GRAZIA: Every costume in the film The Favourite was made from scratch in six weeks. How on earth did you do it?
SANDY POWELL: “I’m not sure, I have really good assistants, dedicated people. The prep time was six weeks from the day I started. That’s not to say that every single costume was completed on the first day of shooting – we are still producing costumes during the shoot. Although, I would be on set first thing in the morning to see things on set then I’d have to rush back to the work room to sort of start working on things that we needed for the following weeks. So, it was a continual process. But we only had six weeks to prep.”
GRAZIA: I read you The Favourite film set was across the road from the Mary Poppins set, which you were also working on. Is it true you were running between the two?
SP: “It is, yes. I was already working on Mary Poppins and the only way I could handle doing this film at the same time was to have another workroom just for The Favourite, you know, next door so that I could just run between the two.”
GRAZIA: Was it challenging working between the two eras?
SP: “No actually it wasn’t, because they were so different. It was easy to switch from one to the other without getting muddled up.”
GRAZIA: But on a personal level, how did you keep up that pace for six weeks?
SP: “I don’t really know. Adrenaline. And it was exciting, I enjoyed both. So, you know, if you are kind of doing something that you love, you might as well do double of it.”
GRAZIA: The costumes in The Favourite are truly stunning. You should be so proud. Was the end result how you envisioned it when you began the design process?
SP: “Ah, I suppose, I suppose it was, yes. Well, you never know when you start out with just an idea. We had such a short space of time and there wouldn’t of been time to change it if it was wrong. There wouldn’t of been the time or the finance really. So we couldn’t say, ‘Oh no this idea isn’t so great, it’s not working and we will have to try another approach’. There wouldn’t of been time so it had to work. You never really know until you see the completed film, with everything together, whether it is going to be successful.”
GRAZIA: When you were first handed the script for The Favourite, what were your first thoughts and where did the design process begin?
SP: “My first thoughts were this is not a conventional period drama. You could tell that from how the dialogue was written. I had a meeting with the producers and we knew the film was going to be set in England in 1708 and the location that was used was a house that was actually older than that, it had been around. So, it was a real location. But because the dialogue and the action were sort of stylised, I knew I could take liberties with the costumes. So that is how I approached it. I researched what the period actually should look like in a historically accurate way. I decided to make the silhouette of the costume correct for the period and then just play around with the treatment of that, the textures and the fabrics.”
GRAZIA: Was there something on this film that you thought “Oh that could be so much better” is you had a bigger budget? Or do you just become more creative with the simplicity of the lines?
SP: “I don’t like to say this too often, but I do sometimes think a restricted budget does push you to be more creative and more clever rather than if you had all the money you needed but that’s not to say that I don’t like doing things on budget because I do. That’s why I think it’s important to employ the right people and you’re not wasting time looking for things. Because I have a limited budget I had to really think carefully about what was important. I stripped it right back to the basics so even though the film is set in a court, none of the costumes are decorated in a way that court costumes would be. There’s hardly any jewellery, everyone wears some pearls and that’s about it. No sparkling jewellery, there’s no embroidered pieces, we just didn’t have the time or the money and I stripped it right back to the basics. And that seems to work, and people still look at it and think it’s fabulous even though it’s very stark.”
GRAZIA: Can you talk me through a little bit about the fabrics you used in Olivia’s costuming as the Queen?
SP: “The fabrics I used were the same for everybody for the entire film. All I was doing was looking at black and white fabric and then because we had to use so many yards or metres of fabric in these dresses, it had to be fabrics that weren’t expensive and I could by them locally. Where I live in Brixton, we have a lot of African fabric shops so that made it easy. For the Queen’s costume, she wears a fine cotton dressing gown which is actually lined with a bed cover that I bought on eBay.”
GRAZIA: You said in an interview in 2014 that the bad guy is always the most fun to dress and the good kind person is always the most challenging, has that notion changed?
SP: “Not really, dressing someone that is full of goodness is actually really quite hard. I mean, in this particular case I’ve got three female characters, none of whom are particularly diplomatic so that made it really interesting. Three very strong characters and they all had their bad sides to them so that was really interesting. Emma Stone’s character pretends to be innocent and clearly she’s not. It is easier because they’re more exaggerated characters and it’s quite difficult. When you’ve got someone full of goodness, like Cinderella, it’s actually quite hard. How do you made someone that look sweet and good?
GRAZIA: Martin Scorsese is a big fan of yours. How would you describe your working dynamic and how involved to directors get in the costuming?
SP: Obviously with any working relationship, if you have worked on a lot of films it’s a lot easier than working with someone you’ve only just met. Because you have a shorthand and there’s an awful lot that you don’t have to discuss. I mean you have a mutual trust and respect that is already there, you’re not trying to prove yourself. And I like to think with a director I have worked with a lot that they will have complete trust in me and know that I will do the best I possibly can. So you get to know what somebody likes and what somebody doesn’t like. The dialogue is a lot easier.
GRAZIA: How involved do the directors get in the costuming? Is it quite involved? Or, I guess it differs.
SP: “It totally depends on the director. Everybody is different. I mean, some directors really, really love costumes and also know a lot about clothes. Martin Scorsese is very into clothing and he actually knows a lot about it, not particularly historical but he is interested. And you can have the directors that are less so but of course they’re all interested because what we are doing is dressing their characters and they are almost always interested in the characters. So they make sure they have seen everything before it appears on set. I would never surprise a director by having something on set that they had never seen before. They need to know what it looks like and they need to be convinced that the actor is in the right thing. Some will demand more than others. Some demand to see every tiny little step along the way where as others will kind of trust you to come up with it and then see the end result.”
GRAZIA: What was Olivia Coleman like to work with?
SP: “Easy! She’s everything you would imagine she is. She is extremely lovely, friendly and helpful and humble. She’s enthusiastic and grateful.
GRAZIA: What about Emma Stone? What is she like?
SP: “Great fun, really good fun. And also, for Emma this is completely new. She had never done anything like this before, this kind of period. She’d never worn a corset before. It was new, and she was really excited about all of that and it felt different and strange, but she was absolutely prepared to go with it as much as she could and learn how to wear these kind of clothes which feel completely different from the sort of more contemporary kind of thing that she is used to.
GRAZIA: What was Rachel Weisz?
SP: “Rachel is sort of, you know, an experienced actor and often on this kind of thing, it really does make a difference when you’ve got an actor who is used to corsets. It’s so much easier because you’re not trying to convince them that this is comfortable, you’re not trying to coach them into wearing something they’re not familiar with. She is great, she is lovely and she has a fantastic figure to dress.
Multi-Award winning film, The Favourite is new to Blu-ray, DVD & Digital NOW.