From the 1920s to the long run: Lovecraft Nation costumes are a masterpiece of style
The days are getting shorter, the nights longer and hopefully temperatures start to drop as summer turns into autumn and we prepare for all of the pumpkin spice to take over. While Fall fashion is popular with Who What Wear editors and readers alike, there’s one seasonal trend that we tend to disagree on: the reappearance of all things as scary as we are prepare for Halloween.
Even if some horror lovers are already planning their looks for October 31st, I prefer to celebrate discreetly and sustainably by inviting mine Streaming queue with old favorites and new finds. This season is at the top of my list Lovecraft land, a horror drama series directed by Misha Green that premiered on HBO last year. The 10 episode season was nominated for a number of Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor and Actress in a Drama Series, and of course Outstanding Fantasy / Sci-Fi Costumes, which honor costume designers Dayna Pink.
Pink – who started her career as a stylist for boy bands and got into the world of costume design with a little help from Tenacious D – was very caring about this project, which took her creativity to the extreme. With key scenes ranging from the 1921 Tulsa Race massacre to a distant future where humans conquered space, Lovecraft Country really is sprawling.
The world building alone is daunting, and tossing historical events, shape shifts, and space travel (plus hundreds of background actors) into the mix seems downright terrifying – but not for Pink and her team. They combined historical research with modern design, aging techniques, and fabric sourcing to create a truly rich fantasy world full of memorable, sometimes haunting characters.
Despite all of the fantastic elements of the series, the horror feels especially poignant when based on historical events. The show follows members of the Freeman family and their friends as they travel through 1950s Jim Crow America in search of a man and, in the end, stumble upon their magical legacy.
Since most of the show took place in the 1950s, you’d expect to see the usual fashion fanfare: saddle shoes, poodle skirts, and pearls. But typical of the horror genre, appearances are not what they appear to be Lovecraft land, both literally and figuratively. Lightning can strike, but this show is light years away fat.
Inspired by the contemporary music that composes each episode (think: “Clones” by Tierra Whack and “River” by Leon Bridges), Pink and her team took some liberties in costume design, preferring new materials, delicate jewelry and sophisticated accessories who adorn the characters of this ensemble, including Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smollett), Montrose Freeman (Michael K. Williams), and Ruby Baptiste (Wunmi Mosaku), to name a few. “One of the most amazing things about designing this show was the fact that we had space to root in time and then revolve around some modern element so we were never locked into the exact moment,” explains Pink. “We used classic underwear and silhouettes from the 50s, but addressed the fantasy elements by using current fabrics and accents, which gives the show its own look.”
When asked about a favorite design, Pink laughs. With most of the costumes her team created from scratch (few were actually vintage pieces from that era), it’s almost impossible for them to decide which one to choose. But if you focus on two characters, sisters Leti and Ruby, there are clearly a few show stoppers. “[Mosaku] It was so much fun getting dressed, “enthuses Pink. “We loved creating all of her looks, from the blue dress at the block party – my favorite – to the red shorts outfit that was actually suggested by Misha, the director.” Leti’s equestrian outfit with the bow blouse is also especially remembered. Pink stumbled upon the patterned silk in a fabric shop and immediately knew it was right for the character and this particular scene.
Menswear posed a different challenge, however. Since menswear is less trend-oriented than womenswear, it takes a stylist’s keen eye to get the look right. Fortunately, that’s pink’s strong point. A menswear lover and having worked with Will Smith and Steve Carell for years, Pink understands the styling nuances that can help cultivate a sense of time and place. Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors), for example, has just returned from the Korean War and not only has the stiff posture of a soldier, but also his trusty, worn-out boots. “All Atticus was born for me when I found his Seafoam T-shirt,” recalls Pink. “It was simple and contemporary and the most beautiful, soft shade. I knew it would be the soul of his closet, and it was. “
Conversely, Montrose, Tic’s mysterious, solipsistic senior, wears a different sense of self-esteem and boasting. Using disturbing techniques to make this character’s wardrobe look worn and dated, Pink and her team played a lot with proportions and fit. Of course, we both agree that Williams could be carrying a sack of potatoes and still be utterly captivating on-screen.
Speaking of sacks of potatoes – best regards – this ramshackle cloth was the inspiration for the costumes of two of the scariest characters on the entire show: Topsy and Bopsy. Modeled after Topsy, an enslaved child in the controversial 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, this duo emerges from a physical copy of the book to torture Atticus’ younger cousin Diana “Dee” Freeman, who is already mourning the murder of her boyfriend, 14-year-old Emmett “Bobo” Till, an event that stands out relates to reality. Life lynching of a young man of the same name and age in 1955.
Dressed in cartoonish minstrel style, these vicious spirits clad in distressed silk doll clothes with potato sack logos, striped knee socks, and red or white canvas sneakers, and move around with eerily coordinated physicality. These truly terrifying children convey Dee’s deepest fears of growing up during this time of extreme violence and segregation. If this episode, “Jig-a-Bobo,” doesn’t send chills down your spine, it won’t.
In designing costumes that are not only appropriate to the time but also appropriate to the story, Pink and her team felt compelled to pay tribute to the real events depicted on the show. “Those were the moments when we withdrew and tried to do our research justice, because then the costumes had to be secondary,” she explains. “We’ve had enough other moments to add our own flavor, so we purposely withdrew for Emmett Till’s funeral and the Tulsa Riot scenes.”
There are many cases of uncomfortable duality in Lovecraft land, both physically and metaphorically. In an impressive feat of costume design and special effects, the character Ruby Baptiste literally transforms from a spirited black woman into a rigid and calculating white woman. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but to say this was a real feat for Pink and her team is putting it mildly. “Both [Mosaku] and Jamie Neumann were incredible muses when it came to the Ruby / Hillary transformation, ”shares Pink. “We approached the Hillary character as Ruby’s take. How would she dress if …? And when we put Jamie on, she automatically transformed into the figure we had imagined. ”
Pink’s great work is hard to miss (keep your fingers crossed for her to win the Emmy) but remember: costume design is just one element of the weird and terrifying world that is Lovecraft land. Fortunately, the entire series is available to stream on HBO so you can catch up before the big TV night … and then watch some historical documentation when you are ready to be really shocked.
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