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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.

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The best costumes in film of all time part three

Continuing on from part one and part two:

Eleven: Marie Antoinette

I’ve spoken about Marie Antoinette before, it is an absolutely stunning film by one of my favourite directors Sofia Coppola and whenever I think about the best costumes in film this immediately pops into my head. The queen of France, Marie Antoinette is young, fresh and a lover of fashion (especially shoes) and enjoys indulging in cake and champagne. Costume designer Milena Canonero won Best Costume Design for the film at the Oscars in 2006 due to the pastel coloured dresses including duck egg, mint green, baby pink and peach which are all currently fashion trends this spring 2012. The lace collars, the wide exaggerated under skirts and corsets are a depiction of what the queen did wear during the late 1700s but with a romantic, edgier feel which has a traditional notion with a little modern-day cult thrown in.

Twelve: Inception

The wonderfully creative, mind-boggling Inception messed with our heads in the summer of 2010 and although the costumes are impressive for all of the characters (I can’t pin point just ONE great costume moment!), the costumes play a particularly important role in the way that the film is being told. Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland had to work extra close with director Christopher Nolan to make sure the clothes are accurate throughout the dreams and also the reality but while speaking to Clothes on Film he might have given away the ending. All of the clothes were custom-made and each character had their own individual style and colour palette as shown in the above image therefore everything was made specifically for each of them. Due to the architecture professions in the film Jeffrey chose sharp lines such as peaked lapels, windowpane patterns, and plaids.

Thirteen: Sex and the City

For the first Sex and the City film Carrie had more than 80 outfits to wear but this is by far the most memorable. The moment when Carrie receives a large dress box and a note from the woman herself, Vivienne Westwood stating that the dress belonged to Carrie, after seeing her wearing it during a Vogue photo shoot. It would only happen to her wouldn’t it? The dress is a little OTT, I remember seeing it and thinking it was lovely but Carrie is the only one that could pull it off even though I wasn’t a fan of her ‘something blue’ feather a.k.a. bird head-piece, yet it did give the outfit edge which you would expect from her. The beautiful fabric is luminous – the champagne silk is the perfect colour for Carrie whilst the fabric itself is very classic. The dress has a silk bustier with a built-in corset, a puff under-skirt which is also silk but a slightly off-white colour with an asymmetric hem. Sarah Jessica Parker and the Sex and the City films are sure great for marketing, particularly as shopping platform Net A Porter sold out of the Vivienne Westwood Carrie dress’ on their website for $10,000 a pop despite it only being a knee-length version (the floor length version is $15,7000 which you have to order from the lady herself, Vivienne and wait six months for it to be produced.) Were you inspired by this dress for your wedding?

Fourteen: Alice in Wonderland

I love anything Tim Burton and there’s no deny in the fact that his films excel in everything – production design, script, visual effects and of course, costume design. With his eccentric mind alongside his long-standing costume designer Colleen Atwood who has worked on many of Burton’s films (Edward Scissorhands, Planet of the Apes, Sweeney Todd, Sleepy Hollow and upcoming film Dark Shadows) the costumes ooze originality. Alice in Wonderland is no exception. There are wonderful costumes throughout, but of course Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter stands out to most. Colleen explored the world of hat makers in London from the Edwardian era which inspired her more than the previous illustrations of the Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll’s book. Depp being a chameleon by adapting to all of his costumes so well that they don’t even appear as costume was dressed in very playful and eccentric clothes to portray his mad personality, yet not distracting away from his character and personal story within the film. The jacket is made from silk which is burnt by the break-down department to give it age, he also has a bow tie which reacts with his mood which rises up when he is happy and droops down when he is sad. He has a pair of scissors attached to the a jacket with scrap pieces of ribbon which he can use to create a hat at the last-minute, there is embroidery on his trousers which is an embroidered ‘doodle’ which he does while waiting for Alice to come to tea and he also has mismatch socks as he lost the pairs.

Fifteen: The Help


Being a huge fan of 1960s clothing, or ‘Mad Men era’ shall I say, I absolutely adored The Help. Costume designer Sharen Davis transformed the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett into costume heaven with sort-after dresses upon dresses of the ice-cream shade kind. The bold floral prints and pastel shades are so visually appealing and beautifully hand-made that it’s very clear how much effort she put into transforming sheets of fabric into wonderful shift dresses, pencil skirts and ultra-feminine blouses. Kathryn created 50 costumes from scratch using vintage fabrics with the rest being sourced from vintage and costume shops, the latter being difficult due to the rural location which meant cast members having to fly to LA for their fittings. Taking inspiration from old Vogue magazines, 1960s high-street fashion catalogues and Marilyn Monroe, the overall look is any fashion-lover’s dream and an expensive one at that – she spent $15,000 on just the period accessories which included leather structured handbags, pearl choker necklaces and cat-eye sunglasses.

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