As we mentioned in our podcast about The Favourite (2018), costume designer Sandy Powell has done a ton of press about this film, so here are some of the details we referred to…
Sandy Powell in Awards Daily, “Costume Designer Sandy Powell on Creating the Monochromatic Look of The Favourite”
“We sort of talked about the film being monochromatic or a reduced color palette. The scenes within the court are monochromatic. The staff, the footmen are in shades of gray. The kitchen staff, as a bit of a contrast, are all in indigo denim. Made from old jeans from trouser shops in Slough.”
“In keeping with the theme of the court, the cut of all the clothes is historically accurate. The actual shape, the silhouette and the way they’re made is all historically accurate. It’s just been treated differently. The textiles aren’t particularly historic. There was a lot of unconventional fabrics and everything is laser cut. All the black trim and geometric print was laser cut. I used fake leather that I found in Shepherd’s Bush Market.”
“Because it was just black and white and there wasn’t a lot of decoration, I wanted there to be textures of fabric. A lot of those fabrics African fabrics that are stamped. There are these amazing fabrics from Nigeria that they have in Brixton Market. I bought tons of those fabrics.”
“I love thinking what’s the cheapest fabric I can buy and make it look like. If I didn’t have fantastic cutters and stitchers who make it look good.I had really good people working for me.
“The women’s costumes are a very good mix-and-match capsule wardrobe. It looks like they have lots of changes, but the dresses are made up of components. There’s the triangular bit at the front that clips on and so I’d switch those out. It’s a bit like having two jackets, two blouses, two skirts and seeing how many combinations you can get out of that.”
Sandy Powell in Entertainment Weekly, “How The Favourite Costumes Added Renegade ‘Punk’ Edge to Queen Anne’s Court”
On Abigail (Emma Stone) — “I wanted to give her that vulgarity of the nouveau riche, and her dresses get a little bolder and showier. There’s more pattern involved and there are black-and-white stripes,” she says. “I wanted her to stand out from everybody else as trying too hard.”
On the queen’s court robes — “I looked at images and real things like it, and normally [this type of garment] would be solid gold, embroidered, and bejeweled, so I thought what else can I do just to give it an air of royalty? Ermine is associated with royalty, it’s usually just used as a decoration in small amounts, so I decided to just cover her in it. Because in the rest of the film I have her in a nightgown, not bothering to get dressed every day.”
On materials — “I sent my buyers out to thrift stores to buy up anything in denim, so we had hundreds of pairs of distressed jeans, so I got all the shades of indigo and blue. They were all made for the kitchen staff: all the women’s corsets and bodices were made of denim, and the men’s britches and jackets were made from old cut-up jeans.”
“I used fabrics that were black-on-black or white-on-white so a lot of the fabrics on the dresses have texture. That’s not particularly accurate for the period. I also didn’t use any lace at all, I just used some laser-cut vinyl as trim that I found ready-made, which is very contemporary way of treating fabric. Obviously, laser-cut fabric isn’t a strange fabric, but it’s strange to use it in this context for an early-18th-century period film.”
“They would’ve had more embellishment, embroidery, and bejeweling, and fine, sumptuous fabrics like silks with colors, and I decided to pare all that down to basic, affordable fabrics to concentrate on silhouettes and shapes and restricting the color palette.”
“I think it helped because it didn’t distract. If it was all gilded to the nines, glittery, sparkly, and brilliant like the stuff we’re used to seeing in other [period] films, that would’ve taken away from the contemporary, modern approach Yorgos had. The dialogue is very contemporary, and the themes are very contemporary, and if we’d dressed it up as too period, it would have been a distraction. I didn’t want any of that to get in the way, I wanted to be able to pare down what we see to the people, the intrigue, the plotting, and the politics.”
On the riding outfit for Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) — “It’s a masculine [outfit]. What Rachel wears is traditionally male attire with britches and a waistcoat; it’s a cravat with a high neck. There’s a costume similar to that in Orlando and there’s a section in Orlando which is monochrome black-and-white, and it’s the same period that we’re doing in this. I didn’t think about it at the time, it was just subliminal. I do think there is a similarity between the two films because Orlando was the last unconventional period film I’d done, so there is a similarity. I think that was the last time I had the same amount of fun doing something like this!”
Sandy Powell in Seattle Times, “Bed Covers, Corsets and Old Jeans: Costume Cesigner Sandy Powell Dresses a Royal Court in ‘The Favourite’”
On corsetry — “The most important thing is getting the corset to fit the person,” said Powell, noting that all the corsets were custom-made. “If a corset fits properly, you shouldn’t have any bits sticking into you.” A veteran of many corset-heavy films, Powell is adept at talking actors through the initial discomfort of them. “It’s horrible putting it on first thing in the morning, but after a while your body warms up and it moves into place.” (She acknowledged, though, that it’s “never a good idea to take them off at lunch.”)
Sandy Powell in Vulture, “Costume Designer Sandy Powell Talks Through 6 of The Favourite’s Best Looks”
“Normally I do spend a lot of time on color. I love color. But it was quite nice to do something that was different. So because it was black I had to really look into different textures and also things that would light. That sort of worked terribly well within the story and within the settings, and economically actually we had very, very limited funds and time. So there wouldn’t have been time to have done court costumes as they would have been.”
“Something I found that really helped me was a roll of fabric in a very sort of cheap shop that was black, laser-cut vinyl. It lent itself to being cut up and applied onto the costumes to give them those sort of outlines, so every time we see a sort of black pattern, that was what it was. Then I copied it in cotton and laser-cut cotton to create the lace. It’s sort of the positive and negative effect on all the court costumes. I think finding that one roll of fabrics inspired the look for the entire court, really.”
On Lady Sarah (Weisz) — “There was not much decoration on anybody, and she [Sarah] does have a little bit more than anybody else. I was playing with the fabrics on the stand, which is how I work, with the cutters. I drape the fabric and we mess around with it, and we get all the folds and the silhouettes of the overskirt. I was playing particularly with the patterns of the fabric and the stripes, and sort of moving them closer together, further apart, making chevrons of all sorts just to push it a bit further than the rest of them.”
On the queen’s bedclothes — “It’s reversible. It’s velvet on one side, and on the inside I actually made it from a bed cover that I found. In England they’re called candlewick, but I think it might be called chenille here — those wavy lines and little tufts of cotton — which I bought on eBay. So the queen’s wearing an eBay bed cover.”
On the queen’s riding outfit — “This was something that was scripted. She puts on a contraption before getting on the horse and it was sort of like, what on earth is it? It was described that it went onto her legs and it covered her body, and she was strapped into it and it was — it was written as almost a fetishistic contraption really, but it was in order to help us stay upright on the horse. It’s a quite interesting sort of transference of power really, and the whole story’s about the fight for power and control and the sort of tussles between the three women. I think that scene very much shows the queen dependent on Sarah to actually get her into this contraption, and Sarah is rather in control. It’s a fetishistic moment, really. It’s somebody being contained. I think that was the point in the script.”
Production designer Fiona Crombie in Architectural Digest, “The Sets of The Favourite Serve Royal Drama — and Then Some”
“One of the key challenges was working within a really precious location,” explains Crombie of Hatfield House, the grand Jacobean estate in Hertfordshire, England, used as the primary filming location for The Favourite. Built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, First Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to King James I, this historical country home remains, according to Crombie, “one of the best-preserved examples of its kind in England.”
“Often you make decisions on where to put the money, and it felt like we needed to make sure we had really beautiful details and that the objects [the actors] held in their hands were really special,” says Crombie, who began her research for the project by combing through the Victoria and Albert Museum’s extensive catalog of historical decorative arts. “I was struck by the fact that [during the early 18th century] there was a high degree of craftsmanship and ritual.”
“We made a decision not to go with anything too gilt and had to maintain a relationship with Sandy’s monochromatic costuming,” Crombie says. “We wanted to keep it simple, which is why we also chose to not put an enormous amount of furniture in each room. They’re not big, clunky pieces so as to give the feeling of the actors in this large space. … We never wanted it to feel cozy. You see the ceilings and the bare floors and get a sense of the incredible scale. Even though it’s really plush, it’s not overstuffed.”
“The entire film was lit with candles,” says Crombie, whose team used more than 80,000 double-wicked tapers during the 42-day-long shoot. “We built tops to go on things so we could swap them out when the wax dripped down. It was more about wax management than fire plans.”
Did you get to see The Favourite in theaters?
Yes exactly. I have not yet seen this movie, but from the descriptions and reviews it is pretty obvious that a lot of liberties have been taken with the truth. Which I suppose is to be expected. One report that bothers me is that Sarah is supposed to be “running the government”. Sarah was not running the government. Sidney Godolphin was running the government and doing a pretty good job of it too!
“The dialogue is very contemporary, and the themes are very contemporary, and if we’d dressed it up as too period, it would have been a distraction.”…then why, pray tell, make an historical film?
I’d only seen one film from this director but i gather he’s more interested in the material (relationship of the three) than the historical aspect of it – so i don’t think the point was taking us to a different time, rather showing something in an interesting context
Yup, I agree with you there.
A really convincing argument to avoid seeing the film. Thanks!
Try listening to our podcast review – you may understand better what this film is & isn’t trying to do.
I really like this. It’s clear the costume designer had a very clear view of what she wanted, and also know the period- what isn’t period correct is a concious decision, and not an asumption that no one cares and everything goes. I much rather have this kind of costumes than something sold as being SO ACCURATE when in reality it is not.
Exactly. The designer & director are using history in a very specific way.
But will you be giving your opinions on the costumes? Would love to read them.
This was fascinating!
I sincerely hope the Academy doesn’t nominate Sandy for both this AND Mary Poppins returns, they both look gorgeous, and that might split the vote.
I loved this movie! It is NOT a typical frock flick, and I very much enjoyed the stylization.
Something I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned is the use of blue in the costumes – as Sandy Powell said above, they used blue for the kitchen staff, and the servants more generally. As Abigail rises in rank, you can see blue working its way out of her clothes until she’s a proper lady, and is only in black and white.
But watch for smatterings of blue in other characters, too. It’s an indication of servility.
Listening to the first third of the podcast prepared me for laser cut fabrics, and so I knew about limited palette going in. I didn’t recognize use of denim for lower servants, but I saw film on a very small theatre screen.
The setting, set dressing and props (custom carriages!) are so detailed and beautiful, it’s a bit of a disconnect to feel the costumes were the “save money” line item. The use of laser cut vinyl seemed to drive some stiff silhouettes that didn’t drape in a way I expect even heavy fabrics to. But, still a visual costume feast compared to everything else I’ve seen this year, and I want to see it on a bigger screen.
I thought that Powell’s costumes were great. The cuts of the Mantua dresses for Sarah and Abigail as she reached her ascent were close to surviving examples in the Met, V&A, and other costume collections. The black and white color scheme was interesting because both the surviving garments and depictions of period dress in portraits show the use of bright and bold colors as well as traces of silver and gold thread in some of the dresses.
The small detail I really liked was the use of white and blue china tea service by the three lead women. Blue and white porcelain, both Chinese export and Delftware, became popular during the joint reign of Anne’s sister Mary and her husband William.
it was a great film and really fascinating examination of the nature of female power and authority.
Will you review Mary Poppins returns?
Maybe? Depends if we can brave the crowds to see it in the theater!
I saw it today and loved it! Coincidentally quite a few friends had also booked into the same session. Before the movie was a trailer for MQOS and I blurted out “Oh for God’s Sake” when the denim appeared, and we all laughed. I think we need to convince the theatre to do a snark session where we can shout at the screen as much as we want!
The favourite I LOVED. LOVED everything. he costumes worked entirely for me.
we saw the same trailer and I snorted loudly in derision throughout. Load of bollocks!
Just got back from seeing this as a NY treat, and it was BRILLIANT! We cackled and sniggered our way through it, the costumes looked fab, and oh boy that dance sequence… also it didn’t hurt that Rachel Weisz looked damned HOT. Years ago I saw the BBC drama ‘the First Churchills’ so this made a fantastic contrast
Why on earth is the Duchess referred to as “Lady Sarah”? She was not the daughter of a peer. She was either Mistress Jennings, Mrs. Churchill, Lady Churchill, the Countess of Marlborough or the Duchess of Marlborough. I know that the director said he had no interest in historical accuracy (obviously) – so why do a historical film then? What kills me is that this era is fascinating and so are the people involved. However they are now caricatures to most people who views the film. Poor deeply religious and prudish Queen Anne – she was better off when nobody had heard of her.
Here is the first part of my review: https://aelarsen.wordpress.com/2019/01/14/the-favourite-first-thoughts/
I recently saw this in theaters and I went in very excited. I’m a historian, historical archaeologist, and a reenactor . This entire movie is supposedly set between 1710 and 1711.
The sets were gorgeous, I have no flaws with them. However, one of the few things I noted and despised was the monochromatic use of colors and how much black there was, this was the early 18th century, it was a colorful time, especially when you look at court fabrics.
I immediately disliked like the use of the laser cut leather and trim. I was shocked at the lack of lace. The limited wardrobe of the queen greatly surprised me, though I did think the ermine was well done.
I’m not going to go into the history that they got wrong with the details they left out. Once again Hollywood has taken history which is interesting and rich details and decided to make things up.
The use of vulgarity and explicit sexual scenes didn’t particularly surprised me as it was an 18th century setting and most of what was shown was correct for the time. Speaking of sexual scenes Emma Stone’s monologue was delivered in such a way that I may never, unfortunately, forget it.
Of course some of the music post-dated 1710 and I’m not even going to talk about the dancing because that hurts.
As a side note I actually quite like the blue heavy working cloth for the servants clothes I didn’t realize until later that it was denim and I have no problem with its use. However, the gown for the vocalist who was singing with the harpsichord with the very large polka dots look like it’s came straight out of an upholstery shop.
Having learned after seeing the film how limited the budget was for clothing I am impressed with what they accomplished, but I don’t like their selections.
it was a great film and really fascinating examination of the nature of female power and authority.
I don’t know how to feel about this comment. There are a good number of women who are turned off by “THE FAVOURITE”, because they felt it conveyed a negative message about women in power.