Creative Minds: ‘Game of Thrones’ costume designer Michele Clapton
Michele Clapton is the Emmy-nominated costume designer for HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which on April 1 returns for a second season. She talks about the challenges of outfitting a sprawling cast in garb that hints at a fantastical history while remaining fresh.
What is your research process for “Game of Thrones”?
We’ve all read the books and we look at it to a point, but sometimes a written description of a costume doesn’t necessarily translate well to the screen. Since it’s such a complicated story, the looks had to enable the viewer to know where they are, who these people are and who they represent.
We made all the costumes for [characters from] the North from skins. For research, we looked at the Inuits and at Tibetan tribes — we try and look at peoples in different times in history to see how they would have dressed in that environment. ...
I also looked at Lascaux cave paintings in France — they have these wonderful animal paintings. We decided that every time they killed an animal, the hunters would have to paint an animal onto their costume. The better the hunter, the more covered in these drawings he would be, which I think visually is really strong. We’re always looking for ways to show who the leader is.
It’s so exciting because we can almost go anywhere as long as it makes sense. If they live on a windy, rocky island, like the Greyjoys do, then they dress accordingly: They have costumes made of heavy, densely woven cloth that are waxed and painted with fish oil to help keep out the wind. Everything has a reason for being there.
“Game of Thrones” tells such an intricate story with so many characters. How do you use the costumes to help guide the viewer?
Where a character comes from is indicated through the color and cut of the costume. When we first see Sansa [Sophie Turner], she wears things in a Stark way — very well, but they are slightly clumsy and the cloth is rather homespun. As she comes to King’s Landing, her progression is influenced by Cersei [Lena Headey] and her costumes shift. After Cersei does the awful thing of sanctioning the death of Ned Stark [Sansa’s father], Sansa is stuck — you can see her frozen in time. She’s looking like someone who has just killed her father. And then we will see her progression as she slowly withdraws from the look.
It’s also interesting to look at Littlefinger’s [Aidan Gillen] journey — he started off very much as a courtier, he was always very organized with his little chain and his notebook, and then suddenly he actually stopped wearing the mantle. He had just little glimpses of turquoise beneath his costume and the slit was cut slightly higher. ... Slowly you realize he ran brothels. His costumes, just slowly, became a little richer.
Ninety-nine percent of the costumes are made in-house, in Belfast. We have everything on site: our armorers, our weavers and our embroiderers. We weave our own fabric with our loom — many of the fabrics are literally made from scratch.
How do the clothes change in Season 2?
In the second season, as society is changing in King’s Landing and as the war is coming, everything just tends to get a little bit more extreme. People dress up more, people armor more — it’s that false security. I think we’ve all developed quite a lot and I think it looks a lot better — I’m much more pleased with it this season, in all ways.
I loved dressing the Greyjoys [in Season 2]. Those costumes were so organic and so crunchy. We wanted them to look like the rocks on the island — they have no ambition for anything, everything is completely practical.
I loved doing Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Melisandre (Carice van Houten) as well; that was quite a magical combination, again looking at their characteristics, what they had and where they were.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
One big thing is: the children keep growing! I mean, in all ways: outwards and upwards!
But that aside, sometimes you don’t get to see the actor until quite close to shooting and, at that point, we are already quite a long way with the armor. With Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), for instance, she is a woman but we want to mistake her for a man; however, no matter what you do, women have hips. We just started making the lines on the armor go away from her waist and slowly she began to look more masculine — at the same time, the armor also had to be functional.
Helmut Lang’s Fall 2012 line was inspired by the costumes seen on “Game of Thrones.” How do you feel knowing your pieces have had a major influence on the fashion world?
I didn’t know anything about it! I’m really flattered because Helmut Lang’s a great label and I admire their work. I come from a fashion background myself and I remember in the past saying, “You know, we could really make a great collection from these costumes.” In fact, some of the padded skirts we’ve made for men, I’ve made into dresses for myself!
-- Jasmine Elist
Top photo, from left: Emilia Clark as Daenerys Targaryen, Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth and Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon. Credits: Paul Shiraldi / Helen Sloan / HBO. Bottom photo: Michele Clapton. Credit: Helen Sloan / HBO.