Taking A Look At The 1992 Dracula

Yesterday’s post on the Lucy wedding dress seems to have struck a chord with our readers so we thought we’d re-post and update a series of posts that we did awhile ago about the costuming in the 1992 production of the movie Dracula.  We first saw the movie when it came out and we were entranced by the costuming, knowing full well of its theatricality- it was simply a visual treat. To this day we periodically watch this movie and not always at Halloween… 🙂 So with that said, enjoy our deep-dive into the world of costuming for the movie Dracula…


For a change of pace, today we’re going to take a look at period costume in a horror movie and in particular, Frances Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Released in 1991, Dracula was a fresh take on the Bram Stocker’s 1897 novel of the same name. The costumes were designed by Eiko Ishioka and the film won an Oscar Award for Costume design. With the story being set in 1897, we’ll be focusing mostly on the Victorian side of the costuming although we note that many non-Victorian elements have been worked in. We’ll begin with what is probably the most iconic dress of the movie, Mina Harker’s green dress. First, we have the costume sketch…

Mina1

And then, the finished product…

Mina3577ed0a930af1cada3946d787e8e226eLooking at this dress, the most significant thing that stands out is that the dress style is about a decade too early. The bustle and train give the dress a silhouette more more appropriate to the late 1880s. By the 1890s, and especially 1897, the bustle/train had disappeared and the overall dress silhouette had become vertical.

The color choice, however is good one and it provides a clear, light color that stands in contrast to the people around her who are dressed in a dark, drab/muddy palette. It also must be noted that it picks up tones of the earlier dress worn by Elizabeta in the early prologue scene (although that is sometimes hard to immediately see in varying lighting):

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From the Hollywood Costume Exhibit. Unfortunately, the lighting was not the best here.

From the Hollywood Costume Exhibit. Unfortunately, the lighting was not the best here.

 Below are a few more scenes with the green dress:

Mina4

minawalking_smallHere we see more details of the front of the dress. The shirtwaist/coat combination was very common during the late 1880s mostly as a faux shirtwaist/jacket that was actually one unified bodice.

The other element that dates this dress style to the late 1880s are the sleeves. During this time, the sleeve caps either smoothly integrated with the bodice or there was a slight “kickout” or puff on the top of the sleeve cap, a precursor to the leg of mutton or “balloon” sleeves characteristic of the mid 1890s.

Below are some examples of dresses from the late 1880s:

Petersons August 1886

Peterson’s Magazine, August 1886.

Petersons September 1886

Peterson’s Magazine, September 1886.

Fashion Plate, c. 1886

Fashion Plate, c. 1886

As can be seen from the above plates, the faux open outer jacket with a faux shirtwaist or similar was one characteristic of the late 1880s. Also, one can still see small bustles and trains and while the silhouette has become somewhat vertical, it’s not completely there yet, in much the same way with Mina’s green day dress.

Now, lets take a look at the 1890s:

Delineator

The Delineator, June 1897

Delineator2

The Delineator, January 1897

Delineator1898-12Fashions1

The Delineator, December 1898

From the above, we can see that the sleeve caps have increased in size to the “leg of mutton” or “balloon sleeve” look. Moreover, the skirts are even and have an even, cone-like silhouette.

To be continued...





The Lucy Wedding Dress & Victorian Fashion

Today’s post probably more properly belongs in the Halloween post category but well…it’s been a crazy year so we’re a bit belated…but more seriously, bridal fashions have always been an integral part of Western culture and especially more so in recent years as a whole multi-million dollar industry has been built around the act of getting married. When bridal fashion is combined with the horror movie genre, it becomes a commentary about society. In this post we do some deep-diving into Victorian Era social mores and while we may be admittedly reaching a bit with our conclusions, we hope it provides some interesting food for thought so we invite you to come along with us for the ride… 🙂


Bridal dresses have always been a basic part of our business and whether contemporary or old, bridal styles have always been fascinating to us. Today we take a look at bridal dresses from a slightly different perspective with the Lucy wedding dress from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film Dracula and it’s quite a fright (and that’s before Lucy makes her dramatic transformation into a vampire). The film is supposedly set in 1897 and thus it would be reasonable to assume that the costuming would reflect this but in reality it’s more like the mid to late 1880s for at least for some of the dresses and for the Lucy wedding dress, it’s a bit more uncertain…

Our first take on this dress was that it underscores Lucy’s transformation from a seemingly innocent girl into a vampire, the epitome of pure evil and corruption. This is not an original interpretation on our part, it’s been put forward that Lucy’s fate is that of the Victorian female who dared to flout the dominant social conventions that dictated that females were to be subservient, compliant, and certainly NOT sexual in any way that was not connected with procreating children.

dracula2

Lucy Before…

What is interesting in the above picture is how Lucy’s head appears to be disembodied, the rest of Lucy’s body hidden. It’s an interesting use of foreshadowing, given Lucy’s ultimate fate.

dracula

Lucy After…

However, Lucy “breaks” the rules and is “punished” by becoming a cursed, hyper-sexed creature motivated by a thirst for blood. The erotic overtones are hard to miss. At the same time, Lucy’s transformation into a vampire also mocks Victorian convention and especially when we see Lucy returning to her crypt holding an infant in her arms, no doubt her next meal. This is mockery at its most grotesque.

Turning to the dress itself, the dominating feature that one cannot fail to see is the large lace collar that’s vaguely reminiscent of a large Elizabethan ruff. Emphasizing the head, the first thing that came to mind when we first saw it was the head of John the Baptist on a platter. On one level it made for some interesting horror movie theatrics but on another level, it was a bit disturbing.

 

Turning to the dress itself, below is probably some of the historical inspiration for the Lucy wedding dress:

Bildnis_Margarete_Brömsen_Michael_Conrad_Hirt_(1613)

Michael Conrad Hirt, Margarete Brömsem, 1613

The above portrait captures many of the elements in the Lucy wedding dress although the collar/ruff on the Lucy wedding dress is circular. This is not a particularly flattering look but then again the 17th Century is not one of our most favorite periods for style so take this with a grain of salt. 🙂

And of course, things would not be complete without some more views of the dress:

Lucy, white funeral/wedding dress worn by Frost in Bram Stoker's Dracula. side front view.:

Once again, before…

Dracula Wedding/Burial dress:

And after…

Dracula:

Full Frontal View

eiko_ishioka_dracula_1

Concept Artwork by Eiko Ishioka

While the Lucy Wedding dress is fairly ahistorical from a style perspective, it nevertheless achieves the primary goal of adding impact to the characters and moving the story forward- the goal of costuming in any production- and it does so in a spectacular way. No matter how we feel about the scenes with Lucy becoming a vampire, it cannot be denied that it has a powerful impact on the viewer. Ultimately, it’s only a movie but it still touches on some dark themes still linger on to this day.



On Set With Lily Absinthe…Looking Back

Over the years, we’ve worked on a number of film productions and each one of them has been a unique experience. In contrast to working from our atelier, directly working on a film production offers a set of challenges that can easily overwhelm you unless you’re prepared for them. Below is an account of one such production we worked on.  🙂

What Have I Done? (2014)


Yours truly, on set...

Yours truly, on set, as one of the background talent. Just another dirty dude in the West… 🙂

Rcently, we had the unique opportunity to provide wardrobe for an independent production, and a Western no less, entitled “What Have I Done?” This was a creative challenge in that we were working with a very small budget and had to outfit six principal characters. Worse, the film was going to be shot over four days at a movie ranch located in what seemed to be literally the middle of nowhere with little in the way of support facilities. Everything we needed, we would have to haul it in ourselves and hope that we didn’t forget anything.

One of the many jobs I wound up doing was working with a horse that a rider was having trouble with...ride 'em cowboy! :-)

One of the many jobs I wound up doing was working with a horse that a rider was having trouble with…ride ’em cowboy! 🙂

After reviewing the script, doing a complete breakdown of each scenes, and visiting the film site, we quickly set to work on putting together the outfits for the principals. We were fortunate in that we did not have to build all the costumes from nothing; in many cases were able to modify our stock of wardrobe.

Dresses Under Construction

Dresses Under Construction; Each one for for a specific character.

However, making dresses was just the beginning. We also had to construct or improvise the proper underpinnings to include corsets and petticoats, construct head pieces, and provide any accessories as needed such as parasols and the like. The construction phase took about three weeks to complete and we were working right up when filming began. Also, in several instances, we were unable to measure the actresses in person and had to rely on their reported measurements. Needles to say, we were a bit uncertain how things would turn out and we were prepared for the worse which meant bringing a portable sewing machine and a full set of accessories with us. Fortunately, in the end everything fit perfectly and it was not an issue. 🙂

However, our work was not complete- there was still the background talent to consider. Working with the production designer and director, we formulated the exact “look” we were hoping to achieve in the way the shots were framed. Of course, first and foremost, the background talent are just that: background, and as such, they are to provide a backdrop for the principal actors. The last thing you want is for someone in the background to stand out in some way and steal focus from the principals and this means that the background talents’ wardrobe must be in neutral colors that blend in with the terrain, in this case a weather-beaten, dirty Western town located in the desert, and that means mostly different shades of brown, green, tan, beige, and the like.

And my close up. With the schmutz on my face, I fir in perfectly with the background of a dusty, dirty Western town in the desert...

And my close up. I fit in perfectly with the background of a dusty, dirty Western town in the desert…;-)

Because of the low budget, no wardrobe could be provided for the background talent. Instead, the production relied on reenactors (or “living historians”) who were ostensibly knowledgeable about wardrobe that was appropriate to the late 1870s and early 1880s and were able to secure wardrobe in the correct colors. We had no role in their selection.

However, in reality this was not always the case. To a great degree we were at the mercy of the background talent even after they had submitted pictures of themselves and their outfits has been approved prior to production commencing. Essentially, the most common problems encountered were: 1) the original outfit was unavailable due to staining or damage due to prior ear and tear; 2) the person who was going to be wearing the garment had gained too much weight since the picture was submitted (it seems improbable given the short length of preproduction time but it happens); or 3) the person didn’t like their outfit and decided to wear something else. Numbers 1 and 2 are somewhat uncontrollable, much like the weather, but number 3 was simply inexcusable.

Things that some background people insisted on bringing to wear and would sneak in: cheap import beaded corsets, frosted wigs with unnatural curls, pastel polyester dresses, dusters with snaps, huge modern “tea hats”, fishnet stockings, everything on the “not” list.

Fortunately, we were prepared for this problem and we brought a stock of separate garments such as shawls, coats, and the like that could be used to cover up or otherwise mitigate the situation. Also, we brought things from our own personal collections and in two instances, we had to construct two outfits.

In extreme cases, the problem was fixed in post production with creative editing. But in spite of these challenges, we were able to overcome every obstacle and deliver a product that remained true to the production design.

Below are a few pictures from the production. We shot both exterior and interior shots at varying times to include the late night and early morning.

One of the principal actresses.

One of the principal actresses.

Above is a scene that was shot in the saloon at night. The actress in the red dress was supposed to be the “bad girl” and the use of red naturally played it up. This dress is in contrast to what the other principles were wearing and it was done for effect. The red almost vibrates, giving a somewhat larger-than-life quality.

Saloon Girls

Saloon Girls

Day scene involving some of the saloon girls. We provided the wardrobe for the middle two actresses.

Night scene in the saloon.

Night scene in the saloon.

The hero of the story with the “good girl” who is in love with him and who the hero spurns until it’s too late.

Break2

Break time on set.

Break1

Hurry up and wait…

Although I do not normally like to get in from of the camera, I was pressed into service at the last minute to fill out the ranks, to which I graciously acceded. Here I am after I’d been dirtied up a bit with schmutz. 🙂

Filming at night...and I'd already been working for 14 hours by this time.

Filming at night…and I’d already been working for 14 hours by this time.

However, in spite of the various challenges we faced, we came through and supported the production to the utmost. It was certainly a learning experience but we were more  than up to the challenge.

Yours Truly, exhausted and trying to catch up on his sleep.

Yours Truly, exhausted and trying to catch up on his sleep.



A Look Back At The Movie Tombstone…

As we’re leaving No. 11 today, the movie Tombstone hasn’t been far from our thoughts so in honor of the movie, we thought we’d re-post our take on some of the costuming aspects of the movie, so enjoy!


Tombstone1

The Earps and Doc Holiday off to the date with destiny at the OK Corral- From the movie Tombstone.

On a costuming level, the movie Tombstone never fails to excite interest and invariably, the question will arise: “How historically accurate are the costumes?” The short answer is “Somewhat…” Yes, much of the costuming is fairly accurate although one may quibble on the specific details. One of my favorites is the much-maligned Johnny Behan:

johnbehansherrif1

Johnny Behan wearing a tailored blue/gray pin stripe sack suit.

tombstone01

A better view of Johnny Behan’s suit.

Behan’s is wearing a well-tailored sack suit proper for someone in his position. Unlike the usual image of the scruffy frontier marshal or sheriff, Behan was more of a politician and his primary job was collecting enough tax revenue to keep the Cochise County government financially afloat. The actual work of dealing with criminals was tasked to several deputies.

That said, let’s take a look at the central focus of the movie, Wyatt Earp:

Wyatt Earp1

This is the iconic Wyatt Earp outfit, one that has been widely imitated over the years by those recreating the Earp persona, usually for reenactments of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Now, as for historical accuracy, the coat itself is wrong. There were no ankle-length frock coats. Anything this long would be some sort of greatcoat. The frock coat of the later 19th Century tended to come down to just above the knee.

OK, so it rates a boo and a hiss…or does it? Bear in mind that this is a movie and a movie’s primary goal it to tell a story. Costuming supports this story-telling process and it’s often subject to conscious design changes in order to increase the dramatic effect. In this case, it’s pretty successful, judging from how much it’s imitated and let’s face it, it does increase the dramatic effect, especially when done in black (both the length and color choice were deliberate choices made the director). The effects of black color, coat length, and pictures of it flapping open in the breeze all suggest a superhero figure. So in the end, it’s all about telling a story.

Now just for a little equal time, here’s the Earps and Doc Holliday off to the OK Corral gunfight in the movie Wyatt Earp:

Wyatt Earp Movie1

The Earps and Doc Holiday off to the OK Corral and thei date with destiny- from the movie Wyatt Earl.

Compared to the top picture from Tombstone, the look in the above picture from Wyatt Earp is bit more gritty and less heroic (in fact, the actual gunfight scene itself is a bit anticlimactic in the movie). One is not more “correct” than the other, both go for a specific dramatic effect. Whether one is more effective than the other is subjective, in the eye of the viewer (we have our favorite, too).

So Gentle Readers, where does this leave us? Well, it goes to show that one must be mindful of the historically correct while at the same time being mindful that a movie’s objective differs from simply a recitation of historical events in that it also seeks to entertain. As a rule, costume designers go to great lengths to school themselves on what is historically appropriate for the period being depicted and they know exactly where departures are made.

If one thinks that this is a recent development, it is not. A good example of this in an earlier era is from the movie Gone with the Wind which was released in 1939. in which the costuming of the background and supporting characters is historically correct but the costumes for the lead actors were not. In closing, we view movies with an open mind and believe that costuming for film is an art form all itself and we like that.



Lily Absinthe Takes A Quick Look at Some Costuming Aspects of the Movie Tombstone

Tombstone1

The Earps and Doc Holiday off to the date with destiny at the OK Corral- From the movie Tombstone.

On a costuming level, the movie Tombstone never fails to excite interest and invariably, the question will arise: “How historically accurate are the costumes?” The short answer is “Somewhat…” Yes, much of the costuming is fairly accurate although one may quibble on the specific details. One of my favorites is the much-maligned Johnny Behan:

johnbehansherrif1

Johnny Behan wearing a tailored blue/gray pin stripe sack suit.

tombstone01

A better view of Johnny Behan’s suit.

Behan’s is wearing a well-tailored sack suit proper for someone in his position. Unlike the usual image of the scruffy frontier marshal or sheriff, Behan was more of a politician and his primary job was collecting enough tax revenue to keep the Cochise County government financially afloat. The actual work of dealing with criminals was tasked to several deputies.

That said, let’s take a look at the central focus of the movie, Wyatt Earp:

Wyatt Earp1

This is the iconic Wyatt Earp outfit, one that has been widely imitated over the years by those recreating the Earp persona, usually for reenactments of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Now, as for historical accuracy, the coat itself is wrong. There were no ankle-length frock coats. Anything this long would be some sort of greatcoat. The frock coat of the later 19th Century tended to come down to just above the knee.

OK, so it rates a boo and a hiss…or does it? Bear in mind that this is a movie and a movie’s primary goal it to tell a story. Costuming supports this story-telling process and it’s often subject to conscious design changes in order to increase the dramatic effect. In this case, it’s pretty successful, judging from how much it’s imitated and let’s face it, it does increase the dramatic effect, especially when done in black (both the length and color choice were deliberate choices made the director). The effects of black color, coat length, and pictures of it flapping open in the breeze all suggest a superhero figure. So in the end, it’s all about telling a story.

Now just for a little equal time, here’s the Earps and Doc Holliday off to the OK Corral gunfight in the movie Wyatt Earp:

Wyatt Earp Movie1

The Earps and Doc Holiday off to the OK Corral and thei date with destiny- from the movie Wyatt Earl.

Compared to the top picture from Tombstone, the look in the above picture from Wyatt Earp is bit more gritty and less heroic (in fact, the actual gunfight scene itself is a bit anticlimactic in the movie). One is not more “correct” than the other, both go for a specific dramatic effect. Whether one is more effective than the other is subjective, in the eye of the viewer (we have our favorite, too).

So Gentle Readers, where does this leave us? Well, it goes to show that one must be mindful of the historically correct while at the same time being mindful that a movie’s objective differs from simply a recitation of historical events in that it also seeks to entertain. As a rule, costume designers go to great lengths to school themselves on what is historically appropriate for the period being depicted and they know exactly where departures are made.

If one thinks that this is a recent development, it is not. A good example of this in an earlier era is from the movie Gone with the Wind which was released in 1939. in which the costuming of the background and supporting characters is historically correct but the costumes for the lead actors were not. In closing, we view movies with an open mind and believe that costuming for film is an art form all itself and we like that.