When Guillermo del Toro first conceived The Shape Of Water, initially he had plans to make it in black and white. With that in mind, costume designer Luis Sequeria started assembling ideas in his collection, but by the the time it came time to shoot, the film had changed to color. Sequeria gathered pieces and outfits and created a color palette for the characters that would stand out against the watery world of Elisa and her friend Giles. A lot of the film is set in the bleak industrial lab of the Cold War era where The Asset (Doug Jones) is kept in his tank. This gave Sequeria the opportunity to create two looks: one for the characters during their working day, and the other for their home life, contrasting the two worlds as the film interweaves the storylines.
Read our chat below.
You’ve worked with Guillermo before so what did he tell you this time about The Shape Of Water?
I was working with Guillermo on The Strain and he said he wanted me to do the costumes for Shape of Water. We had some preliminary conversations and I started to collect. I was flea marketing every weekend anywhere I could find period clothing that was interesting and I started curating a collection.
When we started filming, I showed him a bunch of pieces and we went through the color palette and we went from there.
As you already have this relationship, what did he tell you about the colors and the watery world?
At first, he wanted to do it in black and white and we went down that path looking at the different textures and contrast. When we moved to color, it was equally useful because it was about texture and color. He spoke about distinct color from one world to the other and how the world of the film was content in film noir and that black and white world. The future was bright green, avocados, oranges, and golden rod was the ugly future and the consciousness of the film did not want to move into that world. So, we created this film noir look within the time period. I’d collect pieces regardless of their period because there are classic elements in the design. Some of those pieces were instrumental in fashioning them into something that became part of the movie.
It turned into color. What was your first idea about dressing Elisa?
We needed to find a way to make her distinct but not stand out because she was one of the others. For her, we were looking at Elisa watching all these old movies and not being in the know with fashion. She has a slight shoe fetish.
Just a slight one that’s perfect.
Exactly. So she was almost dressed in a late 1950s silhouette and that helped make her distinct from the other characters. I started talking about injecting color later in the film. Once her resolve was complete, it was about reinforcing that.
What about creating the contrast of characters at home and at work because you certainly see that with Octavia’s character and with Sally’s?
With Octavia, we have that one spec at the end. I remember speaking with Octavia being excited about doing her at home. Her color palette was a bruised fruit color palette. Everything had a brown element to it, even if it had a little bit of mustard to it, it still had that. She was a downtrodden woman. She was very feisty in the way she spoke, but she was unheard at home.
She had a clipped wing bird pin that actually at the end of the film, when she resolves to help, we made a switch. and I don’t think anyone really notices that it was one of these symbolism things. We wanted to go from a clipped wing to a bird in flight. With her, it was all about texture and working a complimentary color palette to Elisa’s.
Was there a challenge in creating outfits to compliment The Asset?
What’s interesting is that though these two characters are from different worlds, they live the same color palette. It was interesting because The Asset moves into the apartment and he matches the curtains. With that room, it’s a tricky space to work within. We wanted a character to kind of disappear, but then to also stand out.
With her nightgown, it was in the same tone, but it was a silk charmeuse. It was a brighter color so when it hit light she stood away from the walls. When we moved into Giles’ world, it was warm, woody and creamy. It was another palette.
What about Michael Shannon’s wardrobe, because he had two worlds as well.
He had his workwear which was grey, black, with oyster and mushroom-colored shirts. They were tailored to his body type. It was the nature of his character, he is wound up and tight. We started off in clear-colored shirts and as he unravels, he started to get muddier. The shirts were less sheeny and more textured.
When he’s home, he’s in that mustard knit polo. It was a conscious thing that Guillermo wanted to present a man from the future in this black and white world – on lease, so to speak. He was just doing his time here wanting better things. We got a glimpse into his home life and saw that it was a completely different color palette.
Talk about the black and white sequence.
That was something we talked about early on. We looked at Top Hat and other Ginger Rogers films. I wanted it to be her dream and not a copy of something. It really needed to feel like a dream. A dream is always a mesh. In the dress, we worked in a maquette. We refined the lines and after six or seven incarnations we moved onto full-scale muslins. It was about fabric. Some of the over lace on that fabric was over $500 a meter. We had to really know exactly what we wanted to do.
Just like the creature has the lighting that sparkles. The dress had a ton of Swarovski crystals to emulate his lighting. We went through a few versions of it, we didn’t want it too long so Sally wouldn’t trip. It was a four-layer cake, there were was chiffon, and a sequined bodice so when you move you would catch light in the whole body.
That was a beautiful sequence.
It was great, right? When we shot it, it looked so different. There was the orchestra, the white dinner jackets. I thought it would be fun.
This is a highlight of your many collaborations with Guillermo.
For this, from the get-go, it was a passion project. I was honored to be chosen to work with him on it. I needed to make him happy, for me, that’s what it was. It was daily challenges and daily rewards and being really particular about my craft to bring the best of the best of everybody to the table, from the cutters to everyone.
In essence, it wasn’t a plethora of money. There weren’t 16 weeks of prep and we couldn’t go to town. It was good and very rewarding.
Your use of red was interesting. It’s not a color I would associate with water.
It’s true. It had quite a bit of blue in it, the mixture with the lighting, it was magical I have to say. It was frightening to see it come together.