Interviews with Industry

Interview with Charlotte Mitchell, Costume Designer on Killing Eve

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s critically acclaimed psycho-chic thriller ‘Killng Eve’ has captured the attention of millions across the world since it premiered just last year. With it’s bewitching soundtrack, undeniably stylish look, hilarious writing, and unparalleled performances, the show has become quite the obsession for many.

Another aspect that has solidified the seductive series as a fan favourite is the extravagant wardrobe showcased across the duration of the show, with fans particularly fixated on the outfits of one of the show’s main characters, the  charming yet psychotic assassin, Villanelle.

Read our interview below with Charlotte Mitchell, costume designer of the upcoming second series, to find out more about the palette choices behind each character, some of the decisions behind Villanelle’s killer wardobe, and Charlotte’s advice for any aspiring designers.

Interview by Lauren Macaree

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in the industry and how did you go about making it a reality? Do you think there was a specific film that sparked your interest in the industry?

I started out in fashion buying and then fashion design, and even though I love working with clothes I quickly started to dislike the fashion industry. Costume design became the most obvious move, it was just a question of how?

I had just come back from working overseas in fashion and was living back home, so I had no job, which gave the passion to be determined and approach tv productions who were filming nearby. I went in as work experience and then claimed a trainee position on a soap. I was 26 and not straight from college, so this probably helped my confidence to be able  to do this.

How do you choose which projects you become involved with? Is there anything you look for within the script/story/themes etc?

I am quite choosey. I read a script and get my initial thoughts and then have a meeting. Even though I don’t know if I’ll be offered the job, I make my decisions on how I connect with those interviewing me. These are usually the director and producer. It is important we all have the same creative vision. I also want to like the director, so we can have a fun working relationship.

If the script really grabs me because it’s different, or if you can visualise clearly how you think it will be shot, this is important. I then discuss this and if it marries up with the thoughts from the director, I’ll be keen to be involved. Sometimes the director doesn’t have the same vision, and if they can’t convince me to see it from their eyes, I’ll have to leave it.

How did you initially become involved with Killing Eve? What interested you about the project?

I was approached for series 2. I was sent the first 3 episodes and on watching 10 mins of episode 1 I was completely hooked. I loved the quality of the show, through its use of music and graphics along side a gripping story. It’s was these things over the costumes which took my attention. This made me excited as I could see that I would like to work with the producers based on the production of the whole show, not just the way the characters looked.

What was, or is, your starting process for beginning to design the costumes? Was this process different at all due to taking over from a previous designer?

No it’s always the same. The story dictates how I design the costumes, I am aware of the previous design but story is what drives my designs and then I look at the existing wardrobe and see if they are still relevant.

I always start by creating mood boards for each character in each episode based on what I’ve read. From these boards I start to see a theme/ tone. A particular colour coming through or silhouette. I then source clothes based on this and if they are not available I may have to make items.

With regards to coming up with initial ideas and designs, how much of this process is collaborative between yourself and the actors portraying these characters?

Once I have created the mood boards I can present them to my director and actors. This throws up more ideas which I can take with me to source and then fit. It’s very collaborative, but I like to have a strong vision from my boards, which I can sell to everyone. It’s great if they sometimes challenge this vision so I have to dig deeper, then I can see I’m actually wrong and misread the character, or I’m actually right and have more reason to push further. Everyone reads a Character their own way, by having the discussions we come to a clear idea which becomes accessible to everyone, to the audience.

Both Eve and Villanelle have very particular styles and palettes; Villanelle’s being anything from bright pink, floral, extravagant, to dark, plain & casual, whilst Eve’s is usually simple, unembellished, comfortable  – would you mind talking a little bit about those palettes and why they represent the characters?

Colour palette is so important to separate the characters. Villanelle uses hers to provoke or show her emotion. Eve is practical not flamboyant. After watching series 1 I was keen to push this further to separate their 2 worlds clearly. I was keen to show that anyone who belonged with them in their worlds would also take on that colour palette. Eg Carolyn is from Eves world. It is then through silhouette that each character belonging to the same world would stand out individually.

Villanelle represents: Travel, Europe, Flamboyance, Luxury – sumptuous and colourful.

Eve represents: Britain, Practicality, Civil servants – muted and earthy.

Sandra Oh (L) and Jodie Comer (R) as Eve Polastri and Villanelle in Killing Eve, Season One.

Apart from of course series one, did you have or use any specific sources of inspiration for each of the characters?

I didn’t have to, but I would find certain sources to help show my vision on my mood boards. Depending on the story line I looked at current and past celebrities to see how they dressed. I used inspiration from past fashion collections and styling. One example was looking at the presence of how a masculine suit has been worn by a woman through the last 40 years. I looked at kd Laing and Yves Saint Laurent 80’s collection to create a particular silhouette for villanelle.

Villanelle’s style specifically is very diverse and at times quite surprising – she is definitely not your stereotypical assassin. There is a balance of causal and cool, yet still powerful, alluring and glamorous, but never over the top, which all plays through the various ‘characters’ that she embodies. Is it a challenge at all to maintain this balance with such a complex and ever-changing appearance?

It was exhausting at times trying to create a new look every time she changes her clothes. There are a lot of different looks and villanelle never wears the same thing twice. With each look I created a mood board and pulled over 15 options to try on. This takes a lot of time and a lot of cash flow. You end up returning 90% of what you buy.

Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve, Series One.

Her journey through season two is said to be very different in comparison with the first. In terms of costume, we see that in the beginning of the series she is far from her luxurious lifestyle – which is how she ends up sporting one of her new iconic looks; the comic book pyjamas. Is there a conscious decision at all to bring elements of the comedy and playfulness through the costumes? Or even in this case, a sense of humanity and or defencelessness to Villanelle, a character who is perceived to be dark and intimidating?

I always try and help tell the story through my costume design choices. With Villanelle she is playful and provocative and uses her style to enhance this. But I was always keen not to use costumes gratuitously. It had to be in clever moments when you’d least expect Villanelle to be dressed a certain way. This is when comedy works. If it was scripted that Villanelle wore something it could so easily become to prescriptive and the comedy wouldn’t be allowed to evolve. The Pyjamas were something that was in the script so in this instance I had to be careful about the choice of fabric, and really see how Jodie ‘owned’ wearing them. If she felt awkward the joke would be lost. If they were too ill fitting they would become far too ludicrous.

These heightened moments in Villanelles clothes meant I was very keen to also have what I called quiet moments. She could still look fabulous. But it was these quite moments when the costume wouldn’t jump out, allowing a balance with the more flamboyant moments, and helping those flamboyant moments to jump more. The pyjama moment was book ended with 2 ‘normal’ costumes, so more quiet moments.

Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve, Season Two.

Another character that stands out is Carolyn. Much like Eve, we see her mostly wearing dark and basic colours, but in a slightly more stylish way. Her character is very mysterious, and as we found out in Season one, a bit more enigmatic than we thought. Would you mind talking a little bit about her palette?

As I mentioned earlier, she belongs to the world of mi6 -Eves world, hence the muted and tonal colour palette. I think she is hugely confident. I was keen to push her further to be even more stylish and elegant. I wanted to take her mysterious quality and highlight this with how she uses her clothes. She always wears a coat/ jacket, giving the idea that we never know where she is going or coming from. She uses her pockets, keeping her hands in them, giving a sense of stillness and confidence. I loved developing Carolyn’s costume, and another thing i was keen to get across is her subtle sex appeal. I love that a strong confident woman of a certain age can have a sexual presence in a very positive way.

Sandra Oh (L) and Fiona Shaw (R) as Eve Polastri and Caroyln Martens in Killing Eve, Season Two.

Do you have a personal favourite upcoming look from series two?

Yes but I can’t say, I’m under strict guidelines!

If there is one, from your experience, what do you think would be the biggest surprise about the role of a costume designer would be to an outsider? Or maybe misconception?

The biggest misconception is that the costume designer designs everything before you start filming and then the job is done. I am often asked ‘ what am I doing once the filming has started’ ! A costume designer is constantly designing, whether this is because of working on a series and the scripts come in for each episode as you progress. Meaning you don’t have all the scripts up front. Or if it’s a film, you have fitted a wardrobe but need to be there to see it on camera at a later date and help support the actor with your choice and of course you are constantly tweaking . Or you are over seeing crowd costumes which are ever changing and how they work alongside your principals. Plus you are constantly sourcing new items, having costumes made which are all being delivered at different points during filming.

The other surprise to an outsider is how many opinions are given from the actors, producers and director. It is never the costume designers independent decision.

If someone wanted to pursue a career as a costume designer,  how would you recommend they go about it?

Study fashion or costume. Use that time studying to really enjoy creating and push yourself creatively. This is because once you leave you won’t be designing again for a while. On starting out you will go through many levels from trainee to standby to designer and more in between. Always respect others knowledge and be a sponge absorbing information by listening to what’s happening around you. Don’t try and jump up too quickly. Costume design is a fantastic profession which has many senior professionals working well into their 70s. I celebrate that it is not ageist profession. There is plenty of time to be a costume designer, enjoy seeing and trying all the different areas in costume. It will only go in your favour once you are a designer and help you to understand the industry better. It will also give you confidence in your job which will have a positive impact on you design ability.

Watch series 2 of Killing Eve on Sunday’s at 8 p.m on BBC AMERICA. The UK Premiere date is yet to be announced.

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