Every single costume in The Favourite was made from scratch in six weeks. Added to this monumental feat, Sandy Powell, the maker of the sumptuous period pieces, was also working on Mary Poppins Returns at the time. She constructed a micro atelier opposite her practically perfect Poppins workshop in Shepperton Studios, and kept her head down as she transitioned apace between the two worlds: one the 1930s, the other the early 18th century.
“I crazily slotted it in my schedule, but it was a real adrenaline rush,” Powell tells Vogue. First, she outlined the parameters for herself – “to find a way of making the entire cast’s costumes in an affordable way” – because, quite simply, there were no clothes from Queen Anne’s reign still in existence that would have worked. “There might have been one or two rather tatty, sad-looking things, but I didn’t want to use them,” she notes of the decade forgotten about by costume houses.
So, with a slim budget and slimmer timeframe, Powell and her team studied the period, worked out the shapes and silhouettes of the fashion, and used contemporary and inexpensive fabrics to realise the costumes. Limiting the colour palette to largely black and white narrowed the options and also made for a targeted approach.
“I had my guys go out and sample everything that was within our price range, and then concentrated on the silhouette and tone,” she says of her no-frills methodology. “I knew we wouldn’t have had time or money to do decoration and embellishment, so I thought I should make use of that constraint and explore the simplicity of the lines.”
Look closely, Powell says, and “all the women’s costumes follow the same shape”. Once she had the blueprints, she added detail on top, and even then, she took shortcuts to realising the elaborate bodices and skirts. “They weren’t intricate, they were cleverly made to look like they were intricate,” she admits. “Half the time, the trims on the extras’ costumes were glued on! I found a role of laser-cut, used leather and one of stretchy black laser-cut vinyl, which both lent themselves really well to strips we could work with easily.”
Historically accurate? Pah. Once Powell had made prototypes of the monochrome looks for director Yorgos Lanthimos to visualise, he gave her free rein to take a decidedly cavalier approach to court life, much like his screenplay. “We weren’t making a conventional historical film,” affirms Powell. “Silhouette-wise, there is nothing wrong with
how the costumes were made. But, fabric-wise, artistic license was taken. It adds to the general feeling of the film.”
The kitchen servants’ uniforms, for example, were created from thrifted denim. “We bought every pair of second-hand jeans from the charity shops near Shepperton, cut them up and stitched them into women’s corsets and men’s waistcoats,” she recalls. Furthermore, not a single jewel was of valuable origin. The crowns and ceremonial chains were all simplified and hand-crafted, and most of the other trinkets were bespoke (faux) pearls.
Finding solutions are what Powell excels at. The mask, which Lady Sarah (Weisz) is scripted to wear, posed problems when some ideas erred on the Phantom of the Opera side of facial adornments. Those strips of vinyl came into play again, and Powell fashioned an eye patch-cum-choker that simultaneously looks beautiful and threatening, much like Weisz’s character. The choker became a token of the cast’s affection, and others requested similar ones to adorn their looks. Powell brushes off theories about the necklaces being social signifiers: “It was just another form of decoration that I thought looked nice.”
“I didn’t know whether the costumes would work out until the film was done,” Powell concludes. “It was a risk doing everything in black and white, but luckily the simplicity of the costumes paired well with the sumptuousness of Hatfield House, where we shot.”