Costume Designers Behind 'The Borgias,' 'Game of Thrones' and 'Boardwalk Empire'

WWD chats with the designers about the devotion required to perfect the look for these popular period dramas, historical fiction and fantasy venues.

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The costume designer for “Game of Thrones” has a number of historical and fictional TV miniseries under her belt, including “The Diary of Ann Frank,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “The Devil’s Whore.”

Clapton describes her work ethic and how she costumes diverse characters in a medieval fantasy world for the TV series, which was touted in June as the season’s most pirated series by The Hollywood Reporter.

“We really did research very widely across the world and in different climates, and because of the fantasy, we took different ideas of what we really liked, not certain periods. After that, I developed the characters,” said Clapton.

She singled out the character of Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, a frail-looking beauty whose destiny is to become the Mother of Dragons.

“When we first saw Dany [Daenerys] at the beginning, she was a young girl who didn’t have any sense of herself, so we put her in loose robes. When her brother tried to sell her we gave her a sheer gown for naked elegance. Slowly, she realizes her womanhood and in expressing that we had to be very careful with the undergarments,” explained Clapton. “We use very little undergarments for her, maybe some spinal boning, and we try not to use modern underpinnings.…As much as we can we have the backs of her costumes pop open.…And we certainly don’t use corsets because Dany is very active.”

But Clapton noted that she does design deconstructed corset looks of leather, metal and fabric that are “cut and molded to Dany.”

To capture the mean-spirited nature of another character, Queen Cersei, played by Lena Headey, Clapton does use corsetry underneath long, soft kimonos, a kind of “fire and ice” approach.

“I like the idea of hard core for the interior and softly draped for the exterior,” she remarked.

When creating a gown, Clapton said she uses “boning within the dress and builds a shape and attaches the shape to the dress.”

“It’s like going back in time before there were bras.…I want to show different ways that women can be powerful and who they are, like Dany, who turns into her own person rather than being dictated to by her brother,” she noted.

Clapton described fabrics as “hugely important,” saying, “We spend so much time with fabrics. For Dany in the desert, we wove the garments ourselves. It’s the only way we could get the look that we envisioned, a mix of slightly Nomadic and African, and we used a lot of crafts that Nomadic tribes use as well, such as a precious color like blue, that is precious only to a tribe.

“We also try to do a lot of our own prints.…We painted and printed all of Qarth’s fabrics ourselves. And we sometimes spend more time breaking out a fabric than actually using it. We dip it, dye it and drag it — it’s a huge task because I want the fabrics to look like they’re dirty and smell.…And we sometimes have to make things look frosted so we paint on wax to create a look of snow.”


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