Even if you didn’t watch all of Indian Summers (2015), you might be interested in the costume designer’s approach to the TV series. For those of us who watched every minute, hopefully that’s a given. Now that season 1 has ended (yes, season 2 is in the works), I thought it would be nice to look back over the season as a whole, plus look into costume designer Nic Ede’s thoughts and experiences making the program.
Nic Ede has a pretty extensive resume — his previous work includes Wilde; Bright Young Things; Gunpowder, Treason, & Plot; Nanny McPhee; Hysteria; and The White Queen. He also worked on Ghandi, an experience which he drew on for this show: “Working on Gandhi was a great help as it meant I had a real nose for India” (The steamy side of the Raj).
According to the behind-the-scenes video on the costumes (see the end of this post), designer Ede wanted this series to look historically accurate for India in the 1930s. “On the whole I kept [fashions] up to date, because you must remember that everybody got periodicals and magazines. The women would study the fashion with great, great care and then get a local seamstress to make it up” (The Costumes of Indian Summers).
The series was actually filmed in Malaysia, so the heat was a major challenge. According to this review of the behind-the-scenes documentary included with the Blu-Ray, “Costume designer Nic Ede tells how he was able to have such authentic-looking clothing: ‘India still has workshops for villagers to sell their wares’ using natural fibers, as does Malaysia.” On the other hand, Channel 4’s press info says, “The humidity presented a conundrum for costume designer Nic Ede, especially in a country where, as he puts it, ‘synthetics rule.’ ‘We had to use manmade fabrics as far as possible, or the clothes would have been unbearable to wear,’ he continues” (Bringing the World of Indian Summers Alive). So I’m unclear whether this means everything was made in cotton and linen, or whether they used some kind of futuristic, uber-wicking fabrics.
EVERY piece of wardrobe (except for the traditional Indian men’s wear, seamed stockings, shirt collars, and cufflinks) were made by people in little workshops across Malaysia — including for the extras. Ede said, “I was so impressed with how the local tailors picked up on what I was trying to achieve. Their ability to cut in a period style was fantastic, particularly the women who made the crowd’s female clothes. I mean cutting on the bias, all that 1930s stuff. And they did it with great aplomb and no mistakes” (The Costumes of Indian Summers). He also said that just literally getting all of the costumes made in time was his biggest challenge, because when I say they costumed all the extras, I mean it. Ede said, “All the extra stuff, all the crowd stuff is [typically] hauled in from a costume house, but in this case we made to measure for all the extras, which was just unheard of, and fabulous” (The Costumes of Indian Summers).
Costuming Cynthia in Indian Summers
Julie Walters plays Cynthia, the grand dame of British society, although from an unusual perspective — she’s originally from London’s East End, and back in the UK, she’d have been in totally different social circles from most of the other characters. But as the owner and hostess of the Royal Simla Club, the focus of British society during the summer months, she is instrumental to just about everything.
As I noted in my recaps, Cynthia’s wardrobe is fabulous, but very firmly stuck in the 1920s. Ede said, “The one person that I did set at an earlier time was Julie Walters’ character. Because she is playing a woman in her early 60s, we decided that the time that she felt most comfortable was about 1924, when she was in her early 50s, with the loose, low waistlines and the longer hems” (The Costumes of Indian Summers).
This print ensemble was a particular standout. Ede said, “[The Silpi Fair dress] was a really pretty hand-blocked silk sari that I found, and we chopped it up and made her dress out of it, which of course people would have done anyway, making the pattern fit the contemporary style” (The Costumes of Indian Summers).
Costuming Alice in Indian Summers
Alice is essentially the heroine of the series. Although she grew up (with her brother Ralph) in India, she’s been gone since she was about eight years old, and is just newly returned. Ede said, “I wanted to reflect her class and her background, making her look elegant, but not in any way flashy. I wanted her to fit in, but for people to notice her because she’s a pretty girl, and because she dresses with style … I wanted the English rose in colors that reflected not India, but where she had just spent the last few years and got married and had her baby. So besides her travel dress in the beginning, everything is sort of pastels, an English country garden look” (The Costumes of Indian Summers).
However, she gradually moved away from all the sweet florals. Ede said, “Over the progression of the season, I did actually make her become a little more sophisticated as she became more embroiled in the social scene in India. Simpler, a little less twee, really” (The Costumes of Indian Summers).
Costuming Sarah in Indian Summers
Sarah isn’t quite the villain, although she is really darn annoying. She’s the wife of a missionary, so doesn’t have much money, and is obsessed with her social station. Ede reflected these things in her wardrobe: “I always refer to Sarah as the girl who dressed from catalogues. I mean she is the epitome of your Midwest farmer’s wife in the ’30s … The quality isn’t there, without the financial means to do it properly. And of course because they have no money, we see repetition of her clothes all the way through” (The Costumes of Indian Summers).
Costuming Aafrin in Indian Summers
Aafrin is the other lead protagonist. An Indian man who works for the English Viceroy’s office, his family is basically working poor (dad is a veteran) and he supports his family. Consequently, Aafrin’s wardrobe was limited. Ede said, “…He got to the stage where he was really pissed off because basically he has two suits! He has the suit he gets shot in, which then gets stitched up and repaired, and then when he gets elevated at work, he gets a new suit. These guys didn’t earn a lot of money. He’s also supporting his parents and his sisters, so most of the money would have gone into the family coffers to keep them all alive. They lived pretty well considering the state of poverty in India at that time. But I didn’t want anybody to think that he really had anything more than what was on his back” (The Costumes of Indian Summers).
Costuming Ralph in Indian Summers
Ralph (Alice’s brother) is the private secretary to the Viceroy, and so very highly placed in society. Ede said, “I wanted him to portray the English ruling class without any sort of flamboyancy. So basically, his clothes are absolutely correct in every respect. He wears no color except for a little bit of blue in his shirts occasionally and his ties, but basically he dresses in off-white, black and gray” (The Costumes of Indian Summers). However, there’s a whole lot hidden behind that Perfect Uppercrust Look. Ede said, “Ralph is dressed in black and cream, as he appears to have very few shades of grey” (Bringing the World of Indian Summers Alive) and I think the emphasis is on appears.
Ede elaborates, “I wanted him to hide. I wanted his clothes to give nothing away about him. Then, when you first see him in native dress, it’s probably a bit of a shock. Because what one then realizes is that this is a man who’s totally at ease and in comfort…and basically, India is home for him. It certainly isn’t Britain” (The Costumes of Indian Summers).
Costuming the Dalals in Indian Summers
Aafrin’s family are important to the story. For one thing, it’s the fact that Aafrin is ethnically/religiously* Parsi — a group people in India who follow the Iranian prophet Zoroaster, and were originally Persian — is key to his job with the British. Ede said, “The Parsis were renowned for being very close to the British … Parsis would emulate a little bit of European fashion by having puffed sleeves on their sari blouses or different shaped necklines…When you look at [Roshana], she’s always made a little bit of an effort to be a bit more like the British”(The Costumes of Indian Summers).
*I think that it’s correct to say the Parsis are both an ethnic and religious group, but I know very little about this group. Apologies in advance if I’ve misspoken!
Aafrin’s father Darius dresses very distinctly in reference to his religion. Ede said, “As for [Darius], we hardly ever see him in anything except his Parsi hat, which is absolutely traditional, and his cord around his neck, which is a religious piece” (The Costumes of Indian Summers). Of course, there were at least two occasions when Darius wore Western-style dress: when he visited Aafrin in the hospital, and when he went to the Royal Simla Club as a guest.
Costuming Madeleine in Indian Summers
Madeleine is Ralph’s love interest, sort-of. She’s wealthy, she’s American, she’s sexual, but she’s also very, very upper class. She’s almost always wearing shades between dull gold and grey, and so is a great visual match to Ralph. And she is ELEGANCE up the wazoo.
That being said, Madeleine is also fashion-forward. Ede said: “Madeleine, as an American, is the only woman you see in trousers – she has innate good taste” (Bringing the World of Indian Summers Alive).
When Ralph and Madeleine get engaged, the Viceroy’s wife decides they should go over the top for their party and dress in 18th-century-style fancy dress. It’s a great visual, but even more so really shows just how out of it the Brits were when it came to their impact on the lives of the Indian people. Ede said of these costumes, “It was getting quite late on the shoot and money was getting a bit tight, so I went out and bought quite a lot of old gold-colored satin and a duck-egg blue satin. The lace came from a Malaysian shop, gold lace still worn today, but it’s on her dress and on his cuffs. And I just put it on the stand and played with it until I got something together. We literally put it together by hand, which was great fun to do, because of course it would have been made by local tailors. So we wanted it to have that slightly homemade look, of [1930s Asia] trying to copy something that’s been made in the 18th century in Europe.”
If you’re interested in learning more, this behind-the-scenes interview with costume designer Nic Ede is a must-see!
If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you give Indian Summers a whirl! If you do, make sure you check out our episode-by-episode costume recaps and discuss the costumes with us!