Costume designer Allison Byrne talks to us about how she came to work in film and television, her inspiration behind the costumes in 'Cracks' and gives us advice on how to bag vintage bargains.
Sarah McIntyre: How did you end up in costume design, was it always an ambition of yours to work in film and television?
Allison Byrne: When I left school I wasn’t even aware that there was a career called costume design. I was a fine art student first and I made (a lot of) clothes in my spare time. I enjoyed this so much it prompted me to change to fashion design in NCAD. During my 3 years at NCAD I got involved in theatre, did a stint of work experience in RTÉ and fortuitously got involved in the opera seasons in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin.
This sealed my fate and I finally realised that there was a real job working in costume - I didn’t even aspire to being a designer as I just wanted to learn everything and anything anyone would show me! I went to Edinburgh and London and worked with the people I had met through the opera seasons in Dublin - we did a lot of theatre work and I learned how to cut and make costumes to a high level. When I came back to Dublin I began to design for theatres here and was brought into the film industry through my skill as a costume maker.
This started my long learning curve in film and TV - and I eventually worked from wardrobe trainee to costume designer. It seems like it has taken me a long time to find this career but it is something that I really love doing.
SMI: One of your most recent projects was working on the film ‘Cracks’. What attracted you to the project?
AB: The script was dark and quirky and the time period of the 30’s is a really beautiful on e- that combined with the theatrical “Walter Mitty” element of Miss G’s character made it possible to be more creatively twisted in devising her look. The opportunity to work with Jordan Scott and Eva Green was a complete bonus.
SMI: I’m a big fan of vintage clothes so am very excited to see the vintage style in ‘Cracks’. Where did you source the pieces which were used in the film?
AB: The main bulk of the costumes came from the London costume house “Angels “. I worked with Richard Green and the costumiers there to put the overall look together. I was allowed access to original 1930’s pieces which are usually only used to copy from but we were able to dress Eva in them for the film. We had many costumes made in Angels and in house in Dublin using modern and period fabrics. I spent a lot of time in “Alfies” and bought trimmings and pieces from “Sheila Cook” in London.
SMI: I heard that the house of Dior were involved with helping you with your vintage collection, could you tell us a bit about that?
AB: I went to John Galliano’s studio in Paris as they were really open to allowing me access to their collections - vintage collections in the couture industry means collections from the past 5 years! This limited the scope for sourcing costumes but even so the wardrobes there contained some beautiful pieces inspired from the 30’s and 40’s. I was able to borrow some incredibly beautiful knitwear and separates.
SMI: Through the way in which you dressed her, what were you trying to portray about Eva Green’s character?
AB: Miss G’s character is very alluring and dramatic in the beginning - a total 30’s “sex siren” - and it is only as the film develops that the darkness and unreality of her internal life begins to show. The challenge was to hint and reveal the theatricality and eventually the darkness without pushing the costumes so far that they overtake what Eva was doing on screen.
SMI: Where did you get your inspiration for the costumes?
AB: As there was a considerable number of elements to get right (1930’s teachers , pupils and staff in a small rural English boarding school, local English village life, swim team costumes etc) this entailed a huge amount research undertaken from the internet, costume reference books, fine art collections to the Olympic films of Lenny Riefenstahl.
SMI: Vintage clothing has become much more coveted and sought after in recent years. Why do you think this is?
AB: I think it’s either because people are interested in expressing their individuality and their creativity or else it’s the new way of having the pieces that everyone covets but that doesn’t entail remorgaging the house for!
SMI: Which decade of fashion is your favourite?
AB: I love the challenge of researching any decade within the context of a script and developing the idiosyncratic of the characters contained within it, bringing layers to a character through choosing what their clothing reveals about their likes and dislikes, their ambitions and aspirations and doing it subtly so that the viewer connects with them and has a deeper, even if it’s a subconscious understanding of them.
SMI: Do you have any tips for our readers on how to bag vintage bargains?
AB: The internet is the place- even if you are starting out some of the fashion bloggs have amazing insight and suggestions of were to begin looking. Belfast London and New York are brill but the hot places change all the time. I like to poke around in any charity shop I come across especially if you are driving though Ireland as some of the towns have the strangest things on offer.
SMI: And finally, what do you have in the pipeline next?
AB: After Cracks I finished a TV series for Sky called the “The Take” which was fest paced and full of sex and violence. It was fantastic to work on as it was set in 1984, 1988, and 1994 which had me back on the vintage trail for a whole different intent and time frame!
My partner and I are expecting our first child in January so I guess I’ll be busy with that for the foreseeable future.