Puce. That’s the color of Vice Admiral Holdo’s gown in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Costume Designer Michael Kaplan and I had a brief catch up to talk about designing new costumes for the new film, including the French fashion designer who inspired him to create that puce gown that Laura Dern wears. Kaplan also talks about the challenges of designing the Elite Praetorian Guard outfits.
Read our conversation below. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is on general release.
With this, you have the established characters whose looks we are familiar with, and you have new characters. So how do you approach the latter group when it comes to designing new characters?
Always the same way whether it’s Star Wars or any other movie I’ve ever done, I read the script. There might be some fuzzy images in my head about how these characters should look. It’s pretty determined if they’re going to be in uniform or not. I take what’s in my head and do some visuals and confer with the director and see what’s in his head because that’s the bottom line, we have to align our thoughts. Especially in a situation like this where Rian Johnson wrote the script and he’s pretty clear about his ideas. Generally, he’s not involved with clothing, costume, and fashion and he relies on me to take it to a place but it also has to be in the right direction.
There have been a couple of surprises when it came to Admiral Holdo, I assumed she was going to be in a uniform and Rian said he didn’t want her in a uniform. Laura Dern is someone he always wanted for the part and he said, “I want to see her body language and I want her to be more feminine.” She has a wonderful figure and he wanted something that was form-fitting and balletic. So, I started thinking about Star Wars and there’s always been a history of robes and I thought of something Grecian would work for her. I started thinking of Madame Gres who was a fashion designer and I looked at her work and all the silk jersey designs she did. I would say Holdo’s outfit is an homage to Madame Gres. I don’t really like bright colors and so I found this beautiful fabric. I’d say the color puce is the color of what she wears. It looked beautiful with her lavender hair.
That hair color.
It was crazy and a bit unexpected. I liked how Rian took Star Wars to a place it had never been before. With Canto Bight and the fashion there and the big casino scene. It was interesting going from Episode 7 with JJ and his take, to a new take and still staying in the world of Star Wars.
What about Benicio Del Toro’s look, as a new character and what you wanted that to say?
I worked closely with him. He’s that kind of an actor and we almost built the costume with him. He went through the scenes in the costume fitting, the way he pulls his shoes down and wears them around his neck. He’s very method. The hat he wears and takes off to mess his hair up. I don’t know if you can see it, but he has holes in his socks so his toes were sticking out. There’s the beautiful fabric around his collar that I found and didn’t know what to do with. When we did his costume, it needed a bit more detail and I inserted that beautiful fabric into his costume and it completed it. He’s an interesting character because you don’t know if he’s good, bad, homeless, or a bit of an operator. He’s multi-faceted.
What was the most challenging outfit to design?
There are thousands of costumes that I lost count. Some were holdovers from episode 7. Even the Stormtroopers which I re-designed for episode 7 go through so much wear and tear when they’re being put on and off. They were remade. They get dinged, scuffed and dirty. We want the Empire to look fresh and new so that meant new uniforms.
The Red Guard uniform was my favorite but also hard to design. Designing things is one thing, having them executed and built was such a challenge. To make the arms work with full range of motion was hard. These are worn by stuntmen who needed total vision and total movement with their weapons. I love the way the design turned out, but the challenge was in executing and building them. I was looking at Musclecars from the ’70s and high polished red metal of the cars and that’s what I wanted them to look like, so that was my take-off point. I feel in the original George Lucas designs, I feel there was some Western Wear, a bit of Japanese, and a bit of World War II influence so I think these take on a feeling of Japanese samurai to a degree and I thought that would fit right into the world of Star Wars.
Kylo Ren has a slight change to his costume.
There are new elements. I didn’t want him to look like a new character so he still has the cape and the bodice. He has the same sleeves, but the bodice fabric changed. We revamped his trousers and boots. He doesn’t wear a hood and he loses the mask for a long period, but he’s still the same character. I love that character and that scene where he’s shirtless. I think it’s the first time we see a character without a shirt on, I might be wrong.
How do the props influence the costume design because there are so many?
The guns and artillery is done by the prop department so we work closely together because we do the belts and the holsters. I work closely with Jamie and there are some I do. At Canto Bight, I did the jewelry, fans, and headpieces as well as the hats. The props can go either way. If I prefer not to do them, or they seem less of a part of the costume, then Jamie will do it.
We talk about the bags. With Rey, I wanted her bag to look right with the costume so I did that.