Unordered List

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Interview: Agent Carter costume designer Gigi Melton

Previously: A guide to the 1940s costume design of Agent Carter

Agent Carter combines so many of my favorite things: comicbook adventures, a complex female protagonist, 1940s spy hijinks and, of course, beautiful costumes and set design. The post-war setting is a fascinating period to explore from a fashion history perspective, and I was happy to see that all of the costumes have a strong characterization element as well.

Costume designer Giovanna "Gigi" Melton caught my attention on Twitter with her many behind-the-scenes posts about her work on Agent Carter, and she was kind enough to grant me an interview. Read on for more background on the amazing costumes in this show, plus a selection of Melton's original design sketches.


HelloTailor: How did you go about researching and designing the overall look for the show? Were you influenced by any of the comics, or was it more a matter of exploring the 1940s aesthetic?

Gigi Melton: A combination of much research.  For Peggy the influences were Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Hedy Lamarr. The smart, strong, fashionable and beautiful women of the era.


For SSR [Strategic Scientific Reserve] agents Dooley, Thompson, Sousa, and Krzmenski I researched government and detective looks. For eccentric Stark it was Howard Hughes and for Jarvis it was a British nod to tweeds. Coupled with comic book research, I took all of my inspiration and tailored it to create the individual looks for the scripted characters.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Behind the seams of the Oscars' costume design category

The Oscar nominees were announced yesterday, and of course I was compelled to write about the costume design category. Specifically, my frustration regarding the kind of films that are routinely ignored, year after year.

Do all of the designers on this list deserve to be nominated? Well, yes. They're all brilliant, and did great work on the films in question. But the selection process for this category is still deeply flawed, and fails to represent the range of talent on offer.


As Roger Ebert pointed out in his unwritten rules of the Oscars, the Academy rarely gives out awards for subtlety. "It never hurts to ask yourself," he wrote, "Who did the 'most' acting? Most editing? Most noticeable cinematography or music?"
In the costume category, this is truer than ever. The award invariably goes to the film with the most impressive and noticeable costumes, whether this means creating a selection of historically accurate crinolines or outfitting an army of elves.
Two ingredients are required for an Oscar nomination in costume design. First, it's helpful to be a familiar face who has been nominated several times before. Secondly, you need to have worked on a historical drama (preferably starring Keira Knightley), a sci-fi/fantasy epic, or a musical—the three genres that produce the most showy and memorable costumes.
Judging by these two criteria, this year's nominees are comfortably predictable.
[READ MORE]

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A guide to 1940s costume design in Marvel's Agent Carter

Marvel's Agent Carter begins tonight, and I wrote this Daily Dot article to coincide with the first episode. It's a spoiler-free background for Peggy Carter's costumes, and why the show is set during such an interesting period in fashion history.

Set in 1946, Agent Carter's seven-part espionage story is rooted in postwar culture. And like the first Captain America movie, one of its defining features is its 1940s aesthetic, immediately setting it apart from Marvel's other TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The biggest influence on Western fashion in 1946 was, obviously, World War II. Fabric rationing led to a trend for simpler clothes, and women's fashions suddenly became more practical due to the influx of women joining the workforce—like Peggy Carter, whose career began in the Strategic Scientific Reserve during the war. These factors added up to women wearing low heels and plain, knee-length skirts without pleats or frills, and men wearing suits without cuffs or flaps on the pockets. 
Agent Carter takes place during a dynamic period in fashion history, the transition from wartime austerity to the postwar styles that would define the 1950s. By 1947 the French fashion industry was up and running again, and Christian Dior introduced the so-called "New Look" of nipped-in waists and flouncy calf-length skirts.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Mockingjay and Costume Design: Real or not Real?


In terms of costume design, first two Hunger Games movies never quite lived up to my expectations. It wasn't that the costumes were bad -- far from it -- but they seemed far too homogeneous. Given free rein to create the most outlandish designs imaginable, the Capitol fashjons were disappointingly conservative and homogeneous.

Mockingjay, Part 1 was another matter entirely. With no Hunger Games, Capitol makeovers, or District 12, the story focused on Panem's growing revolution, shown through the eyes of the propaganda war between the Capitol and District 13. Before the film even came out, YouTube propaganda clips began to illustrate the calculated nature of President Snow's public image.


Mockingjay flipped the cliché of dark and light, with the villainous President Snow surrounding himself with pure white to match his signature white roses. His brainwashed prisoners Peeta (dressed in an uncharacteristically stiff suit and a painful-looking white paper collar) and Johanna presented a united front, fitting in with Snow's clean, luxurious aesthetic. Meanwhile Katniss, daughter of coal miners, wears black body armour and fatigues.

In the earlier films, this kind of contrast was meant to highlight Katniss's salt-of-the-earth nature with Snow's obsessively controlled image, but this time it's more complex. Katniss may look more practical and less "styled" than Snow and his entourage, but that's because her District 13 stylists decided this was the best way to market her to the rebels. Her Mockingjay armor (in real life, modeled off a Japanese archery breastplate) was designed for her by Cinna, and continues the asymmetrical theme of previous outfits she wore to public appearances.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Posts from elsewhere: Captain America, Constantine, and Agents of SHIELD.

I hope to have enough time for another costume design post by the end of the year, but in the meantime, here are some other things you may enjoy!

End-of-year guest post at the Book Smugglers blog.

Each year the Book Smugglers invite various authors and bloggers to write guests posts during the holiday period, and this year I was one of them! Most people discuss and recommend books from the past year (it's a book blog, after all), but I decided to talk about a single movie: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Obvs.

While CATWS wasn't the best film I saw in 2014 -- or even my "favorite," technically speaking -- it's certainly the one I wrote about the most. I love this movie and its fandom, and this post explains why (along with a bunch of fanfic and art recommendations).

Why NBC's Constantine failed to live up to its comic book origins

I haven't decided yet whether to continue writing about Constantine here. It doesn't feel particularly constructive to keep writing negative reviews of a mediocre show, so I may just leave it until the season finale. Constantine has improved a little over the past couple of episodes, but not enough that I actually care about it being renewed or not. Hellblazer is one of my favourite comics, and this show is just... disappointing.

"Previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." podcast

I co-host a weekly Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. podcast over at Film Divider! We're now up to season 2, episode 8. Catch up here!

A Hero at the End of the World, by Erin Claiborne

Reminder that this book is awesome and you ought to be reading it! Find out more here.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The three main problems with NBC's 'Constantine.'


After six episodes, Constantine has graduated past "unwatchably bad" and settled into a network TV formula. It's better than it was at the start, but it's definitely not good.

Aside from obvious issues like clunky dialogue, Constantine has three serious ongoing problems:
  1. It's virtually indistinguishable from other genre shows of the same type, ie Supernatural.
  2. Both of the supporting characters, Chas and Zed, are completely pointless.
  3. It's often racist.
There's no better example of problem #1 than last week's episode, "Rage of Caliban." The plot was an unimaginative spin on "young child possessed by demons" horror movie tropes, practically begging for some kind of genre-savvy humor. It even takes place on Halloween, and the guest characters are a suburban family so bland they'd probably be rejected from a cereal commercial for being too generic.


Out of six episodes, only two have really felt individual to this show: "The Devil's Vinyl" (a reasonably interesting riff on the urban legend of a blues musician selling his soul to the devil) and "A Feast of Friends", which was adapted from Hellblazer #1 and had a satisfyingly unpleasant ending.

Every other episode is either painfully predictable, or reliant on familiar genre cliches. No wonder Constantine's ratings are dropping: It's just retreading the same ground that Supernatural has been covering for the past decade, along with a handful others like Grimm, Sleepy Hollow, and Teen Wolf. Constantine has failed to carve out a niche of its own.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

READ THIS BOOK: A Hero at the End of the World


This is a bit of a departure from my usual topics, but today marks the publishing date of one of THE MOST EXCITING BOOKS of my entire life. It's called A Hero at the End of the World and it's written by Erin Claiborne -- a very talented author who has been writing fanfic for years, and is now branching out into original fiction for the first time. This book is absolutely laugh-out-loud funny, a kind of Douglas Adams-esque satire on young adult fantasy tropes: A story about a Chosen One character who fails to live up to expectations.


A Hero at the End of the World is published by Big Bang Press, a small press I helped launch last year. It's specifically dedicated to publishing original novels by fanfic writers, and Hero is the first. And it's getting SUCH GOOD REVIEWS, I'm so excited! Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred recommendation (which is notoriously unusual for a debut novel), and the Book Smugglers (a popular YA/fantasy book review blog) rated it "Excellent." Here's the plot summary:
"According to prophecy, 17-year-old Ewan Mao is destined to kill the evil tyrant who has been terrorizing Britain for as long as he can remember. But when Ewan chickens out and his best friend Oliver Abrams defeats the villain instead, Ewan’s bright future crumbles before his eyes. 
Five years later, Ewan is living at home and working in a coffee shop while Oliver has a job in the government’s Serious Magical Crimes Agency. They haven’t spoken since they were teenagers, but a routine investigation leads Oliver and his partner, Sophie Stewart, to uncover a powerful cult… one that has drawn Ewan into a plot to end the world."

One of the best things about Big Bang Press is the amount of freedom we have. A Hero at the End of the World is a mainstream teen fantasy novel with a diverse cast including queer characters and people of colour in the lead roles. It's written by an author who is proud of her background as a fanfic writer, and published by people who love fandom and want to promote the work of creators who come from the fanfic and fanart communities. (And did I mention that this book was illustrated by fanartist Jade Liebes? Her art is amazing!)

I hope some of you guys decide to check this book out! Erin is a great writer, and we've put a lot of hard work into making this the best book it can be. For more info, please check out the Big Bang Press website, Tumblr or Twitter accounts! Or you can just can order a copy in paperback or ebook format right now. :D

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Interstellar, costume design, and the difficulties of "realistic" visual worldbuilding.


Interstellar is one of those movies where the costume design is almost invisible, which is part of what makes it so interesting. The simplest explanation is that the visual style is purposefully "realistic" and avoids any kind of futurism... which in itself is unrealistic. A conundrum, right? Technically, it doesn't make sense for people 50-100 years in the future to wear the same clothes as people in 2014. But from the perspective of a filmmaker who wants his apocalyptic sci-fi film to be taken seriously, this aesthetic decision makes perfect sense.


The earthbound setting of Interstellar is a classic American fantasy: a manly farmer hero, raising his kids in a bleak, rural landscape. Despite the film's image as a deep and thoughtful space epic, it still relies on the familiar old Hollywood scenario of a messianic white American dude being the one person who can save mankind. (And yes, I know his daughter does the actual saving, but this is very much a film about Cooper, not Murphy.) Underdog heroes NASA and Matthew McConaughey save humanity while the rest of the world is apparently helpless. Politically and socially, this is a tired old trope, but it aligns well with the kind of generic hero that can be inserted into a complex movie with minimal exposition. Cooper is the kind of guy who, for better or worse, is perceived as "universal." Luckily, McConaughey's performance was brilliant.

So here we have Coop and his kids, looking both relatable and realistic in their jeans and hoodies. This is the difference between a meticulously researched film that is actually realistic, and a film whose worldbuilding gives the appearance of realism, and therefore does not jolt viewers out of their comfort zone. On the whole, the appearance of realism tends to be the better choice. We're watching fiction, after all.