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'Game of Thrones': Hiding Kit Harington's ankle, faking sweat stains and more costume drama

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Image Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

From having to hide Kit Harington’s cast to making sure the extras weren’t smuggling cell phones and cigarettes in their pants, Emmy-winning designer Michele Clapton filled EW in on all the costume drama that happened during filming for season 3 of Game of Thrones.

EW: What were the biggest challenges for the wardrobe department on season 3?
MICHELE CLAPTON: Kit Harington was in a cast for a lot of the time. They asked me to create a boot to cover it, but it was impossible because it was a great big, white foot! We couldn’t shoot it at first because there was no way we could cover [his cast]. Later on he had a medical boot that he could take off, but he still couldn’t walk. We cut the back out of his [costume] boot so that he could put it on without having to actually step into it and just bound it to his leg. He managed really well, considering the amount of pain he was in. Thankfully he’s much better now, but that was a tricky one. 

This season was shot by three different units in five different countries. You can’t be everywhere at once, how many people were on your wardrobe team?
I think we had over 100 on the team. Most of us are based in Belfast, but we have another unit, which probably puts the number even higher actually, that went to Morocco and Croatia. And often we’ll hire people locally in addition to the team that goes out, so I’m not sure of the exact number. We had four different wardrobe crews, really.

How do you prepare for such an epic shoot?
Before each season starts shooting, myself and my assistant designer go to Florence, just outside of Florence actually, and we buy a lot of cloth. We also have a lot of our quilting and some of our printing done there as well. We buy in London at Chelsea Harbour, and in Ireland we use a wonderful company called John England. Lots of linens and wools. More and more, we try to create the fabric prints ourselves. Just recently, we worked out a really good printing process where we can design it, get it digitized, then send it to our printers in Belfast, who can print it as quickly as anywhere else because the image is very clear. You’re really only able to do as much as the people around you can do. We sometimes take on lovely students [as interns], and they bring new skills and ideas. It’s a very exciting process actually.

How many costumes did your team create for season 3?
I can’t even begin to count! We’re probably looking at 2,000-3,000 costumes per season, probably more. If you see 60 costumes in an episode, there were likely another 60 that we used for [backup and] stunts. We often don’t know exactly what the stunts are going to be, so we have to allow three costumes per person per stunt. That’s normal, but when you’re trying to do so much in so little time, it can be quite tricky. We seem to manage it somehow! I try not to think too far ahead. If you look at the bigger picture, you can become too worried.

How do the characters’ clothes reflect the plot this season?
We see the Tyrell family have a huge influence on the court, so as a result Cersei’s (Lena Headey) costumes go on this huge arc. She’s quite threatened, so she dresses in a more powerful way. The antithesis of that is how Margaery [Natalie Dormer] dresses — she wears less and less — so we see this sort battle of these women developing and it’s reflected in the courtiers. The younger women dress in a Marjorie style and the slightly older people dress in a Cersei sense. There’s suddenly a divide within the courtiers, so that’s quite interesting. It’s the plot that drives this, but it’s very visual. I think it’s exciting.

Jon Snow changes only because he’s so far North and he’s joined the Wildlings. A lot of the costumes for Arya [Maisie Williams] stayed exactly the same because she’s just traveling, and there’s nothing available to her. If anything, she picks up something on the road just to stay warm. I think we have to be very careful that we don’t change the costumes for costume’s sake. Everything changes for a reason, that’s the rule of it.

With so many of the characters on the move — and so many battle scenes — what techniques do you use to make the costumes look worn? 
We have a breakdown unit, which is really important. Costumes go through that unit to be aged or treated specifically for the type of environment we see them in. They could be oiled or sweat stained, for Daenerys they would be dusted, for the far North, they are waxed and painted to give them a snow-worn effect. Costumes are never finished until they’re given the effects of the environment we’ll see them in, that was something that David and Dan [series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] worked very hard on initially. We had to experiment quite a lot to work out how the grime and the dirt and the sweat would resonate. Sometimes you have to be heavier than you think and sometimes if you go to heavy it looks really clumsy, so it’s taken awhile to refine the processes. It’s very tricky, it’s quite an art.

What about interesting costume details that the audience won’t see?
We’ve made [hidden] cigarette pockets for some people, and they probably put their phone in there as well. When we were filming in Morocco, there was one particular costume that 400 or 500 extras wore that had a big suede cloth that went through the legs. I’d come in in the morning and wonder why everyone looked so weird and it was because they’d stuff their combs, their cigarettes, their phones, everything inside this fabric and it would create this huge bulge between their legs. I’d go, ‘What is in there?’ There were cameras and phone cases, I had never seen anything like it.

Do you have a favorite costume from season 3? 
There was one costume for a character named Pixie Le Knot [Jennifer Keith] who is a contortionist. It was one of the most extraordinary fittings I’ve ever had. I asked her to go into position to see what the costume was going to do, and she sort of went on her elbows and brought her legs over her head so her feet above her head. It was quite extraordinary! She wanted to be relatively covered, although she was obviously playing this sort of…I don’t know that I’d call the character a prostitute, but she was meant to be quite erotic. So I made a costume with a huge eye between her legs. When her legs come over her head, all you see is this big eye looking back at you. It’s really hard to shock David and Dan, but I did it on that occasion!

For the full story on Game of Thrones‘ upcoming season, premiering March 31, pick up EW on newsstands or buy it online now.

Read more:
Emilia Clarke on going from ‘Game of Thrones’ to ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ on Broadway
‘Vikings’ costume designer on dressing pillagers and plunderers for the History Channel series
No humanity, no modesty: ‘Vampire Diaries’ costume designer on Elena’s wicked new wardrobe

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