Susannah Buxton has been designing costumes mostly for British TV since the 1980s. She’s won a BAFTA and an Emmy, among other awards. In 2018, she started Costume Symposium so technicians working in UK theatre, opera, film, and television could share their knowledge and try out new skills. While she’s done contemporary designs, historical research seems to form a solid basis for much of her work. In an interview at Cosprop and the John Bright Collection, Buxton said:
“Looking at originals is the most important part of the preparation and there is never enough time to spend researching, once the actors are cast. The more research you are able to do, the more the production value of the drama benefits. I also go to the V&A and other museums, Worthing has a good collection. Looking at paintings of the period in books and galleries, particularly the National Portrait Gallery here in London is invaluable, and of course online too.”
Take a look at her wide range of frock flicks work!
Swallows and Amazons Forever!: Coot Club (1984)
Swallows and Amazons Forever!: The Big Six (1984)
A Dangerous Kind of Love (1986)
The Disputation (1986)
Mr. Wroe’s Virgins (1993)
Boswell & Johnson’s Tour of the Western Isles (1993)
Jane Eyre (1997)
In the Cosprop interview, Susannah Buxton said:
“The idea of looking at originals is not to copy them, the intention is to create a character. For that actor in that drama, things will be different. You’re taking the inspiration and understanding — but it would not necessarily work to recreate a costume. Costume design is not about copying paintings or original costumes. The characters have a life of their own and are taking part in a story. The original may be beautiful but it may not suit the actress, in shape or colour. When I used the original [from the John Bright Collection] as reference for Jane Eyre, I decided against the lace which, in this case, I found more distracting for Jane. Otherwise I have to say, it’s pretty close to the original in that instance.”
The Woodlanders (1997)
St. Ives (1998)
The Blonde Bombshell (1999)
Tipping the Velvet (2002)
As You Like It (2006)
Death Defying Acts (2007)
In the Cosprop interview, Susannah Buxton talked about combining historical styles with what works on film:
“There was a dress for Catherine Zeta Jones for Death Defying Acts and I looked at many originals from the 1920s. One of them had the most beautiful deep rose colour, and I used this as reference and we matched it in the dye room, the style of the dress wasn’t used at all.”
Downton Abbey (2010-11)
In Time magazine, Buxton said that Queen Mary was an inspiration for the Dowager Countess’ style:
“That queen always had a certain look and it was right because we wanted a really strong, positive look for Maggie Smith. She’s the dominant character in the series. You want to costume to help emphasize the character, to be part of who that person is.”
Susannah Buxton used vintage materials when she could, but that sometimes lead to problems, as she described in Time magazine:
“The most scary thing that I can remember is that I designed a harem dress — with Turkish trousers — for Lady Sybil. That was considered very shocking at the time because no women wore trousers then. I used a panel of embroidery for the bodice that was very old and very beautiful. She came down for the first scene and after the third take the whole panel started to split at the back. Fortunately we did have another piece of it, but watching a dress part from itself in front of your eyes on camera is pretty scary.”
Talking of the season 2 costumes, Buxton mentioned Lady Mary’s hunting outfit to Cosprop:
“For a suit for Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey we looked at a 1920s hunting, shooting and fishing suit and changed the style of it completely, but there was a lovely pocket detail which I kept.”
And in Time magazine, she said:
“I’m very proud of the tweed suit Lady Mary wears during a hunting party during the Christmas Special. People would happily wear it now. It looks good, but it also fits comfortably in the era where it’s supposed to sit.”
What’s your favorite frock flick costume design by Susannah Buxton?
So many costuming details to love! There are several flicks here I’d like to see, including “The Woodlanders.” I own a DVD of that “Jane Eyre,” my favorite version (the ONLY true Rochester), although it could stand to be an hour longer.
Britannic was terribly inaccurate, but had great costumes to fit ca. 1916! It came out a couple years after Titanic won all the awards.
I own Blackadder, and Robbie Coltrane was spot on as Dr. Johnson as well as hilarious, but there is ANOTHER flick with him as the great doctor? I can’t find it on IMBD.
That was part of an anthology series called Screenplay.
I love Lady Mary’s tweed hunting suit! It’s my favorite outfit of the whole series.
St. Ives is my favorite of the flicks. I found it on Youtube and it is on Amazon Prime. Very funny although some uniforms are strange (espoecially for 1814!!!).
Oooh, I really liked this deep dive. I was not familiar with Susannah Buxton by name, though I have see a few of the productions that feature her work. I love it when the posts introduce me to so much info and films. There’s a lot here that I haven’t seen that really intrigues me. My fave, of course, is Downton Abbey.
And also, I need that pic of Ciaran Hinds as Rochester to be the wallpaper on my computer. (Sigh!)