Profiles in Art: Michele Clapton, Part II

Michele Clapton is an Emmy and BAFTA award-winning costume designer. Based in the UK, Michele has worked on numerous high profile projects including Game of Thrones, The Crown, Sense and Sensibility, and The Devil’s Whore. You can see more of her life and work on her Instagram and website. Last week, we talked to her about her personal journey in the design world. This week in part II, we got the chance to ask Michele about her creative process and projects.

Interview conducted by: Catherine Harlow & Tiffany Chan

Edited by: Morgan Moore, Catherine Harlow, & Tiffany Chan


Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

There is no typical day, and I guess that’s why I love it. Once a project starts to film, there is a certain rhythm for a while. I guess a project has a few stages— initially my days will be mostly reading, drawing, researching  while also talking with the director and my assistants. Getting crew together is also a priority, as good cutters and buyers are like gold dust. A buyer who doesn’t get your ideas can really hold a project back…and sometimes it takes a while to realise why something isn’t coming together. As the project moves forward my day shifts into fittings and the workroom; being available to the cutters is essential. I also like to go out and source my own fabric and trimmings from time to time, I just might see something unexpected. And then, once we start filming this is often when you wish you could split yourself into three people —sometime it feels like that is what production expects!

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Andrea Riseborough in The Devil’s Whore (2008).

Q: Can you tell us about your creative process? Is it roughly the same for each project you’ve worked on?  What is the interplay between showing character development/evolution and sartorial storytelling? Do those two elements always work together?

I pretty much always start with research and colour. If it’s a historical piece, the research is relatively straightforward   with fantasy, less so. But in any project, to be able to interpret the script and give it your style you must be well informed and thorough. I use colour to find my way into the look that I want to create; it will shift as the project moves forward, but it’s a great way to interact with the production designer, to see if we are going to fall easily into a direction. I read the script repeatedly and try to visualise it in my mind. I often join a project when many cast have yet to be chosen, so this is often frustrating, but I will create options in my mind. I will put together mood boards to share the looks and feel of the costumes with my team, but until you have the actor, it’s hard to move too far.

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Sense and Sensibility (BBC, 2008).
Q: In your opinion, what are the most important considerations that make up good design?

That they make sense, it’s awful when you see a maybe-beautiful costume that bears no relationship to the characters narrative. An amazing costume can be as simple as a shirt if it tells the right emotional story.

 

Q: Can you tell us about a costume of which you are really proud? (especially if it is not a very well-known one!)

I was very proud of the coat that I designed for Nicole Kidman for Queen of the Desert. [Director] Werner Herzog, the director, wanted just one costume for her to wear throughout her travels through the desert. We did actually use more styles to tell Gertrude’s story, but essentially this style of coat was worn for the majority of the time. I based it on the Bedouin style, but the cut was flattering. It was in a heavy French linen, which we then embroidered using a local style as reference. It was completely practical. I then made two belts to be worn together, one of which was a copy of an old belt I had found which was shaped to be very wide at one end and very fine at the other. Nicole said the costume made her feel like a warrior. American Vogue sent Peter Lindberg to Morocco to cover our filming, and there was a wonderful double page photo featuring this coat.

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Nicole Kidman in Queen of the Desert (2015).

Q: It would not be an overstatement at all to say that GoT owes much of its overall aesthetic to your diligent work over the last 6 years and you’ve been with it since the inception. When you started though, I imagine it was largely uncharted territory.  (as opposed to Sense & Sensibility which has historical precedent). What were some of the challenges of starting from visual square 1?

I really fought to design GOT. There were other designers in the running, who on paper were much more experienced, but I think my passion for the project eventually won David and Dan over. I was also supported by Gemma Jackson (Production Designer) and Mark Huffman (Producer).

Once I was offered the job, I began to realise the enormity of the task…I was overwhelmed really, and very few of my crew were available. Two people really saw me through that Pilot: Nigel Edgerton, who agreed to supervise for me, and Simon Brindle, who came on for armour. I also remember someone giving me the advice to only take one day at a time don’t try to solve the whole project, just work your way forward. I have always been pretty confident in my design capability, and to me it was about trying to take Fantasy out of its usual medieval costume-house home. So we made brave choices and built new shapes, but function and reality were always paramount. I remember one of the first fittings with Kit when I tried the prototype padded skirt over trousers that became such a strong silhouette, he said this is a skirt, and I said think of it as a kilt… he was then more comfortable with the Idea! Simon Brindle brought his team and he really guided me, I hadn’t designed armour before and he was so helpful. I would design a look, and then he would talk it through and help make it practical. My research was incredibly wide, from natural dyes from various climates that would influence the colours I would choose for different regions, through to crafts that would be practiced, to create different ways to decorate and construct regional or house clothing.

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Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones (2016).

 

Q: What has been your favorite costume to create on Game of Thrones so far or your favorite character to dress?

There are too many costumes and characters to choose just one.

 

Q: What is the funniest/snarkiest/most memorable reaction someone has had to your work? (actors seeing their costumes inclusive!)

Pedro Pascal! He came in quite late from the States, so we had started his costume and had had to go quite far with it before he arrived. He was to film within days of his arrival. He was very excited to join us (we were very happy too!),  and when he tried on the boots that we had created, with wonderful hand tooled details, he just whooped!  with the coat also! For us it was magical he managed to pull off this look that would have intimidated a lesser man! I’m pretty sure he left wearing the boots to practise walking in them…he was wonderful.

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Pedro Pascal as Oberyn Martell, Game of Thrones (2014).

Q: Some parents may discourage their children from following a creative path, out of concern for financial stability (or at the very least, worry greatly about their children). How would you address those parents/their concerns?

I truly believe that parents should of course guide their child, but not inhibit them. I speak from personal experience. My parents had no idea as to what my chosen route would hold for me, but they allowed and encouraged me to try. I think my daughter, who was both academic (I’m not) and creative, was encouraged by her school to follow an academic path.  It’s a long story, but I regret not reassuring her more to follow her creative spirit…I got too caught up in her being so clever. She is such a fabulous woman, I love her dearly.


Just for fun…

Q: What are your favorite comfort foods/drinks?

Viognier white wine with a little Cassis hits the spot! But the best, taken as infrequently as I can bear, is a very dry Vodka Martini!!  Other than that I have truffle oil on everything!

 

Q: What do you do for self-care/unwind after long days?

I love walking, this gives me time to process the day…a glass of wine ( see above), and I have just started Paddle boarding, with our dog doing a Kate Winslet impression on the front of the board!

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