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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Costumes and design in NBC's Hannibal, Part 2.

Previously: Part 1

Rewatching the first few episodes so close together, I quickly began to notice the many instances where characters are wearing colours that either match or complement each other. Part of the reason I picked up on this is because the transition between the pilot ("Aperitif") and second episode ("Amuse-Bouche") is so noticeable.

In "Aperitif" there's still no overarching colour scheme linking the cast together, but as soon as Hannibal switches from his normal-person disguise of beige and brown sweaters to his own "real" clothing in episode two, everything begins to come together. After this, there are moments in every episode where certain characters are seen wearing complementary outfits or somehow fit in with the colour scheme of their surroundings. This is surely no accident, either as an aesthetic choice or as one of the many moments of visual symbolism in the show.
Before we move onto the rest of the season, I'd just like to spend a moment on Hannibal's uncharacteristically bland outfits in "Aperitif." Someone else has already written about Franklyn's habit of "mirroring" Hannibal's dress sense so I won't go into too much detail here, but as Hannibal's most obsessive patient, it's possible to theorise that Franklyn is attempting to copy Hannibal's style. There are several scenes throughout the series where we see Franklyn wearing layered outfits and "loud" ties that seem like a pale simulacrum of Hannibal's costumes, but in the instance of "Aperitif," I think the reverse may be true: Hannibal is mirroring Franklyn.
Screencaps from
Take a look at Franklyn's outfit in his introductory scene. Brown everything, and an open-necked shirt. Meanwhile, as I pointed out last week, Hannibal is dressed like a bright summer sunrise, and looks like the millionaire that he is. Jack Crawford looks between the two of them and shakes hands with the man who looks most like his mental image of a celebrated forensic psychiatrist. My theory is that Hannibal, inspired (and somewhat tickled) by this mistake, decides that the best way to fly under the radar at the FBI is to cosplay Franklyn, thus fitting into the expected visual mold for a consulting specialist. He shows up the next day wearing the blandest outfit he could conceivably cobble together out of his own wardrobe, and his next outfit after that is another brown/beige jacket/sweater combo. Significantly, for the rest of the series he is dressed almost exclusively in three-piece suits.

This rare visual hint towards what Bedelia du Maurier refers to as Hannibal's "people suit" actually serves to make him stand out more to us, the audience, because he's the only central character who is wearing beige and brown. It's only in episode two that we see his costumes begin to gel with the rest of the cast.

In "Amuse-Bouche," we see a lot of blue with dark red accents, both in the costumes (including the widespread use of blue crime scene gloves) and in the overall colour scheme of lighting and set design. We're also introduced to one of the snappiest dressers in the show, Freddie Lounds, who appears in Hannibal's office wearing an extremely ostentatious raspberry-coloured outfit. This provides us with one of the most memorable tableaux of the episode: Freddie and Hannibal posed together on the couch, offset by Hannibal's blood-red wall in the background.
Personally, I think that Freddie's first costume in this episode is one of the many little cannibalism/murder jokes we see throughout the series. To put it bluntly, she looks like meat. In this scene with Hannibal, she thinks she's the hunter (note her plaid/tweed blazer with suede elbow patches: a hunter's jacket), but we know that she's really the prey. While she's wandering into Hannibal's office, pretending to be a harmless client, Hannibal is prowling around behind her, waiting for her to make her move. The difference between them is that Freddie thinks of herself as a predator, whereas Hannibal actually is one. To stretch the metaphor a little, Freddie is more of a scavenger.
Freddie's outfits are always full of little cues that tell us she's "aggressive," such as leather, fur, and animal print. In this scene she's playing innocent, with her hands folded demurely over her handbag (which hides a tape recorder), and wearing lace patterned tights. But a secondary effect of the red leather dress is that it almost looks as if it's slick with blood. Particularly when combined with the imagery of the next scene, a cheerful jump-cut to Hannibal pouring red Cumberland sauce over a plate of sliced meat. New viewers are left to assume that Freddie has just been added to Hannibal Lecter's meat fridge, although we now know that she lived to spy another day.
One final thought about Hannibal's costumes in this episode: it's the first explicit sign that he's a very deliberate, thematic dresser. This is one of my very favourite characterization details because there are plenty of TV shows where characters are shown wearing beautiful and/or expensive clothes, but with no real explanation as to why. If you take a closer look at Hannibal in "Amuse-Bouche" and "Potage," you'll notice that he's actually wearing two very similar grey-blue suits, not one. In his scene with Freddie Lounds he's wearing a slightly glossier suit with a brighter tie, whereas in other scenes we see him in this tweedier suit with a darker tie and a different cream striped shirt -- although to a casual viewer, they seem like practically the same outfit. Not only does this show the depth of his wardrobe (two near-identical, probably bespoke suits!?), but it indicates that he chooses very specific visual themes for his outfits on any given day, and sticks to them.
One of the most consistent aspects of Hannibal Lecter's character throughout the books, movies and TV series is his love of "good taste." Vulgarity is punishable by death while Hannibal surrounds himself with objects of beauty, but in the end, "good taste" is an incredibly soulless form of self-expression.Will's collection of stray dogs tells us more about his emotional life and personality than Hannibal's office and wardrobe, which mostly serve to tell us that he's very rich and well-informed about menswear and interior design. This brings us back to the "people suit" once again. Give Hannibal a mask and he will tell you the truth: Without all these obnoxious displays of wealth and good taste, people might begin to realise that underneath the many layers of expensive tailoring lies the cold, unbeating heart of a vampire.

Continued in a guest blog on Hannibal Lecter's wristwatch. (Yes, seriously.)

OR, Costuming & design: Abigail Hobbs.


  1. Aaaaa. I don't even /watch/ Hannibal but these posts are fascinating (and making me want to start!).

    1. Start, please! It's all on DVD now, anyway Easy Peasy!

  2. Haha you make me want to rewatch season 1.