Something old, something new – Downton Abbey costumes
Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue – all of these elements went into the costume of “Downton Abbey: A New Era”.
Although this phrase is usually applied to the lucky tokens worn by brides on their big day, the new period drama doesn’t just open with a wedding, but displays around 300 pieces of clothing over the duration of the film, which will be released in US theaters on Friday.
Anna Robbins is the costume designer in charge of dressing the residents of Upper and Lower Downton. Having worked on the 2019 TV series and film, she has plenty of experience to draw on.
“There were new characters to design. There were new settings where we kind of had to go back and think about the palette and what would go against production design in these new spaces and new geographies. But when it comes to “Downton,” I know the red couch in the library so well, I know what colors are going to pull off. So it’s a nice combination of the new and the old.”
The nuptials that start the film are those of Tom Branson and Lucy Smith, played by Tuppence Middleton, and her dress was a combination of a satin bodice, a chiffon sleeve and a silk tulle, decorated with thread of vintage silver and a hand-embroidered replica of a 1920s original. veil.
“It was terrifying,” Middleton says of the delicate dress, which she had to keep out of the mud on set.
“That kind of pure white silk dress and there were about four people lifting it off the ground everywhere I went, and going to the bathroom was a really difficult thing, but yeah, a lot of fun.”
When it comes to recreating looks from 1928, Robbins and her team used a combination of vintage, upcycled and fresh fashions.
“It’s a real treasure hunt, very rewarding but it’s a challenge to find pieces that correspond to the character, the scene, the setting and that are of the quality that we demand for the big screen. So we’re pretty much looking for museum quality pieces or pieces that can be restored to that level to look like new and pristine.
With some of the characters traveling to the south of France to investigate a bequeathed vacation villa, she was also able to add a continental flair to the usual upper-class family living room styles.
“Some of them are completely from the era. It’s a real honor to wear them,” says star Elizabeth McGovern of Lady Crawley’s Riviera wardrobe.
“I’m always looking for complete garments,” says Robbins, “but I may also be looking for fabric that I can use to make a new brand, so it’s kind of a hybrid. And then, even with new bespoke brands, I would definitely be looking for trim or buttons or little accessories that would still anchor it to that era, so it’s a real mix.
Along with the overseas trip, the outside world comes to Downton Abbey when a film crew shows up to use the castle as a filming location.
One look that Robbins is particularly proud of is when movie star Myrna Dalgleish, with peroxide blonde hair and red lipstick, walks into the stately home for the first time.
“The Hollywood stars of the day gave us some really exciting possibilities. And Myrna is just this fantastic character, strong, bold and brash and a wonderful contrast of beauty. You know, she’s beautiful, but she’s a very different beauty and style from Lady Mary, Lady Edith, Lucy.
The arrival of Laura Haddock’s character Myrna was handled by Robbins’ co-designer Maja Meschede.
“We kind of looked at this icy blue and then what evolved was this velvet coat with a cape which gave great drama, like great proportion and movement as she walked into the house when she was getting out of the car,” Robbins said. “It was actually an original shoe from the 20s that we could see in this beautiful panoramic shot from the ground, so it all fell into place there.”
Overall, there were many more looks than when ‘Downton Abbey’ last theatrical outing in 2019, with Robbins estimating he created around 300 outfits for the sequel.
“Just for our directors alone, there was about 24 days of story and a cast of about 20, so when you start multiplying it, especially with the amount of changes you usually see with our characters at the floor, you start to get a sense of the magnitude of what it was,” she said.
“It’s once again upping the ante and hoping it’s going to be lavish and a real feast for the eyes because of the beautiful range of costumes we’ve shown.”