In a new interview with Variety, Costume Designer Terry Dresbach discusses season two costumes, her research process, and “stunt skirts.” Below are a few excerpts from the interview, which can be read in its entirety here.
That’s a perfect segue, because you’re heading to Paris in season two, which is obviously a going to feature a very different style and attitude. What has the preparation been like for the new season?
It’s very refreshing to talk to somebody who actually knows there is a difference between 18th century Scotland and 18th century Paris. [Laughs.] You would not believe how many people just go, “you can’t use the same costumes?” I’m like “no, you cannot.” Outside of a silhouette — which is the same because it’s European and wherever you were in Europe, it’s essentially the same silhouette — that’s all that’s similar, that’s it. Leave it all at home.
So we just finished building 900 extras’ costumes from scratch. It’s madness, it’s even crazier than last year, and we are starting all over from scratch with our principals again. So we are repeating the exact same process except that we have greater numbers, and a costume that would’ve taken a week to build takes two weeks. Two weeks takes four weeks.
It’s funny because in Scotland, there’s not a lot of research to support what people were wearing other than some paintings by Victorians. That’s not true of 18th century Paris. It’s meticulously researched. There’s every single detail about what the button was made out of on the left cuff versus the right cuff. It gets pretty intense. There’s not a lot of wiggle room, there’s not a lot of room for error — you need to get it right. There’s plenty of people out there who can point out all the places where you got it wrong.
You really have a task ahead of you to create an entire city’s worth of costumes, seemingly. It’s longer than we had last year, but in terms of percentage is not really, as the costumes are so elaborate. It’s a dream. I think every costume designer wants to do the 18th century. The reality is you don’t get five years to prep it.
The characters spend a lot of time on horseback and in all kinds of perilous situations, so how much does that factor into your design process? Does Claire have a few stunt skirts?
We have lots of stunt skirts. This woman rides horses, leaps off of cliffs. I don’t think she’s been lit on fire yet, but that might happen any time. What’s brilliant about the costumes [is], you come here and you have one concept of the 18th century and you throw it immediately out the window because just a couple of days here and you’re frozen and you’ve gotten wet and you go, “oh, well, they’ll die if I put them in that.”
You start seeing that all those heavy woolens really kept them warm and the actors are like “oh, thank God, I’m in wool again.” So interestingly enough, what is cumbersome actually is also protective. And then what we ended up doing, which is such a reflection of what would’ve actually happened, is we ended up building costumes according to need.
So when Caitriona was going off getting on horseback to travel from village to village to village, we were actually shooting that in the dead of winter. So she needed a coat. She needed something that was really going to keep her warm, so she got that coat with the white fur lining. That was built out of practical need. And then you try to make it look great. This is a very organic show. It’s quite fascinating — you’re shadowing what the book is about in the design and the shooting. It’s really interesting.