Interview: Wendy Partridge on the challenges of creating 2000 costumes for ‘Shadow and Bone’
Hailed as the next great fantasy series, Shadow and Bone is one of most exciting shows on television right now. Based on the books by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone is a fantastical period piece that features incredible world-building, a diverse cast, as well as amazing costumes that are bound to be emulated (namely the characters’ keftas). No stranger to bringing fantasy to the screen (and creating looks that have inspired cosplays time and time again), costume designer Wendy Partridge was the perfect person to craft the many looks of Shadow and Bone.
Partridge has an illustrious career with credits such as the Van Helsing series, Thor: The Dark World, Resident Evil: Retribution, Underworld: Evolution, and Hellboy. Partridge was previously nominated for an Emmy for her work on Broken Trail in 2006.
AwardsWatch was able to speak with Wendy Partridge to ask about the process of creating the looks for Shadow and Bone, and what she hopes to do with the second season.
Adriana Gomez-Weston: How did you get involved with this project? How did it come about?
Wendy Partridge: I got the project through my agent Alex Franklin, when Eric (Heisserer, series creator) was looking for a costume designer at the beginning of the show, I was available, my time was good. I received the script and had a great interview with Eric and got the job. I didn’t know anything about the books up to that point, I was not familiar with them. But once I had that position, I made a point of reading all of Leigh’s (Bardugo) books to get a real sense of her, how she was seeing the world that she was creating. There are so many different ethnic groups in the show, and just how she was developing this whole world within her Shadow and Bone genre, and it was just such an exciting show to be designing. It’s so much possibilities for a costume designer, but it really was an exciting wonderful career moment and I really, really enjoyed it.
AGW: I see you’ve worked on projects, such as Van Helsing, Hellboy, Underworld, a lot of large-scale projects. Did any of those help you out in a way on Shadow and Bone?
WP: I had done a lot of shows where they are full build, you’re making thousands of costumes. Way back when I even did the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics here in Calgary, where we made 6,000 costumes. So, I had quite an experienced career in making large numbers of costumes, all kinds of different genres, eras, and so all of that experience, all that culminate to be able to do something like Shadow and Bone. Even though it’s television, it really doesn’t matter anymore, it’s equally as big. There’s really no difference between doing big-budget features and big-budget television, everything is the same and applies. They gave me a pretty decent time to get it all prepped and a pretty decent budget, so it was definitely doable. And doing shows like Thor and the Underworld movies, all of those that require creating a look for a show that draws the audience is great for developing some of that Shadow. Which really was its own world and wanted it to be its own world, it kind of takes place in 1870-ish, kind of takes place in Russia-ish, we have some Celtic-ish. There’s a lot of ish, which was lovely because it meant we could create our own world with our own emphasis on the right syllable. It was like we could manipulate it, it wasn’t a period documentary, it wasn’t set in stone, wasn’t Downton Abbey, it has the flavor of all these things. It had the flavor of a period show, the flavor of Russia. It was of course augmented with our set design and hair makeup and everything else, it was a full team effort. But Shadow and Bone definitely have its own look, it’s not something that we’d really see before.
AGW: And so continuing off that, how much did you look to the books for inspiration for your designs?
WP: Well, I definitely made a point of reading all of the books. There was a lot that Leigh put in there about the clothing, costuming for the characters, and particularly the keftas. She was very descriptive in the colors of the different disciplines, the embroideries they all had, and how they depicted their particular crafts, the particular disciplines that they could manipulate. And so that was kind of a good leaping off point, although sometimes it was a bit difficult, if she had written a blue kefta with red embroidery or vice versa. Some things were hard to kind of hard to make them meld, I mean it was a good challenge, but it wasn’t so specific that it didn’t leave for a huge amount of creativity particularly in the embroidery. It needed to have this graphic depiction of what each Grisha’s discipline was so if they were Inferni, if they were tag maker, Heartrender. Each one of those required a particular style and embroidery. And because it kind of takes place in the 1870s, looking up embroideries at the time to see what that was like, everything was very curly, very soft, everything came around and in circles, it just felt like it was very happy. I didn’t want that to be the style for the keftas because these were military uniforms, they were depicting specific talents, this wasn’t a frivolous ornamentation. And so, I went with a much more almost modern graffiti style of graphic so that everything ended up in a point, everything was sharp, everything was aggressive. Every flame that was in the embroidery or even for the Heartrender, the ribs that came around, everything that came around ended in something pointy.
One of the challenges was the fact that in the books, the keftas also have to be bulletproof, probably like 1870s kevlar, maybe not. So, I came up with this really delicious thorny print that we printed on all the fabrics before they were embroidered, and that was the Grisha-made bulletproofing for our story. Everything has this very subtle texture to the fabric, and it meant that as they get shot and fight, their keftas were actually a form of armor. So that thorny and aggressive quality was brought through everything and allowed us to have something that gave us a look that wasn’t expected. There was a nice deviation from what one would expect from a period show and sort of made it slightly modern. I try to make even the clothes just make everything slightly modern so that the young audiences wouldn’t feel like it was stodgy, I wanted it to feel fresh and alive the whole time.
AGW: It does look kind of modern when you look at it. When I first saw the promotional materials, I didn’t know much about the books either, so I didn’t really think of it as a period piece upon first glance.
WP: And that was intentional to make everybody feel like this was something you could associate with today, even though they’re in this semi-period clothing.
AGW: Were there any specific challenges you had working on this kind of project?
WP: By far the biggest challenge was the keftas because there were so many of them. And there were so many disciplines and so many clothes, and so many different embroiders, and we had to make them for men and women. We had to make them for their army version, their everyday version, their party version, and you multiply that by men, women, and about three sizes each we have 250 individual keftas. There was a specific size for specific scenes. And because all the embroidery was bully, the only way to put a bully embroidery on is by hand. So logistically all of that, the printing, which had to go under the embroidery all that was done in India. And so, the logistics of just getting them to make what we needed first, that supply chain of these keftas coming in, we need this one first, and then we need that one, then we need four of that. So that was a very big logistical challenge which we certainly got into the swing of, and India was amazing, they did an incredible job. And then the embroidered material would arrive, and we would make them in Budapest.
The other thing that was really a challenge in the script, the First Army, which is a big part of our cast, Alina and Mal are in their army uniforms for a good deal of it. We had about 500 backgrounds for that, so it was a lot of army costumes. And in the stories, the war has been going on for hundreds of years, and so I didn’t want to go off to a factory and had 700 uniforms made that were all identical and then just try to age them. What I did was I literally went out and bought every kind of odd materials I could find, every shade, every texture, every weight, and then sometimes we just make one pair of pads because it was just a small little piece. The factories that did that were very tolerant of us giving them lots of little pieces, which is very hard for them, a lot of little pieces of material to make these uniforms. Which meant that the uniforms came with their different age feeling about them. So when we then did the breakdown on them, you look at the army, there are different styles of hats and different ages of badges because the army was completely created. So all of insignia or ranking, all of that was created for the film and the buttons were all made and the buckles were made for the King’s emblem. So basically, everything was made from scratch.
We had lots of metallurgy done, and I have to say that my Hungarian crew was absolutely spectacular. The artisans that we had there, and the craftspeople were just so talented that it made my job really pleasurable and not easy, but a whole lot less difficult than it could have been, had we been somewhere else. It was really a pleasure to be doing the show there in Hungary. And there were many challenges because we made about 2000 costumes so the challenges of trying to get everything made within the timeframe was difficult, especially with how the show was going on and trying to buy for the talent that was there. But because I had such a good team, it really made it come together, and I think it shows on screen. The love that was put into making these characters by the people in Hungary, everything’s beautifully done, beautifully edged, all the buttons are dire to match, and all the things are matching all the different shades of all the different people. All the details were there and that was a lot to do with my Hungarian team.
AGW: Shadow and Bone was just renewed for a second season. So how are you feeling about that? And if you’re going to be on for the next season, what are you hoping to bring or do maybe differently or like looking forward to for a second season?
WP: I am doing the second season, I am thrilled to be doing the second season. I had a lovely chat with Eric last night. And I think because the show was so successful and there was a lot of positive feedback about the costumes, I think there’s going to be a lot of fun to be had particularly with our Crows. I think there’ll be more elasticity in what we can do. We push the envelope quite a bit in the first one, and I think it’s going to be way more fun for our audience. I think there’s going to be some really great characters in the second season because I’ve read a lot of books, I kind of know where we’re going. And there are some characters that just really beg to have fantastic fan costumes for their characters, so that’s going to be great fun for me and all our leads get to have all you ever think. They all go into many, many, many more adventures and trials and tribulations, so I think the second season is going to be equally as much if not more fun than the first.
The first season of Shadow and Bone is currently available to stream on Netflix. Wendy Partridge is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Fantasy-Sci-Fi Costumes.
Photos: DAVID APPLEBY, ATTILA SZVACSEK/NETFLIX