Game Of Thrones: Michele Clapton reveals the secrets behind the costumes

Melenie Parkes June 5, 2013, 11:31 am

Game Of Thrones' Emmy-Award winning costume designer Michele Clapton paid a recent visit to New Zealand, and was in search of inspiration for season four.

Credit: HBO


The richly detailed world of ‘Game Of Thrones’ has inspired intense fanaticism amongst viewers, and that obsession extends to the amazing array of costumerie designed by Michele Clapton.

Michele, who began her career as a fashion designer, has previously designed costumes for TV series ‘Sense And Sensibility’ and ‘The Devil’s Whore’, ‘The Diary Of Anne Frank’ and ‘Casanova’.

As Michele tells it, there is so much more to costume design than dressing the cast; it’s also an opportunity to tell another, subtler story through the character’s wardrobe. Michele’s thoughtful designs convey subtle clues to the viewer, not only about the character’s status and environment, but also about what their future may hold.

"I think its really important as part of the drama to sort of have that understory going along and sometimes you can tell things are going to happen."

As in real life, the characters from the world of ‘Game Of Thrones’ follow fashion and their sartorial choices can reveal where their allegiances lie.

"I think it just gives it depth and a reality, people are influenced by people and by people they like, and then they’re let down by them and they sort of shift a little into another direction.

"Sansa is a perfect example of that with her following of Cersei who she thought was the greatest thing ever and then horrified by her, and then sort of slowly drifting, sort of tentatively towards Marjorie’s style."

The series has also influenced fashion design in the real world, with fashion houses Helmut Lang and Givenchy amongst others taking cues from the series, which Michele says is "really flattering".

Michele is responsible for creating the look for each of the characters, and with a cast of thousands all requiring an individual style, the task is daunting, but one that she relishes.

Viewers who have read the books (there are seven in the series, although only five volumes have yet to be completed by author George RR Martin) may have noticed slight changes to costumes as described in the novels. Michele explains that for reasons of practicality and design some modifications had to be made.

"For instance, with the Kings Guard we kept the white cloaks although we didn’t do all of the armour white because I think it would have looked too futuristic."

The design team have however strived to remain true to Martin’s imagination, particularly through the use of house sigils. Each house’s symbol is carried through to their clothing, as evidenced by the piscatorial theme of Catelynn Stark’s people, the Tullys.

"We did all the scaled armour because her sigil is the fish, so we tied that all through to the armour, and then also we have neck pads on them; that was Catelynn’s influence on the Starks at Winterfell. It was almost a back story of how she brought the warmth and decoration to Winterfell from her parents' house."

Michele and her team go to great lengths to achieve an authentic patina of wear in their costumes; ‘breaking down’ outfits to create an appropriately weathered look. Even Cersei’s gowns are "aged with sweat and a bit of dust."

For the Greyjoys, whose environment is "prone to the weather and the wind and it’s damp and cold", Michele decided they would likely treat their clothing with waxes and fishoil.

"We try and think through what their environment is, and the same with the Wildings, we sort of wanted them to disappear into the snowy rocks when they sleep at night so we daubed their brown skins with white."

Actor Richard Madden, who plays King of the North Robb Stark, revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that his costume had yet to be washed after three seasons, saying, "It's literally covered in horse manure and dirt... I mean, I stink, stink, stink!"

Michele laughs at Richard’s story and admits it’s all true, but says that nature’s odour can also serve a practical purpose in aiding the actors’ return to their roles.

"It hasn’t been washed for three years and it really smells. We do wash his undershirt; we just don’t wash the top layer.

"There are so many actors and there’s so many different areas, some might not come in for months on end and then they come back in and they almost pick up where they left off, and I think to have it smelling and being exactly like they left it it’s sort of a way for them to step back into their character."

It’s hard for Michele to pick a favourite to design for from the large cast of characters, but she says she has enjoyed designing for the Reeds this season, the brother and sister duo from the swamplands of the North.

"I love doing Marjorie’s dresses because they’re quite a feat of engineering and really hard to do, and actually I think Tywin’s had quite interesting things this year."

This season marks a significant event in the books and another of Michele’s favourite challenges, the wedding between the Tullys and "the drippy Freys".

"I really loved doing that particular set, it was a great thing to do and I really love doing the Freys and actually her dress was one of my favourites strangely, it just worked out very beautifully."

The costumes from the series are currently touring the world on exhibition, but there are no plans for the show to visit New Zealand at present, although Michele, whose partner is from New Zealand, promises, "I’ll do my best."

Michele visits New Zealand every year as her daughter also lives and works here.

"We have a lot of family here so it’s really lovely and it’s just a great time.

"I’ve been designing actually this time here up in the bush near Pakiri so that’s great fun, because it’s so secluded so I can just get on and think about the upcoming series and what I’m going to do."

The third season of ‘Game Of Thrones’ concludes Monday June 10, 8.30pm on SoHo.

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