From handcrafted designs to pieces by Alexander McQueen, Nicholas K, Tex Saverio and Juun J, the new Hunger Games film is an eye-popping fashion fantasy. The Hollywood Blog caught up with costume designer Trish Summerville to talk about the fashions she chose for Katniss, Peeta, and the competitors in the arena—plus, how she handled author Suzanne Collins’s frequent impulse to have characters appear nearly naked.
The Hollywood Blog: Tell me about what it’s like to work on something that so many people have already imagined. How do you tackle a challenge like that?
Trish Summerville: Well, it’s interesting. ‘Cause the other film I’ve also done [2011’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo] is based off of a book, as well. When you’re reading a book, each individual person gets to imagine each character. What they look like, as well as what they’re wearing and what they do, and how they act. So I just had to take the approach of what I thought would be visually appealing, ‘cause a lot of things that are written don’t necessarily translate onto film.
Like the transparent netting that’s worn by Finnick, played in the movie by Sam Claflin.
[Laughs] The “strategically placed knot.” He was concerned about what he was gonna have to wear. And I was concerned with how it would be functional, how the actor could actually move in it—and what would still give us a PG-13 rating.
So we were just trying to incorporate a gold net. It was this woven gold yarn that we did—a metallic yarn—and weaving it into like, more of a kilt shape. But still keeping it in play there, and having his hip bones be out, and having it kind of low-slung. It was incorporating the thing that would make it feel like what you get in the book, but not as literally as a gold knot that he’s wearing.
What other well-known costumes proved difficult?
Katniss’s and Peeta’s flaming costumes. It had to be something that they both could wear, that are somewhat matching in fabrication—that works well on Katniss, but also is masculine enough for Peeta. Which can be tricky at times, when you’re making a kind of matching costume for the chariots.
So in that one I went with a laser-cut leather, then lined in a gold fabric, so that it kind of comes through all the laser cut, and you get a glint of light. So the way the visual effects are done for the fire—it looks beautiful, because it comes through the laser cut of the leather. And it just worked out really, really well.
So with the dress where Katniss spins around, and the white sort of flames into the black, did you have to worry about how that would work technically? Or were you just like, we’ll just make it look cool?
So many things we had to worry about technically, how they worked. The wedding dress is definitely one of them. We had to have it so that she could spin, and it would twirl when she twirled. That wedding dress was quite heavy. I spoke with the designer of the dress, Tex Saverio, via Skype on a lot of it. He built this kind of hoop underneath, to make sure it stayed light. The spinning worked, surprisingly, really, really well. When she was onstage, I was pretty surprised at how much air it did catch.
How did you take what we have seen in the previous film and then take it a step further?
Well, one of the great liberties that we did have is, in the world of Panem, in the Capitol, fashion is constantly changing. So we didn’t really have to stay literally tied to a lot of things. After the first film, we got to change with trends and fashion, like in the real world, but at a different pace in the Capitol.
And so, you know, there are hats that the people are wearing; and there’s maybe a color palette that people are wearing. But I did want all these groups of people to look like they shopped from different stores. They came from all over what would be left of the world and of the states—whatever Panem consisted of currently. I didn’t want everyone to look like they lived in this one city and shopped at this one store, or had one stylist or one personal shopper doing all their clothes.
The director, Francis Lawrence, said you met with hundreds of extras individually and made up little stories for some of them—especially with regards to one big party.
We had over 500 extras for the party, besides all of our principals. If you have a contemporary film, you can have extras come dressed. You kind of give ’em what we call wardrobe specs, or costume specs: Wear this—these colors are good. But when you have a film that’s not contemporary—you have something that’s period, or futuristic, or a fantasy or very stylized—you pretty much have to dress the extras from head to toe.
At one point, I’m gonna say we were seeing a hundred people a day? We would get the person’s head shot and sizes the day before. That night I would go and set up fittings, and put looks together, and then put out, say, three to four different options. So we did individually fit every single person that’s at the party.
Also, there was a woman, Natalie MacGowan Spencer, who headed up the hair and makeup on the party scene. We had our own hair and makeup department that did all of the movie, and Nat kind of came in and worked with me to do, specifically, the party scene, because it was so massive. So I made boards of all the fittings we had, and she and I would go across the tables and pick a wig for each person. To process 500 people through wardrobe, hair, and makeup takes a really long time, unless you’re extremely organized and you have some kind of a system.
What was the division between stuff you designed and borrowed, and what designers did you use?
It’s a big mix: borrowing, loans, rentals, manufacturing, purchasing. Just because there’s so much stuff in the whole film, to be quite honest, we would have never had the time, nor the money, to build everything ourselves. I was really, really grateful that, you know, some really beautiful designers were willing to loan us pieces.
McQueen was so generous with the pieces that they let us borrow. We mainly used them on Effie, because it was very fitting for her. The silhouettes and the shapes worked really well for her character. One of the pieces we have is this feathered piece that incorporated twelve feathers painted like monarch butterflies.
And the whole dress is made of that. It’s a quite sculpted shape, where the hips kind of come out and the waist goes in high, and the neck is really high, with these three-dimensional butterflies coming off. And then we had a crafts person on our film, a milliner, make her a hat to match.
Ve Neill, who did her makeup, glued little tiny butterflies down her arms—you know, on her skin—so it looked like these butterflies were all over her body. When we were shooting that scene during the reapings, Francis looked at me and he goes, “Look—those butterflies!” There were these two monarch butterflies that flew into the shot, and flew towards Effie. We thought, Oh, my God. Do they think that’s their home? Do they think that’s their people?
And I had a Korean designer that I love, Juun J—we use quite a bit of his stuff for Peeta’s character. He’s really innovative. And Nicholas K, who was great. We used a lot of their clothing on the Victory Tour and through the district for Katniss and Peeta.
The Effie dress in that scene is quite striking.
Thank you. For me it was the perfect thing—in her character’s mind, it’s spring. There was the reaping, and kids are gonna be brought to slaughter. She’s thinking, It’s springtime! [Laughs] You know?
Effie, over time, gets a little more serious. She loses a little bit of her flightiness. Were you able to reflect that in her clothing as the movie progressed?
One of the things that Francis and I talk about—and we talked with Elizabeth about it—is that Effie is in a really tough position. She lived this Capitol life, but she starts to realize how damaging this all is. She looks happy, and she’s very Capitol, and she’s vibrant and she’s colorful—but she’s always uncomfortable.
I have her always kind of teetering on her shoes. Where, you know, there’s either no heel in the back, and she’s walking forward, on the fronts of her feet; or there’s a pair of Iris van Herpen shoes, that are these fanged shoes—the heels are these very sharp, fanglike shapes. Her waist is always pinched in just too tight. Like she can never really relax and be comfortable. She’s always kind of torturing herself, or paying penance to herself, for all the things that are happening in the Capitol that she’s not O.K. with.
The arena uniforms seem functional, but they’re also a little sexier. What were you thinking about when you designed those? And, in general, was this a little bit of a sexier Hunger Games?
In the book, they’re kind of described as sheer blue jumpsuits. And, again, when you’re writing, you know, you can visualize, and this is great. But I have to say, every actor that came in for the fitting, before they saw the costume was like, “Are we wearing sheer?” [Laughs] It was everyone’s concern.
And we had to look at what could be on land; what all the tributes could swim in; what would be functional for all the stunts that they have to do—and where you actually need to protect them. If we needed to pad them underneath, how could we do that? And, you know, it just had to be something that was really flexible, moveable, breathable—so that we could go from them being in the jungle, which was superhot and humid, tons of mosquitoes, and then also swimming in the water and running.
Who’s the funniest cast member that you worked with? Are any of them mischievous?
They’re all mischievous. It was such a great experience. Because besides what Francis brings to the table creatively, his personality is so lovely and so wonderful. He just made every day great on set. And then you have these groups of actors that are just great. Jen[nifer Lawrence] couldn’t be funnier and more easygoing; and Josh [Hutcherson] is amazing; and Sam is wonderful; and Lynn Cohen was a blast. I mean, she was such a trouper. You know, she’s not a spring chicken, but that woman could outrun me in a minute.
And they had such great chemistry together. They played around on set all day long; played jokes on each other all the time; and just were really professional, and worked really, really hard. I keep pushing for the bloopers outtake reel, because there’re some extremely wonderful moments that could definitely be put on a bloopers reel.
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