Amazon’s series – The Romanoffs looks at the lives of the people who claim to be heirs to the Romanoff fortune. Each episode takes place in a different country and spans continents. This means a cast that includes Christina Hendricks, Diane Lane, Aaron Eckhart, Amanda Peet, and Kathryn Hahn have different costumes, different cities and costume designers Wendy Chuck and Janie Bryant are put to work . It’s all great, Chuck says describing the challenge of working with a different crew each time, depending on what city she was in, was a real challenge and one she loved. “It was the most incredible work experience of my entire professional life.” Whether she was creating period, or paying tribute to the local culture, Chuck was flying in fabrics and costumes from around the world to wherever she was.
Chuck takes us behind the scenes of creating the costumes for The Romanoffs and discusses her favorite costumes that all have one thing in common – the Romanoff bloodline.
Where do you begin with a show like The Romanoffs where the characters are different in every episode?
I think even though Janie Bryant and I shared the same experience, I think our clothes were very different. She had different challenges than I had. I went to one place that I had shot before – that was Toronto and New York where we did episode six. So, my experience on a daily basis was completely different from hers. I think she had worked with a lot of her crew before. I picked up a new crew everywhere I went.
That in itself was a challenge, let alone meeting them, the language difference, the work skill differences and not knowing what their skills, and not knowing where to shop. It was all mind-boggling. I didn’t stop to think about it, but in hindsight, a year later for a job that lasted nearly a year, I solved problem after problem and that was the essence of it.
Being in the locations was fantastic and I have no complaints at all. Again, in hindsight, it was the most incredible work experience of my entire professional life.
Did you work on the pilot?
It wasn’t considered a pilot because it went straight to series. I joined a few weeks after her. My first episode was in Prague, and that was period, it was A Special Purpose which aired as the third episode. I had to build a lot of period pieces that Christina wore. I build the Romanoff family items because I knew we had that massacre scene and we needed multiples for those and they just didn’t exist.
By sheer miracle and experience, I had them manufactured in Los Angeles. I had to get sizes. I didn’t know who they were casting. I just knew they were teenagers and they were probably small. I had them constructed in a way that I could adjust them as needed. I think we left the hems to be done when they were fitted. I had inseams in the blouses for when they were fitted. There were some made in Prague, but not much. We had shipping going all over the world. We shipped from LA and London.
For Panorama, which we shot in Mexico City. We had shipments from Spain, LA and I think New York. We had an amazing team there that helped recreate the Diego Rivera mural and brought that to life.
We do a lot of work that doesn’t get seen. That particular ending to Panorama was lots of work. It was a minute of airtime, but I’m very happy to say that the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City has taken those costumes that were built for the mural. Those costumes were created with traditional methods. So, with the Aztec shield, they were woven out of the dried grasses. Feathers were hand dyed and they pasted feathers on by hand. They made leather shoes. They made jaguar costumes from I think horse hair. They sculpted heads. It was the most phenomenal experience to see this ancient craft and real art to come to life.
The texture looked exquisite even on TV and you can see that. What served as your visual influences in general because they’re all different going across different periods and territories?
We all like digging into our research. At some point, you have to decide if you’re going to create something as authentic to the original or you decide that you are pulling the essence of the original and you’re giving it a twist. The compromises have to be made. It’s getting harder and harder to find original fabrics and Victorian laces, especially when you want to do a massacre scene and just commit death to these costumes because that’s what happens to them. They die on screen, and you never see them again. I had to decide whether to use authentic laces or am I going to go for something that looks close to it?
I was going to say, I do love those costumes and they’re not period, but it’s when Christina is in the beret and Isabelle has that red scarf.
Oh, I was so happy to work with those ladies. It just didn’t get better than that. We started with Christina’s fitting and her looks. What we shopped for that really started to inform who this character might be was we knew she was an actor from LA. Being a TV show, it’s a little larger than life. Some actors turn up to a shoot in sweats and no makeup. We decided Christina was ready for the job. We decided she chose to wear that beret as a nod to the French director. I looked for inspiration for Isabelle Huppert’s director character by just looking at female directors. Particularly French directors and pulled an elegant, work casual look. I knew Isabelle could wear anything because she has that body. We mixed cheap elements – Uniqlo pieces with some high-end pieces. For Christina, when she arrives in that fabulous cap. I knew that needed a powerful presence. IT had an echo of the period as well.
I loved that cape. Was that made?
It was shopped. We found a few capes and that was always my favorite. It turned out to be my best. When we were shopping for it, it was around August 2017 and the Fall lines were coming out and we found the cape. That was just my favorite. We were lucky because we fitted Isabelle in Paris. We traveled everywhere, and we’d have to set up the crew everywhere. So, we went to Paris and they were already shooting. We had a quick meeting with Matthew, met Isabelle and pulled some great shoes for her. The following weekend, we were in New York fitting Christina again.
You were everywhere.
I clocked up a lot of air miles. [laughs]
Is there a favorite costume aside from the cape?
It’s one of Christina’s. It’s the scene with the priest in the chapel. The location is phenomenal. It’s an hour outside of Prague and that set was out of this world. The way that scene was lit with the light coming through the windows. I spent a lot of time and applaud our producers for giving me the time to pull the elements together. I had a lot of swatches, and I had to narrow it down. I had to check in with the production designer and lay the swatches against the color of the sets.
I loved the navy blue and lace piece. Except for the lace of the under piece, it was all contemporary fabric and it worked on her body really well.
For the London and Hong Kong shoots, I didn’t have a workroom set up for that. That was all pulling from the rental houses in London and shipping stuff to Hong Kong. I was setting up in a few days with a crew I’d never met and fitting outfits in this industrial warehouse. I’d never worked inside such a tiny space. It was pretty wild.
I also loved working on the singer in Panorama. It was a Dia de Los Muertos outfit. She plays the guitar and sings the song. That I felt was another favorite because it was a nod to the culture.