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When it comes to creating stylish and striking shows that are straight out of another era, nobody does it like HBO (see: Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire). And the network’s mind-bending new drama Westworld, inspired by Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same title, certainly delivers in the wardrobe department.
Set in a dystopian future where wealthy vacationers indulge their darkest fantasies in a Wild West-themed amusement park populated by eerily lifelike robotic “hosts,” Westworld is equal parts period piece and science fiction. For the show’s costume designer Ane Crabtree, this presented the unique challenge of designing historically accurate 1800s looks as well as sleek and modern workwear for the park staff. (Trish Summerville designed the pilot.) Below, Crabtree discusses her inspirations, process, and how the story’s technology carried over into the making of the wardrobe.
When you’re dressing the cast of a massive project like Westworld, where do you begin?
Starting out, I had many conversations with Jonah and Lisa [Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, Westworld’s creators] not only about what the future might look like, but what was in Robert Ford’s [Anthony Hopkins] head when he was thinking of this beautiful, nostalgic American vision of the Wild West. Because there are two very different worlds within Westworld, of course: the people who work at the park and the people who visit it.
For the staffers’s uniforms, I looked to the German Bauhaus movement for inspiration. They’re mostly black, and there’s a lot of texture but not a lot of pattern. I wouldn’t call them futuristic, but they’re very clean and simple and zen, sort of like a capsule collection. There’s an absence of detail; where there should be epaulets on Stubbs’s [Luke Hemsworth] jacket, for instance, there are none. Because we wanted to create clothing that wasn’t distracting. That’s important, because if the staffers have to go into the park to fix something or retrieve a body, they’re supposed to go unseen by the guests.
Ford, on the other hand, is always in a 1900s waistcoat with this beautiful watch fob. He’s the only one whose clothing reflects what’s happening inside the park, because he created it! He’s our bridge between past and present.
And then you’ve got Westworld’s hosts and guests, who are in full-on period garb.
For them, we looked to fashion from the 1850s through the 1890s, and mixed it with very iconic references from Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. We also looked at images of Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and even Steve McQueen to create these rugged, manly looks that’d make the guests feel like they were stepping into another time. It’s by design, by the way, that we made the guests’s outfits a lot more opulent and beautiful and bespoke; they’re supposed to feel superior to the hosts.
Funny enough, around the time when I was designing the costumes, there was this whole beautiful Victoriana thing happening in fashion. Balmain did this whole saloon-girl collection with tassels and corsets and fringe that was so perfectly Westworld, very futuristic Western. Valentino was doing it. Even Beyoncé was doing it [for her Lemonade videos]!
What percentage of the wardrobe is custom-made for the actors versus purchased?
It’s going to sound absolutely crazy, but for anyone who has a speaking role — the principals and the guest stars — we have to hand-make everything. It’s by virtue of necessity! You’ve got to think that if folks were paying this much money to come to the park, they’d want their clothing to be bespoke. And at the same time, we wanted our clothes to be character-specific. We actually had to dye every single piece, too. You want things to look beautiful in the frame, so you have to control the color. That way, on the screen, it translates to a beautiful painting.
It’s tough, though, because we were using actual period fabrics to make these clothes, and there’s only so much of it! So we had to find ways to recreate it. You know, fabrics today just aren’t as intricate — they’re not made the same way. With the exception of some places in Italy or maybe England, you honestly can’t find beautiful, intricate fabrics anymore. It’s really sad! So we had to hire 3D printers in Los Angeles to reprint all our vintage fabrics so we could have more — and then beg them to work around our crazy TV schedules.
3D-printed clothes for 3D-printed characters! That’s too perfect.
You know what — I never thought of that! [Laughs] That’s cool. It’s crazy — I studied fashion a gazillion years ago, but nothing would’ve prepared me for the breadth of industrial and technical knowledge you need to take on this kind of project.
Anyway, we had to [3D print the fabrics], because we needed multiples of everything. Dolores’s [Evan Rachel Wood] outfit, for instance, involves a bodice, a skirt, and a petticoat, and we had enough of the original vintage fabric to make three or four of each. But then we reprinted about four more in 3D, because we needed to dress her stunt double, too.
Let’s talk about Ed Harris’s character, The Man in Black. He’s a fan favorite, and his outfit is particularly amazing.
There’s a very old-school hippie weaver in upstate New York, near Woodstock, who wove the fabric for his jacket. We had another artisan hand-paint it afterwards. And his hat we got at Baron Hats — I was totally starstruck walking into that place, because everyone in Hollywood goes there to have hats made, and they have all these beautiful wooden hat forms on display. I got to hold Diane Keaton’s hat form!
Were there any other costumes that were especially fun to put together?
In episode 3, we put the beautiful Bojana [Novakovic, who plays Marti] in a vest and cowboy hat. That was cool because it was the first time we got to put a woman in that rugged gunslinger role — and she looked so sexy! It was fun figuring out how to make the women look just as powerful as the men. And I definitely believe that some of the women visiting the park would look at the men’s outfits and say, “Fuck it, I want to be a badass, too!”
Totally! Okay, so was there anything you actually wound up buying off the rack?
We did buy some boots and hats. There’s a place called the Country General Store where we picked up six of the same white cowboy hat for William [Jimmi Simpson]. And don’t laugh, but there’s a place called Boot Barn where we got boots for the stunt doubles, who needed three to five pairs each. I also shopped Etsy for certain vintage pieces — some 1850s-1890s clothing, jewelry, and specialty items.
Speaking of jewelry, Maeve [Thandie Newton] and Clementine [Angela Sarafyan] wear the most incredible earrings. Where did you find them?
Those came from Joseff of Hollywood, this incredibly cool old-world place that made all the jewelry for Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck’s classic films. Going there is like going to a museum — it’s one of the few places left like that.
There are some incredible leather pieces featured on the show, too — the tooled vests and hats, and of course Dolores’s utility belt.
Dolores’s belt was actually made from a kit we got from Tandy Leather! Of course, we had to age it and paint it ourselves. And then to make things like chaps and vests for the gunslingers, and some of the pieces for the Native Americans, we bought leather from Saderma Leather in LA.
Did anyone from the cast get particularly into his or her wardrobe?
I will say that one of our actors, James Landry Hébert — he plays Slim Miller — actually walked into his first fitting in these beautiful old-school Levi’s and a beautiful Western-cut jacket. I was like, “Who is this guy?!” He actually wears Western clothing well, and he wears it for real! He has his own cowboy hats and everything. So I actually used him as a real-life muse for his character on the show! I just translated his own modern Western clothes into ones from the 1800s.
Are there any brands you think are doing Western style really well today?
There’s Nudie’s, of course, which has been around for a gazillion years and does beautiful customized Western wear. It’s a little too ornate to use for Westworld, but it’s very cool.
And I love Ralph Lauren; he does Americana and Western style so well. And you know, he goes and buys vintage pieces and then remakes them for his collection — so while you won’t see any Ralph Lauren on our show, we’re certainly pulling our references from the same places.
Westworld airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.