beginning of the journey. But this look transcends the entire movie. It goes from the saloon to the plains to the town of Redwood where he tracks down his foe. “That costume had to work on every set and stand-alone and complement without overtaking,” she says.
As the film progresses, the thread of blue becomes active, says Messam. “It was something to tie in these two worlds, this thread of blue, and it’s not blue for me, it’s indigo.” She changed the shade with patinas, dyes, washing and aging it with paint. In the scene which introduces Idris Elba’s Rufus Buck, Messam wanted to ensure LaKeith Stanfield’s Cherokee Bill didn’t stand out. “It was important he compliments the scene without standing out. I didn’t want him to overtake the frame.” The moment was about Rufus in a prison uniform that Messam sourced in a LA costume rental house and then had to make the stunt multiple out of stretch knit. “Knowing the stripe on Idris was strong in that small space and setting. It was important when he emerged that we knew he was here and everyone around him was like foil – the man has arrived.”