So Many Fancy Hats: Bernadette Croft on Strange New Worlds Costumes
This article contains excerpts from a longer conversation with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Costume Designer, Bernadette Croft. It has been edited for length and clarity. To listen to the entire interview, click here. Questions submitted by callers have been labeled as such.
Open Pike Night: Welcome to costume designer Bernadette Croft. Thank you for joining us here on Open Pike Night.
Bernadette Croft: Thank you for having me. It's an honor. You guys are killing it. I love your show. Thank you.
OPN: Let's go back to the beginning. How did you get the costuming bug? When did costumes become important to you?
BC: I think I was born with it, honestly. From a young age I had a very vivid imagination. I loved storytelling and playing and had a great dress-up box and my sister and I would put on concerts for my family. We’d make them buy tickets to the show, would make them buy the program, would make them buy popcorn, and we had the audacity to make them give us donations in the intermission. So I was bound for show-business. I just loved all of that.
And my favorite thing to do was watch behind-the-scenes featurettes on how movies were made, how costumes were made, props, sets, everything! And I had just so much fun watching those big films like The Sound of Music and The King and I. I loved The Princess Bride and Labyrinth; they were my fantasy favorites. Then later on, Bram Stoker's Dracula; what an incredible film, those costumes are iconic. Just seeing all of that art is just like, that's something I want to be involved in. And yeah, it worked out, which is lovely.
OPN: So was it mostly fantasy costumes that inspired you as you're growing up? Or were there other types too?
BC: I definitely gravitate towards fantasy and sci-fi, but there is an art to contemporary and realism. And throughout my career I've worked on all kinds of different shows. One was called Cardinal, it was made up north in Canada. And we had to dress everyone in very rugged, worn-down looks. There's an art to making things look believable. It kind of grounds the story and you believe that what you're seeing on camera is real. So yeah, I guess I'm drawn to it all. But mostly sci-fi and fantasy,
"If anyone wants to get into film and TV, you just have to be a bit annoying."
OPN: As you were going to school for that and your love of costuming was blooming into a career, was there a moment that it felt like the door opened for you? A threshold you were walking over into being a professional?
BC: Yeah, I always loved doing work experience. Part of my university course was we had to go and do some work experience in the field. But after the course was over, I flew myself to New Zealand without a job, knowing that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was being made over there. And I lived in a youth hostel and started calling every department on that film until someone gave me a job. It was just that persistence. And if anyone wants to get into film and TV, you just have to be a bit annoying. So yeah, I just called everyone and I ended up getting into props and then props painting.
But that was the threshold. It was like one of my childhood fantasies. I loved these books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and being able to paint the props for some of the film sets like Aslan's army, the weapons and the different set pieces in his campsite, making things look really old and broken down or making a hunk of foam look like a rock that's covered in moss. So it was there, I was just like “Oh yeah, this is a career, I never want to stop being in this kind of environment.”
And I remember Tilda Swinton who played the Ice Queen, she would often be driven around in like this carriage specially made for her because her dress was so big. It was sculpture, it was like a piece of art! And she couldn't sit down, so she just held on and they took her from studio to studio and I just remember seeing that and thinking, “That's where I want to be, I want to be creating stuff like that.” It's pretty cool.
OPN: “You're gonna look great, but you cannot pee.” As far as costume design goes, have there been any inspirational designers that you have wanted to work with or emulate or collaborate with?
BC: Totally, there's so many out there and they're so inspirational. Like Ruth Carter, who did Black Panther. She's incredible. And she got to collaborate with Iris van Herpen, who's such an amazing fashion icon. Gersha Phillips obviously, I've been able to do that. Catherine Martin, she’s an Australian designer who recently did Elvis.
And I did assist the background department on The Great Gatsby years and years ago. So I could see her working and the way she was able to not only run a costume department, but she did the production design as well. I just thought that was so incredible. And the key there was the team, she always had great people around her that could rally. I really learned a lot from just observing her.
But yeah, there's Sandy Powell. Kate Hawley, my God, she's from New Zealand, and she's incredible. She did Crimson Peak. Those were really iconic costumes and very inspirational to me.
OPN: Speaking of the Great Gatsby, and surrounding yourself with a great team (I don't know if you'd be able to speak to this) but Baz Luhrmann's films are so known for their production design and their costumes. Does that come from him? Does he drive a lot of that? Or does he surround himself with brilliant people and say, “Do what you do best?”
BC: I think he's the driving force for sure. And I think he's the type of personality that his creative drive is really infectious. So you can't help but do your best work around someone like that. And Catherine Martin is his partner and always elevates the design and always wants to make sure Baz's vision is shown, so yeah. It's wonderful observing these big name directors and how they run a set and how they get everyone just so excited to be working in film. It's really cool.
OPN: What would a Bernadette Croft movie look like? If you got to run a whole movie, what would we see?
BC: Oh, god! A sci-fi/fantasy for sure. Maybe this is something that could actually happen, I don't know. My favorite show is RuPaul's Drag Race. And it's currently on Paramount Plus. And I'm just thinking, you know, as a sister show, perhaps a little crossover with Strange New Worlds could happen. And we could see a little, I don't know, makeover montage. It could be really cool. I think drag queens are incredible. They save lives. They're amazing. Just the art of their transformation. I think it could be really exciting.
OPN: I like that. People have asked, “How do you top season two?” I think that could do it. Yeah. So with that, what would your dream project be then? If the budget was no barrier?
BC: Something surreal. Just thinking of Bram Stoker's Dracula, you know, those costumes were the set. I actually believe that the production designer was fired, and all the money was given to costumes. So that's why they’re so epic and so haunting and beautiful. Eiko Ishioka, who's the costume designer, did such an incredible job. And I think something like that, where it's all about the costumes (the story as well obviously) but something epic and surreal and unusual and arty. That would be really cool.
OPN: I'm having flashbacks to The Cell.
BC: There you go. Yeah.
OPN: Well, I’ve got to ask my Lord of the Rings question here. If you could design for one character or maybe race in Lord of the Rings, who would you want to design for?
BC: I love Lord of the Rings. It's so awesome. And I know Kate Hawley, she's doing the Rings of Power. She's doing an incredible job. I love, love, love her work. But if there was another spin off, maybe Aragorn. I just love how dark and moody he is. And all those layers and the breakdown and yeah, I just feel like that could be a really interesting show to watch.
OPN: So you wouldn't dress him up as Anson Mount in “The Elysian Kingdom?”
BC: No, no, that's a totally different character.
OPN: We do love asking about “The Elysian Kingdom,” but I know you've talked about it a lot. I don't know if this has been asked, but was Runa the first four legged actor you've designed for?
BC: Yeah. Runa, we love Runa! It was so joyful to be able to dress Runa and such a great idea that Chrissy had to bring her on the show. I think it was a makeup artist who told Chrissy and then Chrissy was like, "Yeah, let's just ask and do it!”
Her dress was more of a hybrid. It was like a princess gown cape, it was kind of like a harness. And the cape just flowed off of her body. But yeah, taking her measurements was interesting. It was like, "Is this Runa's bust or her chest? Or like, what is appropriate? Hips waist?” But yeah, Runa was awesome. We hope she comes back next season, maybe she can dress up as a baby Gorn or something.
OPN: You've spoken elsewhere about how you hadn't seen Star Trek before you got hired on to Discovery. And now you are a fan. Is there something that surprised you the most about Star Trek when you started watching it?
BC: I guess it's the fact that Star Trek is a positive show. It always wants to give you hope for the future. I thought it was all about space talk. I think that's why I didn't watch it to begin with, because I just thought I wouldn't understand. I couldn't relate. But there's so much to relate to, you know? Everyone on staff, they want to be good at their job. They're really good at diversity and the differences in people is something that's special. So I was just impressed and happy to see myself. They’re just people who want to do good, you know?
OPN: That's a lot like a film set in that way, everyone being good at their job.
BC: Yeah, we all want to do the best in our job, obviously. We're not working at the moment and it’s a very quiet time. But the silver lining has been being able to watch season two, in its entirety, with the rest of the world and just seeing how they consume it, and what they're really drawn to, and what is their favorite episode. And I love being able to see the departments that I'm not really closely involved with, like Nami’s score and Jay Z's (Jason Zimmerman) cool visual effects. I'm seeing the acting and the subtlety and how good they all are at their job. How beautiful they are. Oh my God, they're all so gorgeous. So yeah, it's been nice to kind of see everyone's good work in this time off.
“Our cast would be so gorgeous as mermaids.”
OPN: What’s it like to dress one of the most attractive casts TV and movies have seen since 1999’s The Mummy?
BC: Right? I mean, they're good people as well. They've got a lot of good qualities about them, but they are so beautiful and captivating and would look so good in so many different genres. We're always thinking, what ‘What can we do next season? How can we outdo season two?” I know genre has been thrown around a lot; film noir, western, 1920s speakeasy, but I'm thinking…mermaids. I'm thinking underwater. Our cast would be so gorgeous as mermaids. Admiral April as a Mer-King with a trident. I feel like that would be very captivating. There's just lots of amazing opportunities there, yeah.
OPN: We can't put that out in the world. People will stop listening right now and go start writing their fan-fiction.
BC: Maybe fanfiction is better because that would be so expensive. That would be blowing the budget for sure. That's a film.
"When you put on the Starfleet uniform, you're representing such an iconic show, and all it stands for."
OPN: Speaking of the actors, I've often heard actors say they found their character when they put the costume on. Is that a moment you've seen? And what's it like to be there for that moment, if you have?
BC: It is such an honor to be a part of that collaboration, it is just a wonderful experience. Even the shoes they wear might make them stand a certain way, make them walk a certain way. But even just the Starfleet uniform; it's just wonderful when we have day players come in as crew members. They might just be on set for a day or two, but they put on this Starfleet uniform and you can just tell they're so excited and giddy because it means so much to them. Because when you put on the Starfleet uniform, you're representing such an iconic show, and all it stands for. We've had people cry out of happiness, mind you. So yeah, it's why we do it. Man, this is a cool job.
Caller: What has been the biggest challenge with working in the Trek franchise because I do love the way that strange new worlds pays homage to the original series, but also kind of gives it that modern flair. Also, what's your opinion about lab coats and sickbay? Yea or Nay?
BC: Yeah for lab coats, obviously, they're awesome. Gersha and I did do a lab coat as an option when we first designed the Starfleet uniforms, but it wasn't picked up. But you never know, there could be a certain character that comes on that we need a lab coat for. So we'll keep it in our back pocket.
In terms of the biggest challenge, originally the biggest challenge was trying not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the franchise. And you know how Star Trek means so much to people. It is a cultural touchstone, and I came to it from respect and I do feel confident that our team can bring something and push it forward with respect, by adding production value, adding the detail that our beloved Trekkies pick up on. So it's really cool. I think that's also the best part of it as well, keeping that era of nostalgia, but with today's technologies and fabrics and even our skill set.
OPN: What about the timeline? How much time do you have?
BC: We get two weeks of pre-production, around two weeks to film, and then we wrap. So we're always on prep for one episode, filming an episode at the same time, and wrapping as well. So there's a lot going on. We do get a general outline of the season ahead of time, so I can kind of forecast when we're going to need a lot of labor, or if one episode is going to be more expensive than the other just because of the characters involved or how many background performers there are. But generally it's about two weeks.
So it is a bit of a scramble, always. But we love getting the heads up from our writers and showrunners about certain things so we can start early. That happened for “The Elysian Kingdom” obviously. And a few episodes in Season Two, we knew were coming so we could get prepared.
OPN: What's it like seeing cosplays of designs that you've made?
BC: It's so wonderful. It's very humbling actually. People who do cosplay, they go to so much effort, and they’re usually using materials around the home and they spend so much time. I've got a 3D printer, but they're just hand making things and hand painting the micro print on the Starfleet uniforms and stuff. It's just incredible. We're just thrilled when we get messages from people who have dressed up at different conventions and comic cons throughout the world. And I think it helps the people too, like they become more confident they can be a character themselves. And that's why people love doing cosplay. You can just be a different person for a little bit.
OPN: You mentioned a 3D printer. How much of that do you use in day-to-day costuming?
BC: The 3D printing element for costuming has really changed the game. We're moving so fast on these episodes and we want to infuse as much detail as possible. It could be a belt buckle, or a rank insignia, or a special decal, or just an embellishment that will really enhance the costume.
For example, in charades when T'Pring has her gown and those shoulder pieces, those cages that were painted in gold, they were 3D printed. To sculpt something like that would take a long, long time. I do think sculpting and the human hand have such a beautiful element, but when we're working against the clock, we have to use a 3D printer.
And Jen Bowen, our digital artist, is so incredible at her job and has made so many beautiful things for us and has really helped elevate a lot of our costumes. I think the digital costumer position is such a growing necessity in our industry. I'll just describe what I want to do, a quick sketch, and she can digitize it, and then print it overnight, and then it's a real tangible thing. It’s amazing.
OPN: Can you speak to the balance of aesthetic versus functionality with these costumes? Especially the ones that see action sequences.
BC: Yeah, it is so important to understand the physicality of what the actor is doing in a scene. So we work closely with Neal, our Stunt Coordinator. He’ll tell us what the actor is doing in a scene; quite often they need more movement in the arms, a lot of the time it's their back as well. So in episode one, “The Broken Circle,” Babs did a lot of fighting and he needed a stretch panel inserted in the back of that jacket for that movement. We don't want to restrict the actors, we want them to be able to perform however they want to perform. We don't want things flying off into their faces, we have to make sure things are really anchored down. That kind of thing. Making sure the costume looks good, but is also safe is really important.
But even in other areas, like the musical episode, there was a little bit of engineering there too. We had to make everyone a dance top. That meant again, that there was a bit more room in the arms. So they could put their hands over their heads, do their high kicks, their high fives, and their tops wouldn't ride up. We also had a piece of elastic underneath their top that connected to their pants, so it would anchor down so when they did all their movement everything still looked really neat and tidy and professional.
Caller: What is it like to have to find this balance between making costumes feel comfortable for an audience to look at and familiar, while also being futuristic and sci-fi. Plus, I wanted to know if you'd ever want to do something that's a little bit more retro futurism, like we saw in TOS? Because I want to see a slutty little jumpsuit. I want to see some weird cutouts and fabric choices. I love your work.
BC: Thank you very much. The balance between costumes that feel real but futuristic: Yeah, when we're buying costumes we have to look at proportions, if something's asymmetrical, if the colors are a little bit weird, or the lapels - we're always looking at different fabrics and textures. Something that looks more alien that you haven't seen before. Maybe it's a cool tech print, or something that's embossed, or a fabric that's bubbly or organic. And we also add to these fabrics and textures and clothes to make it a little more otherworldly or heighten it.
Anna Pantcheva, who's our key textile artist, is always working with unusual products and unconventional new processes to invent new ways of how to put texture on things. We use ice dye, rust dye, marbling, puff paint. Puff paint's awesome for so many things. It also is really good for breakdown and adds a lot of grit. It's an amazing product. We use a lot of foil, making things shiny, making things look metallic. Just avoiding things like shoe laces, things that are a little bit pedestrian or every day. Also, with jewelry we make things look a little more sculptural.
OPN: So you're saying magnets sewn in instead of Velcro?
BC: Yeah, magnets are always great! I mean, we're trying to dress people 200 years in the future, but we're looking at forecasting trends now, and that's a lot of athleisure wear. So we have to look at who the brands are at the forefront there. But also little sub-cultures like gorpcore, I don't know if you've heard of that. It's kind of…outdoor recreational items and utilitarian clothing worn for streetwear. So Arcteryx, Solomon, Carhartt, using those kinds of brands and making them look cool and fashionable. We used a little bit of that in Memento Mori for the colonists. And we didn't even know we were doing gorpcore at the time. Or maybe we were ahead of the times, I don't know. It's just always fun to see what people are doing in the fashion world, but always remembering that costume design is more about the character. So it doesn't always have to be so fashion-y.
OPN: You mentioned the jewelry. Do you source a lot of that? Or is that created? Especially the Vulcan jewelry, it’s just amazing.
BC: Oh yeah! T’prings jewelry is so beautiful. That's pretty much exclusively by a jeweler called Michael Good who’s based in the States. It’s very sculptural, very divine, just to emulate her beauty in a way. For Uhura we've got a local vendor, A. Marie Costumes, who exclusively does Celia's earrings. And we had all these great options for season three people! It's going to be so great! You know, when we get back to work, I can't wait for Celia to try those on. Because every season we want her to have new earrings, she'll have her own collection.
Caller: Which was the most difficult costume you worked on for this show. I’m also curious how much conferencing happens between your department and the makeup department while putting everything together to make sure it all fits and meshes.
BC: We do work closely with hair, makeup, and prosthetics. But it is a fast moving machine, so often, we just jump in on their meetings, just so we're on the same page. For instance, in “The Broken Circle,” everyone should look really rough around the edges, a bit gritty, a bit sweaty, and we want to make sure the breakdown and our costumes match the makeup and the hair. We all just try and do our best, and it does just work out beautifully in the end.
The most difficult costume of season two, there were a couple. The Klingons are very involved. It's very important that everything's custom to the performer, especially when they're wearing things like armor. Jennifer M Johnson is our key special effects builder and she always makes sure things are as comfortable as possible for the wearer. There's a lot of engineering involved, we have to sculpt the leather to the body and make sure it looks impressive and intimidating. Alex Silverberg, our key sculptor, is doing those exoskeleton pieces over top and he has to mold those, so that's a time consuming process as well. But it's a really cool costume. It's pretty out there, the gold and the black, we love that costume.
Another costume that's pretty tricky is the dress uniform. Those narrow inlay pieces in the jackets just require a very steady hand, very precise, we want everything to look flat, really smooth, not a lot of bulk. So it really comes down to the skill of our sewers and our technicians for those looks to be pulled off. The shoulder rank, that’s something that's 3D printed.
Everything is custom, we have to get these pattern pieces digitized, sent to LA where they get 3D printed with this silicone ink that rises in heat. It's activated by the heat, so it has a bit of height to it. But that's another time consuming costume. But impressive as well. It was really fun to do that update for the show.
OPN: I love hearing about all this work, because it comes across! So those are the most difficult, was there a costume from season two that you just couldn’t wait to sink your teeth into?
BC: Oh yeah, the Lower Decks for sure. “Lower Decks! Lower Decks!” We were so happy that this was actually a thing. I love the show, but in my mind I was like “Yeah, red and black. It's easy. No big deal.” But when you actually look at it, it's not red and black. It's charcoal gray. My illustrator Christian Cordella brought that to my attention. And the boots are black, they were really hard to find. I think we were buying out of season so the stock was really low and it was just really hard to get the boots, they were a big thing. Plus they have that little icon on the sole of the boot, we painted that in.
The way Mariner wears her uniform is different to everyone else, with the sleeves rolled. We wanted to make sure the proportions were similar. I mean, a little tiny animation is very different to a human body. So of course we had to make some considerations there. I illustrated Tawny with natural hair and she really appreciated that. That was a really cool element that was different from the animation. Yeah, meeting Tawny and Jack and seeing how great they are at their characters and all of the different options they give in each scene. I've said this before, but I really hope a blooper reel is made because it's just too good for people not to enjoy that. I love bloopers!
OPN: We will riot if there's not a blooper reel. And those Lower Decks costumes were laser sharp, you did such an amazing job. And in an episode where there was so much to talk about, a lot of people pointed out the costumes.
BC: Oh, that's so nice, it means a lot. I know how important it is to people, because there's so many fans and they want to see their favorite shows in their best light. I have to say Sue Furlong, our cutter, and our sewers for those costumes did such an amazing job. And one little thing we do, we put scuba on the inside of the costume. It’s an extra layer that gives it a bit of buoyancy and makes it extra smooth and it just had that little bit of a 2D quality. I thought that was a nice shout out to the animation. Of course Mike McMahan signed off on the costumes. He didn't want any microprint, he just wanted it super smooth and flat. And I totally get it. I think it was a great idea.
OPN: So like scuba material? Like Neoprene?
BC: Yeah, it's a type of neoprene. A really thin layer. Unfortunately it gets a little hot. Sorry, Tawny. Sorry Jack. It was integral for the look.
OPN: It definitely seems to have helped the fidelity of that translation. And you're right, it's almost like 2.5D, not quite 3D. So everything being as collaborative as you're describing, has there been anybody on set or in the cast who has made suggestions about their costumes that really added to them, that you took and implemented?
BC: It happens all the time. In terms of my team, Jen Bowen, who's the digital costumer, came up with the department symbols as microprint for the Starfleet uniform. And that is just such a golden idea. I think people's best work comes from an open collaborative environment. And that comes from the top, Akiva and Henry, they help everyone feel like that.
And Karen Lee, my supervisor, she had the contact with Fluevog (Fluevog are the company that makes our Starfleet boots) and I love the Starfleet boots, and I love collaborating with them. They're so well made and it's a local company and they just add this cool dynamic flair to the silhouette of the Starfleet uniform. I think that it's my favorite part. I love it. And the fact that people can buy these boots, they’re the real deal, these are the boots the actors are wearing. It's not a facsimile. It's not something that's made out of lower quality materials. I'd love to thank those two. And the collaboration with the actors as we go along. Everyone’s got ideas and we'd love to incorporate them as much as possible, but sometimes the suggestion box does need to close and we need to just take the damn thing and put it on camera.
"Pelia's...a sinister one, I think."
OPN: Has anybody ever suggested the utility belt?
BC: Pelia's got that little kind of utility belt pocket. I mean, what's in there? We don't know. She's a sinister one, I think. I think there's a few secrets in that little pouch. I'm sure she's an engineer, but I don't know. She steals stuff. She's a thief.
OPN: Speaking of stealing things, a lot of actors that we've interviewed have been very clear that they can't take anything home from set. But you're in a unique position where if there's something you want, you can just make one. Do you have any Trek inspired pieces that you just wear around the house?
BC: Yeah, I wear my Klingon costume when I'm watering my plants. My Vulcan costume when I'm vacuuming. <Laughter> No, I don't have any costumes. But I will say I do have a real Delta badge, which was given to me. And I won't throw this person under the bus because perhaps they stole it and I don't want to know, but I love it. And I'm gonna cherish it. But yeah, it's kind of fun to be in rooms full of costumes. And every now and then we'll put something on and run around and pretend we’re Vulcans or something.
OPN: Is it like a plumber who doesn't want to do anything around his house? Do you just get home and be like, “I'm putting on flannel pajamas. I don't want to see anything fancy?”
BC: Totally, totally. Yeah, I think we're surrounded by it so much and you kind of need this simple life when you go home.
OPN: I do love the idea of you watering your plants with honor though.
BC: Right? With honor! My plants are very important!
OPN: Now you mentioned Pelia, and before you mentioned loving the Princess Bride. Were you a little starstruck seeing Carol Kane?
BC: Oh, I know! It really is one of my favorite films of all time. And, yeah, Carol Kane being on the show is just genius. Like that's the beauty of our showrunners, they think outside the box in terms of casting, and they'll make these interesting choices. Having Carol come on, she’s just a force, right? She's so funny. She's got that little voice and she loves jewelry. And we're like, “Oh, you know what, Carol? Earrings are kind of Uhura's thing. I don't know if we should have you wear a lot of jewelry.” She's covered in jewelry and she's like, "Oh, I think I wear it." And it's like, okay, well I guess she stole it from when she had her antique store or something. So she loves to contribute that way. And we love it. She's so funny, and charismatic. It's just really cool to work with her. She spoke about the Princess Bride. She said the prosthetics were really uncomfortable. That was one thing I was like, “Oh yeah, I totally get it.” But that was my favorite and she loves to hear about it. She loves hearing that people still love that film.
OPN: We're gonna get into some more specific costume questions. But first, fashion is one of the most environmentally impactful industries, I think people are usually surprised to learn. It's oil and gas, and then mining, and then fashion. Are there any changes that you think need to be made to the fashion industry to help lessen that impact overall?
BC: Absolutely. We’re thinking about it all the time. We want to reduce as much waste as possible and even reuse things like fabric. We can add another texture to it and it can look completely different. Background performers costumes, we're always recycling those, especially shoes and accessories. I hate the idea of wasting fabric, so we try to conserve as much as we can. We love shopping locally. There's a store called VSP here in Toronto, it’s consignment designer items and often they're the weird things that people can't wear, but for our show it's perfect. We love buying things that are secondhand. We often share materials with Discovery, which is filmed here in Toronto as well. So we just don't want to over-buy and waste product.
OPN: What is your top budget item? What is your number one line item for ordering materials each season?
BC: Oh, it would be the Starfleet uniform fabric that's from Italy. We have to buy so much of it. It's so expensive. I often have people reach out, asking where they can buy that fabric. If you want to spend $70,000 on 350 meters of it? Sure. But no, it's only industry stuff. We have to buy our department colors in massive roles. They come on big pallets and we’re moving all this fabric around with forklifts. That would be our top item.
"On a costume team, you need someone who's the ultra nerd"
OPN: Our next caller, Abby, we’ve got to shout her out. She absolutely provided a good chunk of the questions we're asking you today. She has been our diehard costume fan from the very beginning.
CALLER: First of all, Bernadette, you are a hero of mine. I absolutely adore your aesthetic. And all the costumes I've seen you produce have been nothing less than stellar. And what I'd really like to hear you talk about is all of the off duty clothes that we get to see on Strange New Worlds, when they're hanging out in the bar, because there's some really fabulous ones in there. Plus, I really enjoyed the bartender uniforms and I think that they're going to stack up against the classic TNG bartender uniforms by the time all is said and done. So I'd like to know how much effort goes into all those backgrounds that only get seen for a few frames, but there are those of us out here noticing and appreciating them.
BC: Abby, thank you and come work with us! I really think on a costume team, you need someone who's the ultra nerd, like someone who can go deep in the abyss of Star Trek and just know stuff. We try our best and we have people we talk to like JVC, Kirsten Beyer and Akiva and Henry. But sometimes, in terms of costume, you need a nerd on your team. Maybe you could be my phone-a-friend! Thank you so much.
The bartender's uniform, definitely kind of very sci-fi Judy Jetson vibes, we wanted the uniforms to match Jonathan Lee's beautiful port galley set, it's so stunning. This is a space where people are just off work, they want to relax, they want to hang out with their friends, maybe they're going on a date, maybe they want to dress up, maybe they just want to be in their uniform. It's just a really fun place to be and to relax and unwind and catch up with people.
The background team, Nathan Laws and Claire Levick, pay so much close attention to each and every background performer because you never know when an assistant director is going to pluck one of them and put them next to Uhura or Kirk or Pike and that's the look, you're going to see a lot of that on the screen. If a background performer comes in, and they're going to be in a port galley scene, for instance, and they're meant to be in a civilian look, they could be looking at a two hour fitting. Claire and Nathan will fit multiple looks on them.
They'll photograph them, they'll send them to me, and I get to pick the look. So I love these moments, I love seeing their creativity. I love how they always leave in something that's super wild. And sometimes I'll choose it, like I'll choose the guy in red leggings and red shoes and green shorts. You know, something a little bit off. That’s TOS, they always had these wild costumes. Like one of your previous callers mentioned with the cut outs, and the fur bikinis, and this weird stuff. So every now and then we'll just throw in something fun to honor the 1960s. But our team is so wonderful and they're so kind to our background performers. We want our BG team to come back season after season and I think it really enhances the show when you see those familiar faces because it just seems more real.
OPN: Regarding the civilian outfits, we do love when we get to see our main cast in their civilian clothes. I feel like most of the information the audience gets about who these people are off duty comes through their costume. Do you get pages of background on these characters when you're designing the costumes? Or do you get to kind of decide who they are when you're designing their costumes? How's that process?
BC: Do you mean like Ortegas and Chapel and like when we see them?
BC: No, that’s between the showrunners, the directors, and the actors. It's honestly what we think their vibe is. So, for Ortegas, obviously, she loves a jumpsuit. She's a bit utilitarian, just like a cool edge about her. Chapel, she’s in a bit more of a sporty look and we can push boundaries there. And we haven't really seen Uhura in civilians yet. I believe just in a picture. I think when Kirk had that photograph of her family. Oh, and pajamas! And the durag, that was a really cool moment. It's honestly about how the actors feel, what they think their character would wear, and we just get a lot of options and play around and see what feels good.
Caller: Loving your costumes in Strange New Worlds, particularly the costumes in "Children of the Comet” in season one and “Among the Lotus Eaters” in season two. Would love to hear more about them and what inspired you.
BC: So "Children of the Comet,” all that was the Deleb and the spacesuits. The Deleb were interesting because in the script it was like "an alien mother and her daughter walk along a desert landscape.” It was a very, very small amount of detail in the script. I love those moments sometimes because you can really add so much to the character and you can really delve in and make it your own.
Obviously the prosthetics team are working on a face and the physicality of this alien, so I check in with them and see what they're doing and make sure the colors will work. I look at the location, see where we're going to be filming. In this instance it was a quarry, which was very sandy. But I made sure that the costumes looked like they lived in that environment. These aliens were nomadic, they kind of lived off the land, perhaps their decorations were found, they were handmade and embellished in that way. It's just such a great time to show social class or rank or family inheritance and what can we do to show who they are. So we did a lot of fabric manipulation, like bleach dyeing, ice dyeing, we covered things in silicone to make them look very organic. And they wore these traveling hats, which were pleated fabric covered in silicone, inspired by Iris van Herpen, one of my favorite designers. So that was a really cool alien. I really hope they come back.
The other one was “Among the Lotus Eaters.” Such a great opportunity for world building. It is interesting, I often ask my mom who loves Star Trek, but doesn’t care about social media or reviews (she just wants to enjoy it) and I was like, "Mom's gonna love this episode". But her favorite episode was “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” I'm like, "Okay, great, thanks, Mom. While I’m doing all my world building in Episode Four, she loves the contemporary one!” You know, to each their own. She loves the romance and characters. And Chrissy's performance, my god it was so epic! The way she did that final scene, what she had to think about to even emote like that was so amazing. Honestly, our cast is incredible. But “Amongst the Lotus Eaters” was one of my favorites because we could do this world building. And we've got Babs in his disguise, as well as Anson and Chrissy.
And the guard’s costumes were, I think, one of my favorites of the whole season just because I could look at ancient Mongolian armor and ground it in a detail and a heritage there. The references from the cage were quite crude and they weren't appropriate. So we wanted to honor a culture that has so much beauty to it. And every member of the costume team had a part in these costumes. The sculpting, the 3D printing, the helmets, everything really was a team effort. I think the breakdown is so important, like the mud caked on their boots, making the tiles look like metal, making the edges of the fur a little bit crusty like they're in the elements or they're trudging through the snow all the time. That was a really fun episode for me. And the team was a great one.
OPN: So when the script makes note of something like "the hat is supreme" Do you read that and go “Well, gotta go focus on the hat now!”
BC: God we've had a few fancy hats, haven't we? This hat, yeah, reigned supreme. Again, I just did my research and looked at different shapes and something that would suit the elements. Yeah, Ortegas looks so great in that. Other hats that have been quite memorable are the fishing hat, Babs’ fishing hat. It was funny when Spock had this silly hat when Amanda is like, “What are you doing?” And we had the backwards delta: blasphemy! I've heard that everyone's very upset that we did that backwards, but it was a joke, guys.
OPN: They're either upset or they love it because they get where the joke comes from.
BC: But we thought “Oh, should we use Ortegas' hat? We could use that. We could use M'Benga's fishing hat?” Just a lot of fun hats. They're in stock. We’re ready for any other hat gag on the show.
OPN: I don't know how much improvisation is on the show. I understand there's at least some. Has there ever been a moment where a costume choice has altered the script, that someone's referenced it on the fly?
BC: Well, we've done it ahead of time for T'Pring's gown. In “Charades," it was scripted as a “modest gown” and it was like, "Oh my God, but T'Pring, she's so beautiful. We can’t - can we do the opposite?” Can we say the same thing and just show that her mom's a little bit involved too much. She's overbearing. She's making T’Pring wear something that's a little bit elaborate. So we elevated the look to something a little more regal. Thankfully the writers were into it because I can't bear to put Gia in a boring dress, something “modest."
OPN: Speaking of her mom, how much fun was it to costume the most put-upon father in Star Trek history?
BC: Both of them are so funny IRL. They just loved their costumes. They loved wandering around in them and just being completely different from themselves. Their character’s deportment is very reserved but in between takes they're very loosey-goosey comedians, they're very funny people. I'd love to see another episode with them both.
OPN: For a character like Neera in “Ad Astra per Aspera”, did you look at past Starfleet legal officers for inspiration, or did you have a pretty wide berth when it came to defining her style?
BC: Oh, that was such a great episode too, it was written by Dana Horgan and directed by Valerie Weiss. I had a wide berth for sure. When Pike visits Neera on her colony, you could tell by what the background were wearing that it's a little bit of a retro-futuristic look, a lot of monochromatic looks. Everyone was very tailored, put together, I did introduce some futuristic accessories, that kind of thing.
But essentially, we wanted Neera to look really professional. She's very smart, very confident. I wanted her to look just really feminine and powerful. Yetide felt the same, we were on the same page there for sure. I wanted to make sure we used beautiful colors that would look great on her, fabrics that really looked good. For me, it was important to have a visual relief from a very heavy uniform episode. So the uniforms are very formal, dignified, they've got that air of regality to them, and they're only worn on very special occasions. That means when you're in your formal dress uniform, you better be on your best behavior. They're very serious. And I wanted Neera's look to have that kind of visual relief for people and just be beautiful. And show that this trial has been going on for several days, because I think she had five costume changes, so it was one of those storytelling devices as well.
But yeah, Yetide Badaki, I mean what a performance. It was so amazing.
OPN: You mentioned the Klingon costumes earlier. There was one Klingon performer you got to costume a second time…as a zombie. What was it like doing both Klingon and zombie work on Bruce Horak?
BC: The legend! It was so great. That's another thing that needs to come back in season three is Bruce in some way. Even if it's just his voice or whatever. I think that needs to be our thing. It was really great to see Bruce again. And him as a zombie, what the heck?! It was funny because the day before we were gonna shoot, I was like, “What about space maggots? Are space maggots a thing?” So our key sculptor, Alex, was like, “Alright, I'll just sculpt him some space maggots.” You don't really see them, but we know they're there.
And then, yes, when we see Bruce again, as a Klingon, he's in the armor. And one stupid thing we did for a gift to ourselves and the crew; at the end of season two, we made socks for everyone. And there were space maggots wearing Klingon armor. And it felt like an ode to two Bruces.
OPN: What's it like costuming a stunt double?
BC: We talk with Neil, our stunt coordinator, and make sure we understand what's going to happen in the scene. Our stunt performers often have to wear stunt pads or an armadillo, which is something that protects your spine. They wear gel pads on their hips, on their knees, on their elbows - we have to make sure the costume can allow for that. That's making the pants a little stretchy, making sure they've got movement in their back, and there's enough room to put all these pads and stuff. It just means our team has to just do quadruple the work, because if there's a fight, something might happen. So we have to have extra costumes ready in case something happens on set, or if there's a fight and something gets covered in blood, we have to make sure there's multiples. That happened in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” we had to make sure every option that we brought had multiples ready, because there's nothing worse than being on set and the director wants to go again, but you can't because there's no more costumes left.
OPN: So we've heard that you have a flowchart of the history of Starfleet uniform design. How much time did you put into drawing that out?
BC: That was actually Jen Bowen, our digital costumer. Again, she's just incredible. She is a deep, deep fan and so is her dad. So she made sure she picked very iconic costumes from each season. Everyone has this flow chart in their offices, because it's just such a great reference point. There's so much going on in Star Trek, there's so much to remember. There's so many dates and things to keep track of. This is such a great tool. Jen Bowen, she knocked it out of the park.
OPN: Speaking of all that history, once you dove in, do you have a favorite series? Not counting the ones you've worked on.
BC: I mean, there's a special place in my heart for TOS. It's where it all began. I love seeing how wild some of those costumes were! William Ware Theiss, (TOS Costume Designer), whoa, buddy, you really went for it. Obviously he was doing things to be shocking and exciting and make people talk about the show. And it did generate a lot of viewers. Yeah, TOS is definitely so important for us because that's why we're here on this show. Hopefully they're proud, seeing some of their characters come to life again.
OPN: What about characters? Do you have a favorite character from the history of Trek?
BC: I actually saw an episode of TOS the other day with Dr. Miranda Jones and the telepath from “Is There in Truth, No Beauty?” and I just love that episode. It was so cool. I loved her outfit.
OPN: And that visor!
BC: The visor! With the red thing, that was really cool. Spock was very smiley, that was really interesting to see him being kind of happy. It was a really great episode, we saw Scotty in his kilt, Spock wearing an IDIC pendant, and we've used that pendant on our show before so it's really cool to see that. Oh there's just so many characters there.
OPN: Before we wrap up, we haven’t talked much yet about “Under the Cloak of War.”
BC: So much work. My God. That was, I would say, the most labor intensive episode. Oh, yeah. The tactical uniforms are very labor intensive to do, all of the armor, and the jumpsuits and there's a lot of background. So it was just, a lot.
"I would just like to emphasize how amazing my team is!"
OPN: Is there anything that you haven't gotten a chance to talk about that you just would love people to know?
BC: I would just like to emphasize how amazing the team is. Without their talent, I wouldn't be able to dream up these ambitious costumes. And they really do make everything so amazing. So I would shout out my costume team.