BWW Interview: Costume Designer Barbara Gregusova Talks Netflix's The Knight Before Christmas
The costume designer of Netflix's The Knight Before Christmas, Barbara Gregusova, gives us an inside look at the making of the costumes for the film.
How did you decide to become a costume designer? What drew you to this profession?
I come from very artistic family going back to my grandparents so art was always part of my everyday life. I grew up around three fashion designers; one of them being my mother Elena Gregusova, her twin sister Jana Maderova and my dad's sister Zuzana Sujanova. All three had very different styles and I always admired their work and textile techniques they were using for their designs. My father, Martin Gregus studied photography at FAMU in Prague and in 1991 my parents started the first Czechoslovakian kids magazine Babaco and I was a model in it.
When I was fifteen I was reading and collecting classic literature including Shakespeare and my grandmother was taking me to the theatre. Originally I wanted to study architecture but one of the entry requirements was to draw a perfect cube freehand - once I realized that it was something I couldn't do I decided to pursue jewelry-making, fashion, and costume design. To gain designing experience I volunteered a lot. My first paying jobs came from the theatre.
What is your process like when coming up with concepts and creating costumes for film?
I always start with reading the script, knowing the year(s) of the story, and where it takes place. Next is a discussion with the director so I can hear their vision and if they have any specific ideas. For example I recently designed the costumes for the short film 'Alien:Ore'. We wanted the wardrobe to fit with the original 1979 Alien film without it looking like a 70s period piece. I wanted the costumes to look realistic, practical, authentic, and honest to real life miners but still create a unique look for each character. We knew we were going to shoot in the mine with limited lighting so it was important for each character to have some colour in their wardrobe that would pick up light. The location where we shot was near freezing so as much as we wanted to sell our miners as warm we needed to keep actors layered. Once we did the fittings and we had all the wardrobe pieces, the costume breakdown was the biggest challenge. All pieces needed major breakdown from washing them to sanding them to painting sweat and mud stains on them using multiple colours at the same time to achieve the look we were going for.
I have had the opportunity to design one play almost every year. This year it was Macbeth, directed by Nicholas Harrison. Nick wanted the play to be inspired by Harry Potter (wizards and witches with wands) with the timeline spanning from 1890 until the 1960s, which gave me a lot to play with. Macbeth being set in Scotland I still wanted the Scottish influence in the costumes. There is lot of family ties in the play so it was important to me to tie family members together with certain fabrics and colours so it is easier for the audience to understand who is who. For the Three Witches - Nick wanted them to be on the stage throughout the whole play, living on the tree, more scary and inhuman looking. One of the witch's costume was inspired by the crown of the tree, the other one by the bark, and the third by roots. I wanted each costume to be natural looking so you couldn't see the seams and they looked like they were organically growing out of the tree, broken down, with moss and leaves. The direction Nick wanted to go allowed me to go over the top with the designs.
How do you decide what the clothes in the world of the film will look like?
The story and setting of the film dictates a lot. When it comes to particular look of the clothes, if it is a contemporary show it really depends what is available for us in the stores, sometimes rental houses or what I have in my costume kit. Time and budget is always a factor. I have a tendency to do a lot of alterations to make the costumes fit perfectly. There might be a piece which is oversized but the fabric or the idea of it is perfect for the character but it needs to be reconstructed to fit our cast.
You recently worked on Netflix's The Knight Before Christmas, how did you get involved with this film?
The producer, Brad Krevoy who is also an executive producer on Hallmark's When Calls The Heart, which I've been designing for the past five seasons, really wanted me to design the costumes for The Knight Before Christmas. I received the script in November 2018 and loved it. I talked to Monika Mitchell, our director and we were on the same page. Then I went through an interview with Netflix and they approved me to get the job.
How much creative freedom did you get when designing for this film?
Creating a movie is a collaborative process between all key creatives and producers. I always look at it that way. There are people who are less or more involved in the costume department but everyone has their opinion and I have to navigate all of them, keeping in mind my talks with the main cast and the overall vision. All the cast wardrobe had to go through an approval process but what is being approved is what I've created or chosen.
Is there a particular costume that has been your favorite to design for The Knight Before Christmas?
It would be the Crone costume worn by Ella Kenion. I grew up watching Czechoslovakian fairy tales so designing a costume for the Crone from scratch was really exciting for me, playing with different fabric and textures and at the end, aging it and breaking it down.
Was it challenging to design medieval costumes?
For Sir Cole's armour, we rented it from Angels in London and all my communication with Angels was via phone or email so the challenge was that I wasn't personally there going through their stock, but on the other hand I realized that it is something I can do long distance, with talented and knowledgable staff on the other end. The nice thing about Angels is that you can do fittings right there in their shop and they were very accommodative and helpful. We did the first fitting with Josh in his armour over a three hour Skype call. Then we refitted everything when it was shipped to Toronto where I could put my hands on this beautiful armour.
How did you come up with the look for Vanessa Hudgens' character, Brooke?
I discussed the look with Vanessa during our first phone call. I asked her if there was anything specific she imagined the character to wear and then I incorporated what we discussed into my vision.
Is there a certain genre you like creating costumes for best?
I do like creating costumes from scratch and there is not any particular genre of film I wouldn't want to design costumes for. Since I was young I was always creating something and there is a certain satisfaction you get when you complete those creations. Even when you are creating characters from the pieces you find in stores it is exciting to put the pieces together and create a look - it is like a puzzle game because there are lots of components, thoughts, and imagination that have to go into it. Are musicals considered a genre? I really like designing musicals.
Is there someone you haven't worked with yet that you'd like to? Or a particular TV show or film you'd love to design for?
There are so many talented artists out there that it would be hard to pick only one. But if I were to shoot for the stars, I would love to work with Lin-Manuel Miranda because I love musicals and his work is just amazing - and Patty Jenkins after I watched Wonder Woman. The shows Outlander and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are amazing too but they already have perfect designers so I'd need something original. There are a few books that I want to option rights to and turn into movies or mini series so I could start from scratch.
Do you have any advice for aspiring costume designers, like anything you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I took a unique route to get where I am right now. There were stages in my life when I was doubted by the people around me and wanted to quit the business but I didn't. You have to keep believing in yourself, trust your vision and abilities. Plus you need to build a good support team. The hours are long and you'll need help at every stage just to keep yourself fed properly. The hardest thing is to find a balance between work and your personal life, I haven't quite mastered that one yet.
Do you have other upcoming projects you could tell us about?
When Calls the Heart: Home for Christmas airs December 25 at 8/7c on Hallmark Channel.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF BARBARA GREGUSOVA