The Costumes of 'And Then There Were None' – Part One

When a film is done properly, you shouldn’t notice the individual aspects of the whole. Music and camera work brush past your senses as you focus on the plot; location and props serve as an elegant frame for the performances. Often times, each of these individual arts is telling a story that we aren’t even aware of. When I first entered the world of And Then There Were None, I fell in love with the charmingly vintage wardrobe, as designed by Lindsay Pugh. But it wasn’t until I called up my good buddy (and, conveniently, professional costume designer) Natalia de la Torre, that I learned just how well executed the sartorial decisions were.

But First, A Little History

“So, the late 30s is difficult to pinpoint, costume-wise,” de la Torre begins as we settle down to our discussion. “After already a decade of dealing with the severe economic issues of the Great Depression, World War II kind of stops everything in Europe – from the materials you can use to the skilled labor you have to make your clothing… essentially all forward fashion comes to a halt.”

And Then There Were None takes place in 1939, the year that saw the invasion of Poland by Nazi Gemany and the Soviet Union.  As most of us remember from high school history, this results in Britain and France declaring war on Germany and effectively kicking off the war.

“As the war progresses, depending on where you are in the world, fashion and art either stops entirely or is slowed down or affected in some way,” de la Torre says. “But art is extremely adaptable and designers found ways to work within the rules. As a result clothing became more practical, longer lasting, and more utilitarian. ”

That all makes sense in terms of how the styles are used within the film – but I can’t help but wonder aloud: how do they choose who wears what?

“Costume is very important in this sort of story as it tells immediately the background, status and character of each individual, almost in an archetypal fashion,” she explains to me. “Each outfit is a uniform, just like the livery of the servants of the household.”

And this is where the fun begins.

So, How Did They Do?

As we review the wardrobe the cast wears in the first episode, de la Torre points out the consistencies – and liberties – of the costumers: “Mens’ silhouette, color, and fashion details didn’t change as quickly, and when they did change tended to be small details. Women’s silhouette is usually the best indicator of time period. So far all the women’s silhouettes seem to be right on the nose and correct… [Also] there’s a color scheme I like to use for realistic 30s productions, and this show fits squarely into it. Blues and browns, hints of pinks and maroons. It’s a somber, but nostalgic palette.”

So, we’re doing well with the silhouette’s and a 30’s appropriate color palette. And de la Torre’s comments on the mood of the color scheme – somber, but nostalgic – fits the storyline as well as the time period. As the show progresses, the mood grows increasingly somber, and it becomes more apparent that each of these people carries with them a nostalgia for days gone by: days before the war, days before they were murderers, days before they came to this treacherous island.

But that’s not the only thought de la Torre has on the use of color in the piece - unsurprisingly, the color red is pulling double duty within the film.

Let’s Get Specific [Mild Spoilers]

Within the ‘present’ of the film, the color red highlights details everywhere: “The lobster, Miranda Richardson’s blouse, Dr. Armstrong’s bathrobe and car, the Irish scoundrel’s pants and tie, the detective’s tie, red wheels on the playboys white car, the curtains on the train,” de la Torre ticks off. “They all have blood on their hands and the red [here] is a symbol of that.”

But it’s in secretary Vera Claythorne’s story where the color makes what we find to be a more interesting play, with the color serving so firmly in the wardrobe of her past. “[Red is a symbol] of happiness, excitement, good health and spirit. In the 1930s exercise and sports were really popular, serving as examples of youth and vigor. This reinforces... the strength of the woman she was before,” de la Torre ponders. “Juxtapose that with the drawn blue and gray she wears in the office, and especially the flat, flat hair. She looks sick, depressed and worn.”

Another favorite juxtaposition and transition is that of Mrs. Rogers’. When we first see the housekeeper, she’s empty and obviously agitated - no state to be in for one who would typically serve as the head of the female servants in a manor home. But it’s when we begin to witness her history, that the oddity of her behavior and appearance begins to make sense.

“I especially like being able to see the before and after of [her] uniform. How prim she was in the lace cap as her husband killed the lady of the house, and how her look deteriorates over time, becoming sloppy and bare,” de la Torre muses. “Even beginning to wear her sunglasses indoors. [They] can be seen as a symbol of how she was witness to the lady’s death, and her desire to shield herself from further acts. It’s a nice arc for her.”

From the overall color schemes to specific costuming arcs, Lindsay Pugh and team did a superb job of creating a mood and furthering the storyline for this first episode of And Then There Were None. But if there was one thing that de la Torre could change from this episode?

“If they wanted us to believe that Davis was a businessman and not a detective, they should’ve given him a better disguise,” she laughs. “That mustache came in my detective starter kit.”

You can’t win ‘em all.

Read the full article on WGBH.

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    Andrea Wolanin