Designing the costumes for Emma, the Autumn de Wilde-directed adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic period novel, was a balance between staying true to the era (the early 1800s) while leaving room for some creativity and artistic license, says Oscar-nominated costume designer Alexandra Byrne.
“To design a period film, you need to know and research the period, so that you can make decisions to enable the storytelling from a point of view of knowledge, as opposed to a point of ignorance,” she said during Focus Features’ panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: The Nominees awards-season event. “Autumn [de Wilde] wanted to know everything about the period, she wanted the comedy and the humor to come from period, it was our job to really understand it. We’re not here to be museum archivists, we’re here to tell a story, but I think you can only do that truthfully if you know what you’re working with.”
For her research, Byrne said she simply looked at “everything.” From paintings to journals and museum, she adds that she was struck by the color of the unexpectedly “wild” period, which included “amazing and brave” combinations.
“It was one of the biggest movements in fashion that has happened,” she added.
Byrne is no stranger to period dramas; in fact, the exact opposite. Her glittering career on such projects has encompassed the likes of Persuasion, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Mary Queen of Scots to name but a few, and has seen her rewarded with six Oscar nominations and one win.
Focus Features’ Emma is competing for two Oscar noms in total, with the film also in the running for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for Marese Langan, Laura Allen and Claudia Stolze.
Check out the conversation above.
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