Thieves of the Wood is a Belgian TV production that tells the story of Flemish hero Jan de Lichte, a legendary criminal and gang leader who was the hero of a fictionalized, idealized account written in 1957. The production filmed four years ago in Belgium, but it’s just been released on Netflix and on Belgian TV’s streaming service. We enjoyed it so much we wrote a two–part review, and were thrilled when we were given the opportunity to interview costume designer Raïssa Hans.
Hans is Belgian, but also works in the UK. She’s worked as costume supervisor on The White Queen, Close to the Enemy, and the forthcoming season two of The Spanish Princess. She was assistant costume designer on season one of Indian Summers and Les Misérables, and co-costume designer on World War II-set World on Fire along with mentor Nic Ede. Thieves of the Wood was her first solo costume project, and as you’ll see it, was a labor of love!
Frock Flicks: What’s your background? How did you get started in costume design?
Raïssa Hans: I studied costume design about 20 years ago now, here in Belgium. Then once I graduated I did a lot of theater to start with, musicals, and the circus. My favorite thing has always been movies. Not the making, but the watching. But I didn’t get into movies until three or four years later. I had been doing quite a lot of theater beforehand. Then I got started and I haven’t stopped since. But unfortunately for me, I was doing a lot of contemporary police shows.
So after a some years in the industry, I was turning 30-something, I had enough. It was not why I studied costume design, I couldn’t do it anymore. I gave myself two options, changing careers, or moving to where period drama was made. I started packing up my house and got ready move to England when the word got out that the BBC TV series, The White Queen was going to be shot in Belgium! And they were hiring local crew. I got in touch with the production to ask if I could apply for the costume supervisor job. I got my interview with [costume designer] Nic Ede, we had a fabulous click, and the rest is history!
Frock Flicks: Nic Ede designed Indian Summers, so it makes sense that you worked with him on that. Did he do Les Misérables too?
Raïssa Hans: No, but Les Mis was also filmed in Belgium, and a little bit in France [Marianne Agertoft was the designer]. This was a co-production like The White Queen, same production company — CZAR, that’s why they called me again for Les Mis. As by that time, thanks to TWQ and Indian Summers I was getting noticed as a supervisor and an assistant designer that knows how to run a period drama or movie on an international level.
I’ve worked with Nic for about seven years now, as an assistant costume designer, costume supervisor, sometimes even both and after starting out as assistant costume designer on the last one (World on Fire) he made me co- costume designer for the last 4 episodes, which was such a nice thing of him to do. He is a dream to work with and an amazing mentor. Hope to work with him for many years to come.
Frock Flicks: What does a costume supervisor do, and what does an assistant costume designer do?
Raïssa Hans: From my experience, I can say that on every show I’ve worked on the balance between assistant designer and costume supervisor has never been the same, it varies from one show to the next and the expectations of the designer of course. Costume designer, assistant costume designer and costume supervisor are basically the holy trinity of a costume team. If those three really work well together, then everything should be fine. No matter how big the chaos is, and it’s chaos most times, any show is. But that’s what makes us tick, and I’ve always loved it.
In short, the assistant costume designer assists the designer in the creative process. From picking out the fabrics, to cast fittings, setting the right tone in the crowd fittings. Making sure everyone understands how the designer wants things to look. They are responsible for making sure the team consistently applies the designers vision throughout the shoot.
A costume supervisor is basically the manager of the crew, the costumes and the budget. Of course, when asked for, they can help with the creative part as well, but in general, it’s the logistic side of the team. Making sure that you stick within your budget, so you have to be able to be creative with money, as budget is key. Making sure that your workroom is running, that all the people there are happy, that they get constant work from the designer, running the set, prepping the costume continuity, making sure everyone gets into costume on time, that the crowd costume supervisor gets all the info they need, so their team can run as smoothly as possible…
Frock Flicks: It sounds like a lot of juggling! It’s appropriate that you worked in the circus then…
Raïssa Hans: I learned a lot there. I worked on Cirque du Soleil’s Saltimbanco, that was my first big job. I started out as a dresser when they were in Belgium and later on I got to go on tour with them. I learned all the tricks about costumes, shoes, and masks. It was such an amazing learning period.
The basic one being an organized team working in a trailer, a big lorry basically, and there’s five of us working in there in such a small space. So you had to be very aware of your space — this goes there, that goes there — because you can’t move otherwise. You learn how to organize. Before I went with the circus, I was the biggest mess maker ever. When I got back from the circus everything had to be in boxes, labeled, laminated and all that stuff. Seven months in a trailer does that to you!
It taught me all of that and more, but mostly how to run a costume department logistically on all levels. So I think I picked up the supervisor bug there.
Frock Flicks: Let’s dive into Thieves of the Wood. What was your vision for the costume design? Obviously, you had to work with the director and the producer; what kind of vision did they have? What did you come up with together?
Raïssa Hans: I arrived on the project after my friend recommended me to the line producer, she originally took on the job, but due to a schedule mix up, this one and her next job clashed so she had to choose between the two and decided to go for the other one and put me up for Thieves. I got to meet with the line producer, and he decided to take me on board. Neither director really knew me, and I think I started ahead of them. I got the script, and I was always in contact with the line producer, who gave me my budget and then I just got designing. By the time I had my first meeting with the two directors, I had done most of my designs already.
But still, a first meeting with two directors who don’t know your work, or you, was pretty scary at first. I knew their work, but as they both never done a period drama before I was not sure what to expect or what they were expecting from me.
So when Robin Pront opened our conversation with “Don’t think we’re going to do some boring period correct piece, I want Game of Thrones.” I had to respond with, “Of course you do! We all want Game of Thrones” and opened my sketch book with c. 1747 based designs.
Frock Flicks: That makes me think of Tincke’s [played by Stef Aerts] fur coat!
Raïssa Hans: Yes, I could not win that one!
Frock Flicks: I actually really liked it, but I immediately thought, “That is so Game of Thrones.”
Raïssa Hans: Yes, we had to. Because the actor is so petite! When I read the script, I thought there’s going to be a massive, gigantic bear walking in when we see him. Then I get the tiniest actor that we have running around here. He’s brilliant, but, he’s not even a size 34!
Frock Flicks: Right, so how do you make him seem imposing? And he has such a baby face too! I loved his performance, he was great. And I liked that he wasn’t physically what I would expect in that role.
Raïssa Hans: Yes, he’s a proper method actor. He dives into it! I think he was the toughest one to decide on for his costume. And he’s the only one for whom I’ve taken the historical patterns a little bit into the fantasy world. Like, his coat should not be so long, but because he was so tiny and he wanted a really big coat, we had to really debate about length. And the big furry collar was to buff him up. But aside from that, I won most battles.
Frock Flicks: So with the directors thinking Game of Thrones, and you thinking 1747, is that how you handled it? By negotiating each costume?
Raïssa Hans: No, luckily we did decide to go to 1747 during that meeting. The production designer, Hendrik van Kets, and the other director, Maarten Moerkerke, were already in a 18th-century mindset and Robin followed them. I just had to feed them with as much costume info I could get as they did not always like the look, because to be fair, 18th century is a tricky one to get your head around. Especially the ladies looks. But besides those ladies, I think the 18th century turned out to be pretty bad-assy for them. So as soon as we agreed on the right feel of every character they trusted me with my 18th-century designs.
Frock Flicks: How did you manage to dress the extras so well?!
Raïssa Hans: The crowd costumes are major part of the show, they set the look and create consistency throughout the series. They are as important as cast costumes in their own way. And you need so many of them, ‘cause this wasn’t a series that had the budget to make them all. There aren’t many shows that can to be fair.
For the outlaw crowd we hired from a Belgian costume house, Baeyens, who also made quite a few principal costumes for the show and for the outlaw crowd they gave us access to their old stock. Costumes they could not rent out anymore, which gave us the freedom to do anything we wanted with it, which was brilliant, as as you can see, we took it quite far. But we still needed to dress more specific groups of people: gypsies, middle class, upper-class, gangsters. For every project you have to find the right costume house. Every house has its own style, which is normal because their stock has mostly been created by the shows they have collaborated with in the past on international and national level. And especially that last bit is essential when you have to pick 500-ish costumes.
I could not find enough mid-European stock in the UK because, for that period, the English fashion were mostly soft colors and pastel-y tints, while I needed bright block colors and lots of prints, as the Flemish fashion was inspired by the Dutch, by the Austrians/Germans, and by the French for the rich people. So although the dresses looked period correct, I couldn’t work with all those lovely English frocks. That’s how ended up at Sastreria Cornejo [costume house] in Spain.
It was so much fun, and they were so amazing! Remember this was my first big period piece by myself, so I was over-exited. When we got there I was like a kid in a candy store! We were there for a week and a half, I think, and we got two “pullers.” One guy was in his 50s, and he was the third generation to work there. His father and his grandfather both worked there, how impressive is that? They both knew the period inside out and taught us so much we didn’t know yet. They also pick up your style in no time so you can trust them to finish off your looks when you’ve run out of time. They’d say, “Layer up, as much as you like. You want five petticoats? Take five petticoats! If you want to gritty it up, gritty it up!” If this was going to be my look, I had to own it, and they were very supportive in that.
My other luck was that Cornejo has a lot of the crowd costumes from the fabulous movie Perfume [The Story of a Murderer, 2006]. Which was the right period for us. This movie was also a great source of inspiration to me. It had the grittiness, the prints, the right cuts. Perfect to create our look.
Frock Flicks: One my questions was going to be about all of the printed cotton fabrics, but that makes sense as Perfume also had all of the cotton prints.
Raïssa Hans: Because they came [were imported] from that region.
Frock Flicks: Right, and Provence and Flanders were both super into cotton prints in this era.
Raïssa Hans: Yes, and those prints were imported by the Dutch mostly. I’ve gotten really interested in chintz [“sits” in Dutch], and they still sell it, although it’s many pounds for like 10 centimeters. I indulged in one costume that was entirely made out of chintz, which was the rich artist with the banyan [Rademaeckers, played by Damiaan De Schrijver]. The idea of the banyan came from a painting that got stuck in my mind. I really wanted a banyan, so when I came across the artist in the script I decided he needed to be wearing one. Not only as home wear, but also as outdoor wear as he’s eccentric enough for that. I didn’t care that it was going to cost me a lot of money! That character just had to have one. Plus a turban! And then they cast the biggest actor ever! It took eight meters of fabric and to finish him off. I got him a waistcoat in the same fabric as well. It turned into the most expensive costume in the show, but it was so worth it.
Frock Flicks: Speaking of which, what kind of research did you do?
Raïssa Hans: I spent two months before the show just researching. You’ve got Pinterest to start, which gives you a nice range, and it also gets you into all the painters from that period. In Flanders, we’re very well known for Flemish painters, but not so much in that period, because during that period in time Belgium was so poor, it wasn’t even a country yet. We were at our lowest at that point. And you can see it in the paintings. Everything is so kitsch. So most of the research is from paintings from that period.
I usually go into overdrive when it comes to research. You want to double-, triple-check everything — when you’re finding a pattern, but then you also find it over here, and over there, and then you have to discuss it with your colleagues, because you want to get it right as much as possible, but then who’s right? And my assistant, who’s also my principal cutter, she’s the same. We drove each other crazy for about two months. At one point we just had to decide, okay, these patterns are going to be for the ladies, these for the men, these are the options that we’re going with and stick to it. Janet Arnold’s books [Patterns of Fashion, which features scaled patterns of real historical garments and are considered bibles for the cut and making of historical clothing] were, of course, very helpful for the big dresses. Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield for women’s dress is another one.
Frock Flicks: That’s a great book, as it shows all of the garment interiors.
Raïssa Hans: And then The Cut of Women’s Clothes and Cut of Men’s Clothes by Norah Waugh [another book series with scaled patterns of real historical costumes, also considered classics]. Those three were our main go to pattern books for the civilians.
For military, we just went to Tim Van Deutekom, my military advisor, who works with me on every project. He owns Uniformverhuur.be, a costume house in Belgium that specializes in uniforms. He is also a reenactor, and 18th century is one of his favorites!
Frock Flicks: So he knows exactly how wide the braid should be!
Raïssa Hans: Yes, and he said, “Pick your uniform and then we’ll talk.” He gave me the book La Maison du Roy [1690-1792] with hundreds of French uniforms throughout. We also had the Austrian uniforms, which to my surprise were pink and white and the men had to wear these big sideburns and mustaches. Every Austrian soldier had to have that. It was a part of the uniform. You can see those uniforms in the flashbacks. At the time of our story, there was still war between the Austrians and the French, and by the end of the series, the French move out. That’s why we gave Baru [played by Tom Van Dyck], the bailiff, these specific sideburns, it added to the character, and his look turned into a nice mixture of French and Austrian.
Because a bailiff, or a policeman, which is how it was written, they didn’t exist at that time. They weren’t there yet. You had people protecting the city, but they weren’t uniformed. There was no system in place. So we totally invented that uniform from scratch. Based on the book he gave me, I designed the costume of Baru and his companions, Tim helped me to create the right shapes for the period, that way we stayed in line with the real uniforms from that period. But when we got to deciding on the fabrics, we had a small difference of opinions. I wanted a particular blue grey, and he wanted to go a little bit brighter as it would be more period correct. To which I had to say no, as we had to go more gritty.
Because the first time they saw the French (red and blue) uniforms their reaction was ”It’s too colorful!” After that reaction, I could not introduce yet another uniform that was bright. But we found the perfect middle way. It took some time, but we got there, and we’re both happy with the results. And he made all of them, all the French soldiers, all the Austrian soldiers. He had one costume-maker for the French uniforms and the Baru crew and another one for the Austrian uniforms.
Frock Flicks: That’s a lot!
Raïssa Hans: Yes, I think we had 20 or 30 French soldiers, then another 10 or 15 Austrian, and another 15 for Baru’s crew. So yes, quite a few for two makers. Tim and his assistant helped with sewing on all the buttons and helped with the braids. We loved having him on board as he knows so much about the period. Because there is only that much time for research, I always had him on speed dial. Not only about costume, just the period in general. You know, when you read the script it’s like, “They fight and [rapid fire guns shooting noises]” and you’re like, they can’t do that in that time because it would take a couple of minutes to reload the thing!
Frock Flicks: Exactly! That’s always one of my pet peeves. You’d better have five guns preloaded!
Raïssa Hans: The first time I read the script I was thinking, “This is Game of Thrones meets Quentin Tarantino. It feels like it’s 200 years later in the way it’s written!” So they rewrote those scenes to make it 1747 again, and that was the moment the line producer decided to bring Tim in as a weapons instructor. Moving the story up by 200 years wasn’t an option. Jan de Lichte is a Flemish hero. There’s a book written about him which is a classic. It’s from my father’s generation. They all had it at school. So everybody has big expectations for this series to come out. But the book and our film? You can’t get further apart. He’s still a hero, that part we did keep.
Frock Flicks: Yes, one person commented something like that on my review. I purposefully didn’t read up on Jan de Lichte because I knew there was a reference but that you guys were going your own direction. But it was cute, you could tell the reader had read the book and loved it.
Raïssa Hans: Yes, my father has been waiting to see it for four years, and I had to constantly tell him, “Daddy, it’s not going to be the same. It’s going to be the same title, but that’s it! That’s where it ends!” And it’s a pity, because it’s a tiny book, but it’s nice. It’s about how he’s a thief, but he changes into costumes every time, he creates new characters every time he does it. So that would have been fun for us. But no, they went much bigger.
Frock Flicks: He was fighting the man!
Raïssa Hans: Yes, but in real life he was just a cold-blooded killer. Not a Robin Hood at all.
Frock Flicks: Tell me a little bit more about designing for the outlaws. I loved that there were so many layers, and felt really lived in. Obviously you distressed a lot of things. I assume you were trying to make it look really real?
Raïssa Hans: Yes, that’s something I learned from Nic. Costumes need to look realistic. I don’t like tone-on-tone in a design. I do like it in my own life, because I’m a designer so I take the time in front of my closet to choose pieces that I think belong together. But everyday people don’t do that. Of course some people just want to look nice, but so many don’t care at all.
Frock Flicks: Also if you’re living in the woods and robbing people…
Raïssa Hans: You take what you get, basically. I wanted things to look lived in. I did start out with a lot of color, and then dirtied them down so much that you hardly see it. But the colorful undertone is still there and gives you a glimpse of what once was. I had two amazing breakdown artists come over from England. They stayed with us for two or three weeks, and they distressed all the costumes. Before they left, they showed my team how to do it, so we could maintain it throughout the rest of the shoot. I’m also a person who likes layering, in my normal wear and in my designs. I like to see details of different bits. It was also very cold in the woods, so layering up as much as possible made perfect sense. And the prints … you’ve got the option for the prints for that period, so why not use them.
Frock Flicks: How the hell did you talk them into putting caps on women? Because that’s usually something you never see. And as soon as I saw Magda [played by Inge Paulussen], I thought, “Oh my god, she looks out of a painting!”
Raïssa Hans: I am really bossy [laughs]! Also there was no reason at all for her not to have a cap. I also have to say the wig master, Leendert van Nimwegen and I, we clicked. With the caps, he would come in and say, “Do you want a cap or do you not want a cap, let me know what you decide.” That’s how easy it was. The last movie you might know him from is Brimstone . With Guy Pearce, Carice van Houten, and Kit Harington. He did the wigs for that. So he knows that he has to ask for caps! And I know he did the massive hairstyles on the women…
Frock Flicks: I assume you did that for theatrical purposes, to make them look very artificial?
Raïssa Hans: Yes! To make the contrast bigger between the poor and the rich. Especially the wig for the mayor and Rademeackers. We know they weren’t what they should have been, but we needed their grandeur to set the picture.
Frock Flicks: Oh good, because I didn’t love the mayor’s. But the rest were great! And how they were used in the story. When Baru was talking about wanting a wig, and I was wondering what he was referring to, and then this whole ceremony happens — that was so cool! And then everyone having their own different style.
Raïssa Hans: That was the most fun that Leendert had on the show I think. I created the character’s costume, and then he would say, “I’ve got something crazy!” and walk in with two or three options, and we’d choose the one that worked best! He was such a joy to work with.
Frock Flicks: But how did you get the director and the producers to let you have caps? Because usually aren’t they the people who say, “No caps! No hats!”
Raïssa Hans: It’s not really the directors, it’s the director of photography. DOPs don’t like hats for the shade it brings over the face. That’s why they’re always saying, “I don’t want a hat!” But the caps don’t come over the front of the forehead, so they don’t really take away the light as much as hats do. I had the advantage of knowing the period, because I had been studying it for that many months, and the Leendert knows his stuff too, same for the production designer Hendrik van Kets. We were all on the same level of trying to make it as real as possible. So they trusted us and kind of let us do our thing most of the time.
Period can look ugly and weird to the untrained eye, and it’s all about finding the right balance between period and non-period, and we need to help the directors find that. So, yes, compromises are always made.
Like with Héloïse [played by Charlotte Timmers] and her cap. When she runs away to the woods, we compromised. We got rid of the cap and let her hair down. As she’s going a bit wild anyway. That’s also why [female outlaw] Shoe’s [De Schoen, played by Anemone Valcke] hair is down, because it gives her a sexy look.
Frock Flicks: Although she’s actually out there shooting people and doing things where she’d want her hair out of her face!
Raïssa Hans: That one female character surrounded by all of these boys, you have to make sure everybody sees her. She has to stand out.
Frock Flicks: Right, have to make sure we know she’s a woman!
Raïssa Hans: That’s it!
Frock Flicks: Back to Héloïse, I thought it was really interesting that she has two different personas. She has her everyday persona, where she’s helping her dad in the print shop, and she’s very middle-class “hausfrau.” And then suddenly she has to look all fancy and over the top. What was it like to go between those two looks?
Raïssa Hans: The family are not bourgeois, they’re knighted. But they’ve lost all their money.
Frock Flicks: I was wondering if they were making that up!
Raïssa Hans: No, they were. But the father lost it. In our story, the Van Gelderodes were the ones with money, they are bourgeoisie. Heloise and her dad only have the blue blood and the title left. Having hardly any money left in my eyes means, she can’t wear fancy clothes, because they cannot afford it! That’s why the dad only has two outfits. And Heloise just three different skirts, and then a few tops. She didn’t have a massive wardrobe. It’s only when she goes out riding we see they come from a higher standard.
Frock Flicks: I loved that riding habit!
Raïssa Hans: Finding that riding habit … I found so many paintings from a few years later. There’s a famous painting, and that was the only one I could find. I couldn’t find a painting of an earlier riding habit. It took me forever. But then I finally found a dress on the Victoria and Albert website. And the Norah Waugh book had a similar pattern. So I changed it a little bit, but that’s where it came from, as did her busty dress.
Frock Flicks: The blue print?
Raïssa Hans: Yes, that’s her “I need to get married off” look. It’s part of her “I have these clothes, but I don’t wear them unless I need to wear them. I need them for a purpose” wardrobe.
Frock Flicks: Yes, she was clearly more comfortable in the woods, or working in her dad’s shop.
Raïssa Hans: Right, she hasn’t been brought up that way. They’ve always been middle class. I wanted to show the big contrast. She put the big wig on, again it was to show off the contrast between the two. The one time they spend money on a new dress is when she gets married.
Frock Flicks: I thought it was interesting that you again went with a cotton print for that.
Raïssa Hans: Yes, long live Ikea sheets!
Frock Flicks: I have dresses made of Ikea sheets! I support that entirely. Ikea works with a textile museum in France [the Musée de l’Impression sur Étoffes] to reproduce 18th-century prints. There’s a reason they look so good!
Raïssa Hans: This print was a fabric I found at Baeyens. I found it way, way in the back of their fabric stock. It had been there for at least 20 years. It was one of the first Ikea bedsheets I can remember from when I was young. It was good quality but normal cotton with the simple print on it. But it was still the shape of a bedsheet. That’s what we made her wedding dress out of! And the stomacher to match, was my only hand-stitched embroidery that I could afford, which was made by my friend, Inge Macken.
Frock Flicks: I loved the dark and the light, because of course the white wedding dress didn’t exist yet.
Raïssa Hans: I found another wedding dress online that was printed, so I said, “Let’s not do all white and put some color in it.” Because everything had been very darkly lit as well. In the woods, we only filmed with candlelight. So any pop of color was a nice contrast to that.
Frock Flicks: Did you do much research on Romani costumes? Or did you just go with the vision we all have?
Raïssa Hans: I found a few paintings. And of course, those costumes are beautiful, but you can’t find them. I took those as a reference with me to Spain, to see if I could find something to my liking there that would do the job. And again, Cornejo has such beautiful stock when it comes to that. They have the crowd costumes from Prince of Persia . Everything for the crowd in that film seems to be made. The movie is medieval fantasy, but the long medieval tunics were so beautiful, and if you combine it properly with the right period shirts, trousers, and all, you can create a look that still has a 18th-century feel. Because there isn’t much information available about them, you can get away with it.
Frock Flicks: Well I know from researching Turkish dress that the shapes don’t change that much.
Raïssa Hans: That’s it. So I went with that and did a mixture of what I liked. That’s where I could use the broken-down gold stuff. It was just a few tunics that I found at Cornejo and I said, “These are going to be my Gypsies.” And they’re older than the period, so it’s fine. We gave our actress a bum roll, we gave her right layers, a corset, and then on top of that we worked with the sashes and all that to make it look more ethnic.
Frock Flicks: Let’s talk about the prostitutes, whose costumes I loved — the layering, the nice corset shapes, everybody was wearing something distinct.
Raïssa Hans: They were the most fun to do. And they’re the poorest. In other shows, you often see them as colorful and pretty, but in our show, they literally lived in a house with no windows, they’re peeing outside, they’re sleeping on the ground. So fancy clothes? Let’s not.
We took the most beautiful gritty stuff we had, the corsets that were falling apart, and patched them up here and there and tried to create different characters with what we had. I found this one picture of Alek Wek, the beautiful dark-skinned model — it’s a modern picture — and she was wearing a dark green suit. The combination of the green and the dark skin is so beautiful. So when I got the actresses who played the prostitute Djouffe, played by Julia Ghysels, I had to dress her in green. Of course, we made everything gritty and brown, but the base layer is green and that lifts it up.
Frock Flicks: She was my favorite, she and the lead prostitute [Judoca, played by Ruth Beeckmans].
Raïssa Hans: It’s always fun to design for Ruth, because she doesn’t have the stereotype shape most actresses have. She’s quite curvy, which was perfect for the part. She asked me “Raïssa, please. I want a corset.” My reply, “Fine. And how far do you want to go with your boobs?” “As far as you can take me!” That’s something you shouldn’t say to me as I’m known for making people faint when they challenge me like that. Ruth could deal with the cinching in really well, so we kept going until we were able to put a cup on those ladies!
Frock Flicks: And she looked great.
Raïssa Hans: She loved it! And then you had the wig master coming in saying, “I’m going to do something crazy!” First time I saw the wigs, I was like, “Are you kidding me? They’re massive!” But Leendert was convinced it would work. When we put them together I thought, “Amazing, but I think the directors might kill us.” We didn’t do the standard pretty prostitutes. We had turned them into three little witches basically. “Or, they are going to love it.”
That picture you’ve got on your review, when they’re walking down into the camp, that was their first moment on set. Nobody had seen them before. They did this little parade walk down, both of the directors were there, they had a very short, ”what the actual…” But the girls sold it so well, that they absolutely loved it! The prostitutes were so much fun to work on.
And there were more than three, great way to show the corsets and the underwear. We had all these shifts made from period patterns, and that’s the only time you can really show them. We hand dipped and dyed them and went quite far with that. Lovely to show it all those underlayers, but for the actresses it was an absolute nightmare as we filmed that in winter, just before Christmas. They were freezing!
Frock Flicks: I loved that everyone had their own individual variation. And I loved that the Black actress, you did the headwraps, so you gave her some touches of her ethnicity. And of course, it’s always so wonderful to see that kind of representation on screen, because there were people of color living in Europe at the time.
Raïssa Hans: It was the period of the slave trade! Another big inspiration — I haven’t seen it all, but I liked the feel of the Black Sails costumes. Their fabric choices and also the way they broke stuff down.
Frock Flicks: Let’s discuss the character Anne-Marie [played by Anne-Laure Vandeputte]! I love that she’s trying to be the good girl, but then she needs to have a little bit of sex in her. How did you approach designing her, when she moves in with Baru?
Raïssa Hans: Of course, working with a beautiful redhead like Anne-Laure, you have to have a green dress, you have to have some red dresses, because it just enhances them. Cliché, I know, but I don’t care, somethings just work. Anne-Laure was lovely to work with. Although she hated the freaking corsets, she wore them really well.
For the first part of the series, she’s dressed in poor costumes, which all came out of our stock, except her orphan red skirt outfit she wears at the beginning of the show and the green robbery dress.
When she goes to Baru, that’s when we started making those big fancy dresses to show her off. Unfortunately, by the time we got to making the rust dress, I did not have much budget left so needed to be budget creative. So for that gown, I had found a cheap cushion cover I bought at a hippie stall on a festival, and I turned that into a stomacher. The printed fabric was a piece of fabric the art department had used at the gypsy camp. When they de-rigged the camp, they gifted it to me. Recycling, always good!
But I think we made it look fancy enough to show off Madame Van Roy, the governess’s taste. She is the one that has to turn the two girls into respectable ladies and therefor orders these dresses.
When we see them “come out” for the first time, Anne-Marie wears the rust dress and her little sister wears a silk dress. They had completely changed. They had to sell the idea “We’re different people. You don’t know us.” The girls had to change so drastically that no one would recognize them or realize that they stepped up.
That’s why there‘s a difference between those dresses and the big green silk robbery dress, which was fancy, but I couldn’t make it look rich fancy.
Frock Flicks: Yes, you could tell it was a little tawdry, it had some mystery. Someone had sex wearing that dress, or it came off a dead body or something.
Raïssa Hans: Yes, something like that! “Where did they get that from?” It’s almost there, but it’s not there yet. That was the in-between dress. And the hat completed the mysterious woman look. I fought for the hat, I was like, “I have to have that hat!”
Frock Flicks: I loved the hat! It was so great because of how it shielded her eyes, and then she could peer out from under it.
Raïssa Hans: All very mysterious, but still a very period hat. We did have some issues to make it stay in place, and it was impossible for her to run with it, so we had to make her lose it at one point when Baru is running after her. Hats are beautiful, just not always very practical. That’s when hat discussions happen and when we lose the hat battles.
Anne-Laure loved the hat as it helped her performance and losing it during the scene made sense as well. The way you wear something is so important, ‘cause that can make or break an outfit. In general, I had a lot of help from the actors to make their looks work. In Belgium, we don’t do period drama much so they were all very excited to be part of the show. When there were uncertainties about a specific look, but the actor liked it and I did as well, they would wear it with such conviction and pride they would always convince “the powers that be.”
We so enjoyed having the chance to chat with Raïssa Hans! If you haven’t yet checked out Thieves of the Wood, do it — it’s on Netflix now!