Designing costumes for the cinema is no small feat. Whatever genre you work in – sci-fi, romance, action – costumes can make or break a production, being one of the first things audiences notice about a story on screen. This case is even more true for period pieces, where the clothes of the characters must not only tell a story, but also evoke a certain moment in history, when fashion was very different from what it is today. today.
Checking all these boxes was the challenge for Anna Robinthe costumer behind Downton Abbey: A New Era. The second spin-off film from the beloved Masterpiece series, A new era not only entrusted Robbins with the task of designing for beloved characters as they enter a new decade, but also for all-new characters as Hollywood comes to Downton and family members visit in the south of France to find out why the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) inherited a villa from a mysterious stranger.
Ahead of the film’s July 5 release on DVD and Blu-ray, Collider had the opportunity to fly to England and interview Robbins at St. Mary’s Church in Belchamp Walter, the filming location of Tom (Allen Leech) and Lucy’s (Tuppence Middleton) marriage at the beginning of the film. During the interview, which you can watch above and read a transcript below, Robbins discussed the design process of such a prestigious franchise, working with real vintage textiles from the 1920s to create the look. perfect, and how she combines aesthetics with historical accuracy to make her stars absolutely perfect.
COLLIDER: So, Downton Abbey: A New Era is obviously set in a very specific time in British history, and I know you worked with a lot of vintage textiles for this project. Can you explain this process a bit? Was it more difficult than working with modern fabrics?
ANNA ROBBINS: Yes. It’s infinitely harder, harder to find, especially during COVID. Our way of working at that time was really hard, then harder to maintain. They require a lot of restoration and upgrading to get them ready for the camera. And then you work with these really delicate pieces to incorporate them into a new build or just restore them to how they are. So, I mean, we’re surrounded by vintage textiles just in this small selection here.
COLLIDER: And they’re beautiful, absolutely beautiful. But I was curious in terms of a movie set in a time like this, how do you combine historical accuracy with creating an aesthetic? Because obviously you want a cohesive look for these coins – how much are you willing to sacrifice absolute historical accuracy for a good look?
ANNA ROBBINS: That’s a very good question, and I think Downtown is famous and truly prides itself on its authenticity and historical accuracy. But I think those two things are slightly different. And while we strive for complete authenticity, it’s not always completely historically accurate, it can’t be. My way of thinking about it is that I organize it with a modern point of view. So I look at the construction and the way the costumes are put together and I use textiles that would only exist at that time. But some of the textiles are modern, so it’s not…it can’t be one hundred percent, but it’s about always striving to be as authentic as possible.
And I think using vintage materials, accessories, jewelry, beads, even a button, anchors it to that era and makes it more authentic. And you’re looking at it through a contemporary lens, so it’s like, it’s our take on what, as an audience, we would find the most coveted from that era and put it together.
COLLIDER: Did you have any style icons that you referred to, maybe Hollywood stars, for Myrna Dalgleish and things like that?
ANNA ROBBINS: Yes, absolutely. We looked to all the big names in Hollywood. We were watching Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy. Yeah, all the superstars of that era, and looking at what was different about Hollywood glamour, that kind of high-octane beauty rubbing shoulders with the classic Downton ladies kind of beauty. So it was a nice kind of juxtaposition of two very different aesthetics.
COLLIDER: Yeah, I was going to ask: you have the costumes for the trip to the South of France, you have the Hollywood costumes, you have the usual Downton costumes. It must have been a challenge to come up with so many different looks for very different groups of people. Right?
ANNA ROBBINS: Absolutely. But it was lovely. I mean, I think when I first got the script, every page I turned, it was like, “Oh, hooray,” All of this…a new challenge, a new chapter , a new look. And being able to explore completely different palettes was really refreshing, and being able to contrast it with the palette we know and love so much from the Abbey itself. So it was a glorious challenge.
It was a very prolific film in terms of costumes. So there were a lot of them, but they were all equally wonderful to find and define that way.
COLLIDER: In the design, in terms of emotional journeys with characters, did that play into the design at all? Or was it rather the era and the aesthetic you were looking for?
ANNA ROBBINS: I think it’s always a balance between those two things. And I think Downtown is very well established and we know the characters, but that doesn’t mean they’re static. They are always moving in time and things are always happening to them and they inhabit a world. So we’re still looking to find out what those story arcs are, but some people more than others.
So, for example, Lucy is completely different in this movie from how we saw her in the last movie. And his situation has completely changed. So that gave us the opportunity to really express it through the clothes and have fun and show some kind of flourishing of her style because she had, all of a sudden, the ability to publicly wear this she wanted to wear.
Downton Abbey: A New Eraalso featuring Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Raquel Cassidy, Imelda Stauntonand Elizabeth McGovernis streaming now on Peacock and arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on July 5th.