Q&A with ‘Dark Shadows’ costume designer Colleen Atwood
“Dark Shadows,"which hit theaters on Friday, not only revives long-dormant vampire Barnabas Collins, it also brings back some giggle- and cringe-inducing fashions of the early 1970s.
Leisure suits. Mirrored aviator sunglasses. Bell-bottoms, chunky sweaters, macramé jewelry. These all contrast with the stand-up collars, cravats and capes worn by Johnny Depp as Collins.
Costume designer Colleen Atwood was more than up to the challenge after numerous previous collaborations with director Tim Burton (her efforts for the director’s"Alice in Wonderland” earned her a 2010 Academy Award). This time around, instead of going down the rabbit hole, her challenge was to bring a touch of 18th century style to the coastal Maine of the Me Decade in a way that didn’t alienate fans of the original gothic television soap opera, which became a cult classic during its run from 1966 to 1971.
Atwood, whose next project is a “Thin Man” remake (also starring Depp), took a few moments to talk about how she came up with some of the film’s most memorable looks.
Between the original series, the vampire genre and the not-so-distant ‘70s, there was no shortage of source material, so where did you turn for inspiration?
Some of it was from reference materials and some of it I remember from growing up in the ‘70s. Then there was also a nod to the old show. I tried to pay homage to that with things like Johnny’s little cape coat that he wears.
In costume on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, Depp looks like he’s wearing a forest green cape. Is Barnabas Collins a vampire of a different color?
It’s actually a very, very dark green wool, but that tends to actually [show up on screen] as black with a little bit of highlighting, which sometimes works better.
Was that made for him or was it a vintage find? It seems like there might be a lot of ‘70s stuff at vintage shops and flea markets.
We made it; about 75% of the principals’ costumes were made. For the day players and the crowd scenes, it was mostly rental stock that came from the U.S. because it’s an American story and the clothes had a different feeling from the British stuff.
Was this a fun movie to costume?
It’s a period that when you look back on it, you can’t kind of believe that people really did it. Most of us could remember what it was like, so we had a good laugh when people came to set.
Where did you source the fabrics — the paisleys, the velvets, the laces — for the pieces that were made?
There’s a great textile fair in London called the Hammersmith Textile Fair that takes place once a month or so, and I was a regular visitor to that on my Sundays because they had some great stuff.
What was the inspiration for some of the principal characters’ costumes?
For Johnny’s character, we wanted to keep him really simple and singular but also have a nod to the period. I had fun with finding all the potential things that crossed over from the 18th century to 1972 — there ended up being a lot of emphasis on the collar.
One standout piece Barnabas Collins wears is a silk smoking jacket covered in a wavy pattern that looks almost like feathers or flower petals. What’s the story behind that?
I loved that because it was so Tim. It’s a weird swirly pattern that from far away I suppose could be feathers, but when you see it close up it’s more like those weird bull’s-eye things Tim likes. It’s actually an original piece — probably from the ‘40s — that I found at a flea market.
What about for Eva Green, who plays a witch named Angelique Bouchard?
A line in the script described Eva’s character as looking like she’d stepped out of a Virginia Slims ad, so we went with a sleek, businessy look when we introduced her into the story. She’s a totally modern woman, so we didn’t want the sort of witchy look you would expect.
The most eye-catching piece Angelique wears is a floor-length, bosom-baring, body-hugging, blood-red dress covered in sparkling paillettes. Was that a vintage find?
Oh, no, that was made. You don’t find a dress like that that fits the way it does on the rack, honey.
And Michelle Pfeiffer’s family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard? Was there a kind of Karen Carpenter vibe going on there?
She was a marriage of a few different influences, including a David Bailey book called “Birth of the Cool” that has all these ultra-glamorous girls with that big hair and that look. It was a combination that fit Michelle to a T.
Judging by the assortment of macramé owl earrings she wears — and a secret that’s revealed in the movie — are we to assume the family matriarch has a ‘70s-appropriate appreciation of the fiber arts?
I had these girls on my team who took great joy in making them for Michelle — they were very crafty. Michelle got really into the macramé too. She would ask if we could make some in a certain color or with eyes or sitting on a branch. She became part of the process.
She also favors a lot of very large and very ornate necklaces. Where did those come from?
The necklaces were these weird copper and enamel crafts people made back then. I remember these jewelry classes — I was way too little to take them, but my mom did — that taught everybody how to make this kind of wire and enamel pieces. We figured that if [her character] was into macramé, she probably would have branched out into making metal pieces as well. The pieces she’s wearing are actually vintage ones I found on Portobello Road in London.