An interview with Game of Thrones costume designer, Michele Clapton

Being a massive fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones I was very pleased to have the opportunity to interview the costume designer, Michele Clapton who is responsible for all of the fantastic costume choices throughout season one and two. The second season started just a few weeks ago, have you been watching? You would be a fool not to be. Can I just say that I have fallen for Jon Snow and yes his fur collar is a big part of this love I have acquired for him.

On Screen Fashion: How long have you been a costume designer?

Michele Clapton: I actually started out as a fashion designer and after a few years I really didn’t enjoy the business side of it and decided to move direction. When I had my daughter I worked on styling band videos, commercials, short films and soon discovered my love for costume – it’s probably not the orthodox way in really! I have never assisted and would no doubt be useless at it but I do regret this as I think you learn so much this way. I think it affects my confidence sometimes.

OSF: I can imagine due to the different kingdoms in Game of Thrones that the research process must be very time consuming?

MC: I start research for each season of GOT really early on. In fact I am always looking and reading, even in the down time. About 14 weeks before we start filming I meet with my assistant designers for a couple of days and we talk about the direction I would like for each existing character. We also talk about the general look of the various groups, look at all the new locations, discuss new characters, look at the climate and influences etc. I will also start talking with the production designer Gemma Jackson, as well as the writers and the producers etc. From these discussions we will create mood boards for each new place and I will start to draw for principles. We will also travel to Italy, Paris and Madrid to look at fabrics, as well as scout London – mainly Shepherds Bush, Chelsea Harbour, and Berwick Street. I have to mention our favourite fabric supplier John England in Belfast too!

OSF: What is the process of creating the costumes? Is everything hand-made? Do you have a costume break-down department?

MC: 10 weeks in we will move into our workrooms and the cutters, makers, armourers and breakdown department will all start to arrive. I love being in the workroom most of all, I understand cut as I spent 2 out of 5 years studying cutting, making and textiles. We try to make as much as possible in house as it is practical and much more fulfilling. 99% of the time I ban the use of overlocking on 100% principles, encourage hand finishing on all principles and whenever we can on extras costumes. We have weavers, embroiderers and printers so a lot of costumes are created from scratch. Craster’s wives costumes for instance, were woven from raffia, rabbit skin and feathers which were then aged in our breakdown rooms. Likewise, Daenerys Dothraki’s costume were woven in-house. Each season we try to hire less costumes although we sometimes have to commission some extras costumes to be made outside of the workroom due to time and numbers but we still try to finish them on site. I am in love with my embroiderer who works on Cersei’s costume, she is so talented. We talk through an idea which she takes and makes it more beautiful that I could hope, her stitching is like a painting. Crew is so important in costume design, you have to build a trust and then the results are there to see. I feel that I have a real bond with many of my regulars, they become friends.

OSF: How do you show the characters journey with the use of their costumes?

MC: When looking at different groups for example, the Lannisters in the south and the Starks of the north, both are important families so we would look at what is available to them and what is important to their character. The Lannisters are very wealthy, competitive, they live in the capitol and power is important. It’s warm and on the coast which means there is trade and they don’t have to worry about keeping warm. They have a large staff with silks and jewels readily available to them. As Cersei influences the court and we notice her hatred for her husband, through season two we start to see her style begin to shift as her role changes. The Starks have less available to them and are in different circumstances as they live in cold, damp weather. Available to them is wool, leather, fur and some dyes. They have to think about warmth and wear the high padded embroidered collars as status rather than jewellery. The village people wear a simpler form of this look. They are not ostentatious and are a loving family who are not trying to prove anything. Only Sansa disagrees with this and we see this as she is influenced in her clothing, mainly by Cersei and as the plot develops, she moves away from this.

OSF: Can you describe a typical day as a costume designer on the set of Game of Thrones?

MC: My days are very varied. Sometimes I’m in my office designing, in the workroom, in production meetings, at fittings and on set, often I do all of this in one day. The part I hate the most is driving to new locations, I tend to always get lost down some farm track! I also feel sad just being away from my family for so long.

OSF: The Helmut Lang Fall 2012 catwalk designs and fashion trends in 2012 are both influenced by the television series with a lot of leather and fur involved, how do you feel about this? Have you ever been influenced in your personal wardrobe while working on Game of Thrones?

MC: I was very flattered that Helmut Lang was influenced by GOT, especially with my background in fashion. I often wear the padded Stark skirts especially in Belfast and lots of crew and actors love the Shae style dress, it’s great for summer.

Many thanks to Michele Clapton.

HBO sure know how to promote Boardwalk Empire well.

Not really fashion-related but I had to share this. HBO took an original approach when promoting series 2 of Boardwalk Empire by replacing a regular, graffiti covered subway in New York City with a vintage 1920s train which was originally used on the Interborough Rapid Transit which first started running in 1904. Pretty cool huh?

Now an extra nice touch would have been some women in beaded flapper dresses and men in three-piece-suits.

I can’t get over how cool it is… I wish I had of been there. Best. Advertising. Ever.

Image and video copyright to Scott Beale

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