Author’s Note: Terry kindly allowed me to reprint here three of her excellent blog entries, dealing with the work she and her brilliant costume department do on the Starz Outlander TV show. The blog itself—titled An 18th Century Life— is at terrydresbach.com and well worth reading in its entirety. Not only for the entries but for the glorious pictures, which we are, alas, not able to reproduce for you here, owing to legal constraints and to the limitations of black-and-white printing.
The coats. There has been quite a response to these two coats. What I find fascinating is the focus and interest Claire’s coat is receiv- ing. We have seen it before, in a couple of episodes now. But the renewed interest is a great example of how costume design is so much more than “picking out cute clothes.” Costume designers create visual ensemble pieces, the same way you have an ensemble of actors, or musicians. The costumes must work together, harmonize, and bring out the best in each other.
We knew this was a very dramatic and key scene between these two characters. It keeps setting up their relationship. How they work together visually, how their cos- tumes reflect and provide contrast to each other, and yet harmonize, is like creating music. Each instrument has its own part to play, but together, you have a symphony.
And it is not just the costumes, it is the environment. What are the surroundings, the colors, whether it is outside or on a set, it all has to come together as one. The real beauty is when it comes together without a lot of effort. I think what a lot of people are reacting to in this episode is our orchestra all finally finding harmony. We are playing now from the same sheet of music, we all know each other and have found a kind of perfect symmetry. Gary Steele and I have worked together forever, and share a kind of visual intimacy that is the closest thing I have ever experienced to a marriage, other than my actual marriage. I don’t have to see anything he does ahead of time, and neither does he need to see what I am doing. Whatever we do separately will work perfectly together. Ron is the conductor, the maestro. He brings together all of us and guides us to the har- mony. It is hard to sing his praises enough as an artist, I always fear that what I say will be discounted because I am his wife. But he really is a gifted and singular artist.
It can be a beautiful thing when it works.
Claire’s coat. Well, we have seen it before. I will put it on a mannequin this week so I can show the details. But for now, here it is.
This coat is dramatic. It served a couple
of purposes, the first being that it kept our actress warm. We were sending her out into freezing temps every day, on horseback. This is the hardest-working actress in Hollywood, and we treasure her.
I wanted her to be cozy and comfortable. And beautiful.
I wanted drama. This is the part in the story where we begin to really understand just how courageous this woman really is. She is about to head out into the Scottish Highlands with a bunch of pretty intimidat- ing and fierce men. One woman alone. She had better be pretty fierce herself, and yet very much a woman. A strong woman able to hold her own. This coat supports that. And in this instance, does it really matter if we have a sign that loudly points to its his- tory, and where it came from? We don’t have time for that in an hourlong show, we have a story to tell. Suffice it to say that Mrs. Fitz has a prodigious number of trunks stored away, just for times like this.
Who the hell is this strange woman; there is something about her that is clearly differ- ent, but what is it? I don’t want you to know the answer to that, I want you to not be able to place your finger on who or what she is. I want it to bother you a bit.
This little jacket is based on a real gar- ment, as are all our costumes.
I am so obsessed with this coat. I need to just re-create it at some point. But you are seeing the basic design for the first time in this ep.
The best part of the story is that we were planning an entirely different coat. We had chosen this amazing fabric, and were liter- ally waiting for it to arrive. It was nail biting time, and it was clear the day before shoot- ing that the fabric was not going to arrive in time. One of those moments. You’d better figure it out, and fast. So we found this gold fabric on a shelf, but it was kind of dull. So we added the decorative stitching. But it still said nothing much. This was Geillis: In the woods with a Faery babe and Claire!! It had to be special, and by this time it is the night before shooting. I look over on Liz’s (our embroiderer) wall, and she has something pinned up there that looks like some sort of disease on the bark of a tree.
“What the hell is that?” I ask our mad scientist. “Oh, just a wee experiment I did with scraps off the floor,” she says.
Cut to the chase, we are all digging scraps out of the garbage and off the floor. No, I am not exaggerating. Before you know it, Liz is doing some weird felting technique on the machine. We are patchworking the bark growth onto this coat, and it finally starts to look like something. But it still hadn’t completely harmonized. It needed some pop. I pulled out this yellowish/chartreuse thread, and had Liz work that into the mossy growth. Finally we dyed cording to match for a closure, and there it was. When we put it on Lotte, it was absolute magic. That little point! It was gleeful, audacious, once again, Geillis challenges you! A perfect costume moment, created out of thin air, and some stuff from the trash.
I am frequently asked what my favorite garments are. These two coats are at the top of the list. . . .
For all of the historians who will freak about Geillis, again. TRUST US. Trust that we know what we are doing, and that some- times, you have to just let the story go about its business, and see what happens. I am just not one of those people who reads the last chapter of a book first.