In "Aperitif," Hannibal's costumes are far more varied than in later episodes, mostly because he's wearing a kind of everyday camouflage half the time. A more literal version of what Bedelia du Maurier refers to as his "people suit," if you will.
At home and in his own office, we see Hannibal in his typical uniform of luxurious three-piece suits. But whenever he has to go to the FBI, he wears what basically amounts to normal-person drag: a scruffy blazer, brown sweater, and unbuttoned shirt. The colours complement each other, but it isn't the kind of daring fashion choice we see him making in most other scenarios. I suspect this was him testing the waters at the FBI, attempting to fade into the background until he's scoped things out. Hannibal doesn't actually make much effort to disguise his eccentricities in day-to-day life, but he does ease people into them. That's how he gets away with making so many cannibalism puns during his dinner parties, I suppose. But while Hannibal's uncharacteristically scruffy FBI outfit was something I noticed when I first watched this episode, the moment that I found most visually arresting this time round was his first appearance onscreen.
A lot of viewers have picked up on the way Will and Hannibal's chairs move closer and closer together as the series progresses, but to me the most effective detail in "Aperitif" is the way Will immediately makes for the upstairs walkway. Not only does this allow him to avoid the awkwardness of a traditional face-to-face conversation, but it also highlights Hannibal's predatorial role. Although Hannibal, looking up to watch Will, is technically in what might be interpreted as a submissive position, he's actually more like a cheetah waiting in the long grass. Twitchy, frenetically nervous Will Graham scurries around upstairs like a frightened squirrel, while Hannibal expends almost no energy at all, just turning slightly from his position in the middle of the office, keeping his eyes on the prize.
Hannibal is a multisensory experience. Hannibal Lecter himself is gifted with very acute senses and a love of luxury, and the show caters to these characteristics by forcing the audience to identify with them. The visual language of Hannibal is unusually rich and complex for what seems on the surface to be a network TV crime show, but we are also gifted with a sumptious feast of sounds, tastes and smells to experience alongside the visual design. In a typical horror show the audience would expect to hear some suspenseful music in the background and see a few gruesome murders, but Hannibal requires a far more creative view. The costume and set designers have to achieve Hannibal's own level of aesthetic snobbery -- plus, of course, anyone who's seen Pushing Daisies will already be aware of showrunner Bryan Fuller's love of colour.
It's not uncommon to see a procedural crime drama where every single character is outfitted in generic neutral-toned leather jackets and suits. Which is, you know, not totally unrealistic. But I enjoy the fact that in Hannibal, the FBI characters are effectively dressed like the cast of a crime procedural... while everyone else has a very distinctive sense of style. Even Alana and Will, the two characters who bridge the gap between the FBI and civilian life, have very individual fashion tastes, with Alana wearing all those colourful wrap dresses, and Will wearing wrinkled khakis and flannel shirts practically every single day.
The strength of Hannibal's costume design is that you can easily imagine how and why each character dresses the way they do. Hannibal is obviously the focal point (and should be, because one of his central characteristics is a love of style and beauty), but side characters like Abigail Hobbs and Freddie Lounds are never neglected. But considering how many words have just been eaten up by looking at Hannibal's costumes in the very first episode, I think the other characters will have to be discussed in a later post.
Continued in Part 2.