Award-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood (she’s designed for Sleepy Hollow, Mission Impossible III, Sweeney Todd, and won Oscars for Alice in Wonderland, Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago) designed and her shop created the leathers, armor and fairy tale dresses for Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and very evilly-regal queen Charlize Theron for SWATH.
While the film was still shooting, we were lucky enough to tour Colleen’s costume workshops at Pinewood Studios in the U.K. and see some of the most amazing movie clothes ever; some finished, some in progress and some still in design stages. Wow! Colleen herself guided us through her very special world.
Colleen: Charlize has about 15 different variations and Kristen has about five or six but variations within that. Chris [Hemsworth] has basically three looks but it’s all good [we agree and laugh]. He has leather pants which he wears rather well.
Sam Claflin has two or three. The guys have less but more stages. By the end we will have made about 2,000 costumes for the movie by the time we’re done with all the extras.
Let’s set the scene for you: There are sketches of all the principal actors’ costumes on the walls with rich fabric swatches attached.. bolts and bolts of glorious, rich fabrics are strewn over work tables. Ah ha! DMF is on a door here and there; the code for the film “Dark Mirror Films”.. Well,Star Wars was once called Blue Harvest to insure security so why not?
We’re guided to Kristen’s costume trailer; We’re surrounded by blues, greens and browns. Some costumes have the puffy, classic Snow White sleeves but with a chain mail skirt.
Colleen tells us that some of the textiles and textures of the fabric would translate into our era and “look cool with jeans”. We look at pretty leather colors, some with fake fur. We see Kristen’s jacket, sword belt and leather pants and part of her armor. This is her flexible stunt armor. She has a couple of other girlie dresses too and a coronation dress.
“This is Snow White’s under armor jacket but it’s a cute little piece”, Colleen shares. “Kristen said ‘Oh, I’d wear that!’ This is another dress that Kristen wears at the end. It’s really a simple little dress, very peasant and appropriate for the scene. Nothing like these. That’s for sure. This is a work in progress”. Colleen shows us a crazy beetle wing sleeve.
“The final dress is a chainmail and leather dress that Kristen wears. This is a robe that has been hand embroidered for Charlize. She has a great presence as an actor. You put a costume like that on somebody who really knows how to wear it and it becomes really strong and kind of special”.
TeenHollywood: Does Kristen also make a transformation when she puts these costumes on?
Colleen: Yes, for sure. But it’s a softer version than when Charlize puts hers on, Especially the armor. We’re working on Sam Claflin’s shoes that he’s going to wear with his armor and spiffing those up a little.
TeenHollywood: The look of Snow White is so iconic (i.e. the Disney puffy sleeves). Was that a reference or are you avoiding that?
Colleen: The only thing is the puffed sleeve is sort of reflected in Kristin’s costume but that’s about it. She’s a totally different kind of character. Less “princessy” and more a bad a** kind of girl and hers is leather and has clamps and different kind of stitching on it.
TeenHollywood: If an actor has an idea for their costume, do you listen?
Colleen: Yeah. It’s a collaboration. They have to feel the character and wear the clothes. Most actors don’t dictate what they want to wear at all. They’re quite excited when they see the stuff. They interpret it through their things and have ideas for that so it’s a real collaboration.
TeenHollywood: Was it that way with Kristen?
Colleen: Yeah but she really didn’t say anything. I showed her the stuff and she was really into it. She loved the armor and the other bits that she has. She’s not really that obsessed with clothes at this point in her career. She’s young and free from that sort of obsession. In her work previous, she hasn’t worn those kinds of presentational costumes so it’s kind of new for her. She’s still having fun with it I think.
TeenHollywood: What is the armor made out of so it isn’t really heavy?
Colleen: The armor is made out of urethane materials then plated with metal so they look like metal, as in Snow White’s armor.
We move on to another workshop
TeenHollywood: Charlize looks so regal in the film, yet very fantasy-like.
Colleen: Charlize transfers between human and animal thing. It’s going to get shredded away. Two costumes will be nice and two destroyed. This is her wedding dress. This is made with leather and fabric I found in France and it has a beautiful big skirt that goes with it. It has a skeletal collar that goes on it and it’s detachable.
TeenHollywood: Do you make a lot of copies of the same costume?
Colleen: In this case I have six of everything because they go through a lot of climate changes in the story so I have different stages of breakdown and then we have real dwarves and larger people so we have a costume scaled down and also regular size.
TeenHollywood: What were the challenges in costuming Alice in Wonderland and this one?
Colleen: There are similar challenges. The visual effects challenges are really different because, in this one, we had to make people that were two different sizes the same scale whereas in “Alice”, we played with body parts scaling up such as the queen’s head. So similar challenges but different with the visual effects side of it. They are both creating fantasy worlds based in different tales although Grimm and Louis Caroll are pretty different.
TeenHollywood: Did you design the coat of arms?
Colleen: No. The Art Director. These are early sketches for Charlize’s costumes, taking ideas and shapes and silhouettes and we start spinning them out and making clothes out of them. It takes about a hundred man hours to make a costume.
TeenHollywood: Do you work with the production designer to follow a certain color palate?
Colleen: We work together. I see the color of the walls in the castle, what tones they are but it’s not like we’re together in a huddle. You get an overview then go off and get your materials. I always do a palate for the whole film with my designs and pull it together that way.
We pass by some really gorgeous long dresses.
Colleen: I have a coronation scene there will be 200 people dressed to the nines and that’s the idea of what they’ll be wearing. The dress behind it is for the actress in a flashback scene. It’s more peasanty. I have a lot of that shape in the movie too.
TeenHollywood: What do you do with these when you’re done filming?
Colleen: Universal owns them and they keep them for displays and sometimes, after a few years, they go into rental stock. They wouldn’t like it if I took it home.
TeenHollywood: The actors can’t take it home either?
Colleen: If they have it in their deal they can but, hey, after they’ve worn it through a whole movie they don’t really want it anymore unless it's a memento.
TeenHollywood: I’d want everything! This stuff rocks!