HBO’s Catherine the Great – More More More!

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We posted about our excitement in seeing just one dress from HBO’s upcoming Catherine the Great miniseries starring Helen Mirren. Well, we’ve now had TWO whole trailers, plus some of the costumes went on exhibit for a few days in London, so let’s take a look at what costume designer Maja Meschede is doing!

Here’s the US trailer. There’s also a British trailer that was hard to find or embed, but you can watch it at the Daily Fail.

First, we’ve got the blue dress we’ve already seen – but now it’s also been on exhibit! Sky TV’s press release has some information about the costumes. I’m not positive, but I think they are describing this dress when they say,

“This dress takes inspiration from a gown that Catherine the Great wore in August 1772 on the anniversary of her coronation, which defined the style of ceremonial dress for the Russian Imperial Court until the end of its existence. [Costume designer] Maja Meschede says, ‘This blue dress fuses the style of a Russian peasant dress with the fashionable French silhouette and features embroideries made from gold and silver threads, pearl beading and rushed [sic – ruched!] sleeves’” (Catherine the Great reigns supreme as Sky reveals a new gallery of images set to feature in exclusive costume exhibition at the BFI Radio Times Festival).

2019 Catherine the Great
2019 Catherine the Great

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The costumes from the upcoming Sky Original drama Catherine the Great at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival 2019 at the BFI Southbank on April 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

2019 Catherine the Great

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The costumes from the upcoming Sky Original drama Catherine the Great at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival 2019 at the BFI Southbank on April 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

2019 Catherine the Great

This appears to be the same dress, but with different lighting making it look much more blue.

As Sarah pointed out in her sneak preview, it looks very much like this portrait by Alexandre Roslin:

Catherine_II_by_A.Roslin_(1776,_Nationalmuseum_Stockholm)

Portrait of Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796), After Alexander Roslin, 1776, Nationalmuseum (Sweden)

Here’s a very similar gold number with tons and tons of embroidery. According to Sky TV’s press release,

“Catherine wears this golden gown for her Nakaz – an important ceremonial speech the Empress gives to her followers. Costumer designer, Maja Meschede says of the costume: ‘I wanted Catherine to look powerful and untouchable, the embodiment of Russianness. It took a month to complete the elaborate bead and pearl embroideries, which reflect Russian national costume. As a personal touch for Helen, we stitched the letters HM in pearls on the back of the cloak by the neck'” (Catherine the Great reigns supreme as Sky reveals a new gallery of images set to feature in exclusive costume exhibition at the BFI Radio Times Festival).

2019 Catherine the Great

Note the française-style back on the left.

2019 Catherine the Great

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The costumes from the upcoming Sky Original drama Catherine the Great at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival 2019 at the BFI Southbank on April 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

2019 Catherine the Great

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The costumes from the upcoming Sky Original drama Catherine the Great at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival 2019 at the BFI Southbank on April 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

2019 Catherine the Great

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The costumes from the upcoming Sky Original drama Catherine the Great at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival 2019 at the BFI Southbank on April 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images). Don’t freak out, that’s Helen Mirren’s finger!

At first I thought this silver-dress was the same as the blue one above, but I’m seeing buttons down the center front and a different trim pattern on the skirt:

2019 Catherine the Great

Catherine was known for cross-dressing and wearing military-style ensembles:

2019 Catherine the Great

According to Sky,

“Catherine the Great was a great patron of the Guards’ regiments, who had done much to bring her to power. The Empress would have a riding habit made in accordance with the uniform of each regiment and wore the garment to appear before officers on regimental holidays. Costumer designer, Maja Meschede elaborates: ‘This riding habit honours the Preobrazhensky Lifeguard Regiment, one of the oldest and most elite guard regiments of the Imperial Russian Army. It combines features of a uniform with Russian national costume and elements of the French fashion that was widespread in Russia at the time'” (Catherine the Great reigns supreme as Sky reveals a new gallery of images set to feature in exclusive costume exhibition at the BFI Radio Times Festival).

2019 Catherine the Great

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The costumes from the upcoming Sky Original drama Catherine the Great at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival 2019 at the BFI Southbank on April 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Here’s the real Catherine wearing that uniform:

Equestrian portrait of Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796) - Catherine II of Russia in Life Guard Uniform on the Horse Brillante, by Vigilius Eriksen, 1762, Grand Peterhof Palace

Equestrian portrait of Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796) – Catherine II of Russia in Life Guard Uniform on the Horse Brillante, by Vigilius Eriksen, 1762, Grand Peterhof Palace

She’s also shown wearing a military-style dress, which is 100% accurate:

2019 Catherine the Great

Here’s the very real Preobrazhensky uniform dress worn by Catherine, 1763. I remember seeing this in a museum decades ago and thinking Catherine was VERY short and VERY round.

Catherine II's Preobrazhensky uniform dress (1763, Hermitage).

Catherine II’s Preobrazhensky uniform dress (1763, Hermitage).

A featured event in the trailers is a cross-dressed ball, with the men in gowns and women in suits. Catherine’s suit was also on exhibit. According to Sky,

“History tells us that Transvestite balls were a favourite pastime of Catherine the Great’s court, a tradition she continued from the Empress Elizabeth. Maja adds, ‘Catherine the Great often used strategies of gender concealment or disguise. With the transvestite ball, we can see how she seemed to enjoy making a public display of a mixed gender identity'” (Catherine the Great reigns supreme as Sky reveals a new gallery of images set to feature in exclusive costume exhibition at the BFI Radio Times Festival).

2019 Catherine the Great 2019 Catherine the Great
2019 Catherine the Great

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The costumes from the upcoming Sky Original drama Catherine the Great at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival 2019 at the BFI Southbank on April 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Here’s a few of Catherine’s less-seen-in-the-trailers costumes:

2019 Catherine the Great

I’m not 100% sure of this peacock color combo — doesn’t seem very 1760s — but ok.

2019 Catherine the Great

Fur for winter makes sense, it’s Russia!

2019 Catherine the Great

A dressing gown.

2019 Catherine the Great

RED.

2019 Catherine the Great

Another blue gown, this one a bit simpler.

2019 Catherine the Great

An Ottoman-esque something for snuggles.

Jason Clarke (The Aftermath, The Great Gatsby) is playing military leader/Catherine’s favorite Grigory Potemkin.

2019 Catherine the Great

Liking those wigs!

2019 Catherine the Great

I think this is him? I never get why makeup designers go with heavy, modern eye makeup for cross-dressing historical men.

And it looks like Irene from The Forsyte Saga Gina McKee (also The Borgias) is playing a prominent courtier, although she’s not yet listed on IMDB:

2019 Catherine the Great

Will you be watching Catherine the Great when it comes to HBO?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

18 Responses

  1. Nzie

    I don’t get HBO but maybe I can rent it. Really looks like they went all in on this!

    Reply
  2. Jill

    We all love Dame Helen, and she’s an awe-inspiring actress. However, she is just a little too gaunt to play this role. I’d have been tempted to cast someone a little more full-figured.

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    I’m looking forward to this because I adore Helen Mirren. I may do a short-term subscription to HBO for it. If I were casting a film about Catherine’s rise to power, I would cast Hayley Atwell as Catherine.

    Reply
  4. IASHM

    The close-up of the cross-dressing gent looks a lot like Rory Kinnear to me. IMDb doesn’t list him for this production, but Wikipedia does (as playing Nikita Ivanovich Panin).

    Reply
  5. Barb D

    It looks like this would be worth a short subscription to HBO. Love the actress, the subject, and those gowns are gorgeous.

    Reply
  6. Dianne

    I have an HBO subscription so I will definitely be watching. Love the gowns. I am such a sucker for historical costume dramas.

    Reply
  7. Susan Pola Staples

    I too have an HBO subscription and I’ll definitely be watching this for the history, costumes and bc I am a huge Dame Helen fan. The costumes looks 99% or close to right, the designer gets beaucoup kudos for the research and such beautiful costumes.

    Reply
  8. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    The man in woman’s clothes might be the Chavalier D’Eon. He spent considerable time in the Russian court dressed as a woman. Granted it was under the reign of Elizabeth but he was already dressing as a woman fulltime by the 1770’s.

    Reply
  9. Justme

    I love 1770s french fashion, catherine the great, helen mirren, and men in drag. I am so there

    Reply

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