Obviously Frock Flicks loves teasing and snarking, but I believe we try to be fair and balanced in the sense that we critique (and tease and snark) the WORK, not the artist. One costume designer who’s gotten some flack from us — for The White Princess and season 1 of The Spanish Princess — is Phoebe de Gaye. Now, de Gaye has a LONG resume with many impressive productions — specifically, modern-set Killing Eve, for which she was nominated for a BAFTA Craft award in costume design. With Snark Week coming up, I thought it would be nice to take a look at her full frock flick oeuvre to remind ourselves that sometimes we may deem a particular production to be unsuccessful, but the artist may have done other work that we quite loved.
As always, I’m including quotations from the designer about what her goals were for a particular production — when I can find them!
Theatre Night: Lady Windermere’s Fan (1985)
A British TV adaptation of the 1892 Oscar Wilde play. De Gaye was nominated for a CableACE Award in the category of Costume Design for a Dramatic or Theatrical Special/Movie or Miniseries for her work.
On the Black Hill (1988)
“Eighty years in the lives of a pair of Welsh identical twins with an unusual bond, as they go through war, love affairs, and land disputes,” per IMDB.
Chelmsford 123 (1990)
A British TV comedy sitcom set in the town of Chelmsford in AD 123.
Lorna Doone (1990)
A 17th century-set romance based on an 1869 novel, with Polly Walker, Sean Bean, and Clive Owen.
Carry on Columbus (1992)
One of many British slapstick historical “Carry On” comedy movies, this one set in the late 15th century and featuring Christopher Columbus.
Tom & Viv (1994)
The love affair between poet T.S. Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot, spanning 1915-33.
A Man of No Importance (1994)
Albert Finney as a closeted gay many in 1963 Dublin.
Feast of July (1995)
IMDB says: “After an abandoned young woman in late 19th Century England is taken in by a rural couple with three handsome sons, tragic consequences result.”
The Haunting of Helen Walker (1995)
A TV movie based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, with Valerine Bertinelli (ha!) and Diana Rigg.
The Forsyte Saga (season 1, 2002)
An adaptation of a series of novels telling the story of multiple generations of a British family. Season one is set in the 1870s (and goes into the 1880s or 1890s?). De Gaye also designed two mid-season episodes of season 2. Many people LOVE this; it irritated me!
“Costume designer Phoebe De Gaye wanted to be sure they didn’t repeat the BBC’s 1967 version which, she said, ‘looks incredibly Sixties to us, right down to the eye make-up'” (Rick Fulton. “Forsyte to Do It Again; Thirty Years After It First Fascinated Audiences, the Saga of A Family at War Returns to our Screens.” Daily Record, Apr 3, 2002).
De Gaye did several episodes of Marple, getting the 1950s costumes spot on.
The Body in the Library (2004)
The Murder at the Vicarage (2004)
What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw (2004)
A Murder Is Announced (2005)
Lark Rise to Candleford (2008)
De Gaye designed season one of this TV series that IMDB describes as, “Set in 19th century Oxfordshire, in which a young girl moves to the local market town to begin an apprenticeship as a postmistress.” Many of y’all LOVE this! Trystan found it snoozy, and I admit it sounds twee enough to not inspire me. That being said, all the costumes I’ve seen look stunning!
De Gaye designed the pilot only for this adventure/fantasy TV series, and I have no idea whether any of these images are from that episode.
The Musketeers (2014-15)
De Gaye designed the first two seasons of this TV series that tried to bring a modern twist to the early 17th century “Three Musketeers” story. I tried to watch a few episodes but the costumes made my brain hurt, and the plots bored me.
“I enjoy being able to combine period things with a contemporary twist, and that was the brief for this show” (Jenny Hirschkorn. “‘Now You can See Every Stitch’: Ever-Sharper TV Pictures Mean the People Who make the Best-Loved Programmes are having to Work Even Harder. in the Third of a Four-Part Series, Jenny Hirschkorn Talks to a Leading Costume Designer in Association with Panasonic.” Telegraph Magazine, Dec 06, 2014).
“For the musketeers, costume designer Phoebe de Gaye was anxious to avoid the flouncy plumes-and-feathers look of previous adaptations. ‘Too much of that and you’re looking at a New Romantic video'” (Blades of Glory).
“The women wear bold shapes and vibrant silks, with colour and volume; costume designer Phoebe de Gaye borrowed from Alexander McQueen to give them a subtly modern flair” (The Musketeers: on set with Peter Capaldi and Vinnie Jones).
“This time, the challenge has been to invite the audience to experience The Musketeers as if seeing it for the first time. There have been so many versions made featuring these enduring characters. It felt important to present them, and their world, in a fresh and original way … Character is all-important in costume design. Although the Musketeers form an elite and tightly knit group and therefore require an element of ‘uniform,’ they also need to be strongly delineated as individuals. I would say that was the first and main requirement of the design brief. For me, the process begins with the color and texture of the fabrics and leathers, and how I feel they express something about the character. That leads me further into the design process. Form and decoration follow. The silhouette is tremendously important, as well as the flow and movement of the fabric and the textures that can be picked up by sensitive lighting. These are what give a sense of physicality to the imaginary world we’re trying to create. … My view is that the past is always an invention, seen through the prism of our own time. However, I find the study of the paintings, engravings, and photographs of the various historical times we’re portraying to be absolutely fascinating. I have a large library that I turn to again and again for inspiration. The fascination in design is to bring the two elements of past and present together to form an imaginary world that, if successful, feels utterly convincing.” (Clothing Makes the Musketeer: Talking with BBC’s The Musketeers Costume Designer Phoebe De Gaye).
The Living and the Dead (2016)
A supernatural story set in rural 1894 England.
The White Princess (2017)
An adaptation of the Philippa Fucking Gregory book about Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), wife to King Henry VII.
“You want to create a a window into the past for today’s audience, so you give it complexity and conviction, but you don’t want it to feel like a history lesson” (Costume Designers Bend Period Rules for Today’s TV Audiences).
“The goal was to make it feel like it’s an authentic and coherent world” (‘The White Princess’ Costumes, Production Design Capture Look of Historical Courts).
“It’s a chance to look at a period that’s so rarely done,” says the British costumer. “This is an interesting period, it’s very much a transition period. There are a lot of paintings of the period; the Flemish school. They put so much detail into some of their works that you can see where the seams are, you can see where long sleeves were pinned and unpinned so you could change it for different sleeves. I went through paintings and engravings and things, and read books on construction of the clothes of the period, and all that. Then, it was a matter of interpreting it for contemporary [viewers].” “The idea was to approach this in a slightly different way,” she explains of how this season differs; she hadn’t been involved with the previous series. “I was trying to make an authentic feel. The feel of authenticity, really, even though it’s a world that we’re inventing and learning from paintings and things. The idea was to make it a visceral, approachable world that drew the audience in.” (Meet the Woman Behind the Regal Costumes in ‘The White Princess’).
“The challenge was finding equivalents for all these things. We also had to translate the style of dress for a contemporary audience so it doesn’t seem too bizarre and outlandish but keep the richness. We try to give it an authentic feel but we did play around a little bit. For instance, they wore these extraordinary headdresses at that time and we toned that down a bit. It’s quite tricky because it can start looking theatrical if you’re not careful.” (The White Princess Is Television’s Most Opulent New Show).
The Spanish Princess (season 1, 2019)
Yet another Philippa Fucking Gregory adaptation, this time about Catherine of Aragon and so set in the first decade of the 1500s.
“It was slightly more difficult because any information about the Moorish [people] was harder to find. I had to put a couple of things together and hope that it looked right. It was very interesting—the mixtures culturally with the Moorish Islamic style and the Christian styles, to go into that and try and get some of that into Catherine’s wedding dress.” (In The Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon’s Wedding Dress May Be All the Bridal Inspiration You Really Need).
Which of Phoebe de Gaye’s works do you like, and which bug you? And remember, let’s keep it focused on the work, not the artist!
Keep P*G away from PDG,and we get great costumes.
I really like the 1890s-Edwardian stuff here.
Apparently, the 17th century is Not Her Thing. Sean Bean’s out fit seems to have lots of odd bits of lace that make no sense; as for the Musketeers — barf! The clothes are ridiculous and half the weapons are the wrong period. As for the 19th uniform, pretty good, but the trousers, referred at at the time as “cherry pickers,” should be tighter.
I could watch only 2 episodes of the Musketeers, the costumes were so bad, the lighting was terrible, and the “plot” was incomprehensible. As a big fan of the 1973 version of the three Musketeers, I cringed a lot.
I find it b so weird how designers like Phoebe de Gaye and Alexandra Byrne can go 20 years designing perfectly gorgeous and/or appropriate period costumes and then ALL OF A SUDDEN pull absolute crap like MQoS and The White/Spanish Princess and talk about how they were so clever. Perhaps De Gaye was purely beholden to the directors before and then someone (Shekar Kapur/Emma Frost) said “go off, run wild” and now we can’t get the lid on the damn box again.
It’s kind of like how for 30 years Andrew Davies fooled Austen fans into thinking he respected Austen and then Sanditon happened and we saw what he would do if he didn’t have pesky things like source material pinning him down and preventing him from turning everything into incest porn.
All those outfits in the 3 Muskateers are silly and so self indulgent, but i actually exclaimed out loud at the sight of those ridiculous, totally impractical belted and buckled leather get ups the Muskateers are wearing. Imagine if they were filmed getting dressed – it would take half the movie as they fastened all those unnecessary straps and belts!
I do love it when designers say ‘we don’t want anything too weird’ and then decide to…make something weirder than the original?? Maybe it wasn’t her fault but she just had to spin it that way, but still. Sometimes the ‘modernization’ trend leads to sad brown costumes and sometimes you wonder why they didn’t just give everyone a plain dress with large sleeves if simplicity is what they’re after. That being said, I love all the late 19th century stuff she’s done!
My favourites of hers are Lark Rise and The Forsyte Saga.
chelmsford 123 was hilarious, and the costumes weren’t bad, but it was very low budget and I don’t think it was ever meant to be totalaly authentic – the tardis turned up in one scene, and I don’t think anyone thought badvoks “dopey the frog” posing pouch was based on anything particulalry roman
My abiding memory of The Musketeers is Constance’s ‘underwear as outerwear’ look.
That production of Lady Windermere’s Fan is the gold standard. The gown you mention as out of a fashion plate is Lady W herself, and the gown is even more beautiful from the front. As the wicked lady, Mrs. Erlynne wears a black/burgundy taffeta number that looks like an early draft of Irene’s red velvet frock in The Forsyte Saga. And her stripey outfit (even her gloves harmonize!) is the epitome of cool.
I’m not sure why she went from nicely done historical stuff to WTF weird, but I find the attitude that one has to reinterpret the clothing of a certain period so the plebes will “get it” incredibly condescending. We “get it” just fine when you honor the time period with a real attempt to get it right. That was my biggest bitch about “Mary Queen of Scots.” Five minutes of research would have resulted in much better costumes without patronizing the audience.
Lark Rise has gorgeous costumes. It was always a pleasure to watch.
I know what irritated me – she went around with such a sour look on her face I though she overdosed on Beecham’s Pills.
I liked Irene–although that red dress probably played a part in my emotions. Interesting mix of cultured semi-Bohemian and the learned helplessness befitting a young lady of the time
The Musketeers is full of WTF (the costume of course, and french history also suffers a lot during the show) buuuut, i love it. It’s so much fun to watch. This serie has become one of my comfort objects ! Quel panache !
Here, here, Laura! I ate up The Musketeers once I realized what attitude they were going with it. The cast was awesome and show was fun. And for my taste “fun romp” is what I aim to get out of a Musketeers tale. Even a non-expert like me realized they went crazy with the costumes, but as I said, I really leaned into because it spoke to me. The king’s costumes were lovely. And Kendra, you asked, “Why do we need this many straps and buckles?” To imagine the sweet, laborious task of undoing them! The biggest annoying distraction for me was the queen was a brunette in the first season and a blonde in the second. Overall, I’d say audience attitude goes a long way regarding receptivity to costuming irregularities and anachronisms. The show I absolutely hated in that (and every other regard) was TNT’s Will. (Why oh why didn’t I stop watching when Shakespeare pulled a ballpoint pen out of his skinny jeans to write a poem?!#$)
The only other one I’ve seen is The Living and the Dead. The costumes looked right-ish to me except there was at least one scene in every episode in which Colin Morgan looked like he walked straight out of a contemporary magazine ad, mostly when he was wearing coats and sweaters.
She seems to go all to pieces when designing anything before the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.