She’s designed costumes for film and Television period features including SS-GB and A Field in England, so it might seem that historical accuracy is a walk in the park for Costume Designer Emma Fryer. With Ben Wheatley’s blood thirsty action thriller FREE FIRE set to take to the big screen, it’s the bell bottoms and dagger collars of the 1970s we turn our attention to. We caught up with Emma ahead of the UK release to catch a glimpse into what it really takes to turn vision into reality and bring lost decades back to life.
You’ve designed costumes for both contemporary and period productions. Which do you prefer?
I love to be able to do both. It’s also for me very much about working with a great script, and being able to create characters. Contemporary costuming is so diverse now you can use period shapes and styles in a modern piece and vice versa, on period jobs you can twist period shapes and silhouettes and make it more modern.
How does the process differ when costuming a contemporary production as opposed to a period style piece?
The initial process is very similar; the difference is how you source the clothes. On a period piece you are very likely to have more costumes tailor made which involves sourcing fabrics and employing costume cutters and makers. You may also need a team of people to dye and breakdown the clothes. You would also be working out of a Costume House. On a modern job you are very likely to be sourcing the clothes from the High Street.
How do you take the initial concept of a production and turn it visually, into costumes?
The initial concept always comes from the script. On reading the script I will get information about the characters and from this start creating a visual picture, a sense of colour, silhouette. This may change when you meet an actor. Sometimes you can’t have too specific an idea about a character until the part is cast and an actor is attached.
Where do you go to research the period you are designing the costumes for? Do you have a pre-existing knowledge of most periods sartorially speaking, or is it mainly about starting from scratch?
On starting any job I would always research the period. I immerse myself in visual reference and research. This can be a mix of photo journalism, street photography, film footage. I then look at clothes from the period; this may be at a costume house, or vintage shops and fairs.
Do you find getting a costume historically accurate is really important in enabling the actor to fully transform into that character and immerse themselves in that period of history?
This depends on the project. Sometimes it is important the costumes are historically accurate. If you decide to stylize a period piece it’s good to start looking at the costume historically accurately before twisting or changing the period. Whatever way you choose to approach a piece the costumes are hugely important in creating the character.
The choice to film A Field in England in black and white was an interesting one, and allegedly made on a bit of a whim. How do you think filming without colour lends itself to costume in the film?
From the beginning Ben talked about the Film being shot in black and white, so I had too really consider the tones of the different layers of costumes rather than colour
Tell me a bit about the costume design for SS-GB. How did you even begin to plan for that project? Were a lot of the costumes sourced originally or hired?
I was thrilled when I got offered the job to design the Costumes for SS-GB, it’s a great period piece with a real mix costume and distinct world and looks to create. From elegance and glamour, to real people on the streets, resistance fighters, British establishment and the German military world. A lot of costumes were tailor made for the cast, mixed with original pieces and accessories from Vintage Fairs and hiring from costume houses.
Which reference points did you use when you were planning the costumes for SS-GB?
For SS – GB there was plenty of visual reference and material to look at from the time.
All of these sources were really useful for tone, colour and palette for the show. It was decided early on to make the world feel “real” and that the clothes should reflect this.
After research, Philipp the director was bombarded with imagery and lots was discussed.
What processes did you go through when you started out planning the costumes for FREE FIRE?
My process for planning the costumes for “Free Fire” was very much the same. Immersing myself in visual references, taking myself to the Costume Houses and Vintage shops and fairs and chatting a lot with Ben and Amy. There were lots of labels I looked at in the early stages of researching the job: Levi’s Vintage, RRL by Ralph Lauren, Gabicci, Frye boots, Coach, Nudie Jeans, Red Wing Boots. Elements of these labels were used in designing the final Costumes.
The 1970s is such an interesting and experimental period in fashion. Did you source original pieces for FREE FIRE?
Yes I did source original pieces for Free Fire. I also tried original suiting on some of the characters to establish a good silhouette.
Was there a favourite scene or character in the film [FREE FIRE] that you enjoyed dressing the most?
I love the scene when everyone’s enters the warehouse as you get a real sense of ” all the characters ” and how individual they all are. I also love the scene when we first meet Vernon!
Do you find that researching and sourcing original costumes for period productions set a lot more recently is easier?
The big difference between period and modern day is that with period costuming the looks are quite set in regard to class and character. With a modern day piece there are so many different “looks” that may be possible for a character.
What has been, or would be, your dream period in history to costume for?
I have costumed a lot of different periods, what is so great about being a Costume Designer is I can go from the world of Fantastic 70’s clothes, then into the world of the 1940’s and then even Tudor and Contemporary. AND also work with Amazing directors like Ben. Free Fire has been my favourite job to date, the most Amazing Director, Cast and Crew.
Interview by Danielle Morgan.