As she prepared to dress the members of a Swedish commune for A24 horror pic Midsommar, costume designer Andrea Flesch took a deep dive into Scandinavian folklore, finding seeds of inspiration with which she could help build a singularly terrifying and uniquely designed world.
The second feature from up-and-coming auteur Ari Aster, who stunned audiences last year with Hereditary, his critically acclaimed box office smash, Midsommar centers on Dani (Florence Pugh), a young woman who joins her neglectful boyfriend and his friends on a trip to a remote area of Sweden, in the aftermath of an awful family tragedy. Hoping for a peaceful retreat into nature, in a land where the sun always shines, Dani quickly realizes she’s in for an altogether more violent and disturbing experience, in the midst of a pagan cult.
Joining Aster for a Budapest shoot during the summer and fall of 2018, Flesch would hone a color-coded visual arc for the film’s handmade costumes, finding one of her greatest challenges in the creation of a massive floral dress and its accompanying headdress, which became instantly iconic, following the film’s release.
DEADLINE: How did you come to Midsommar? What was it about this project that excited you?
ANDREA FLESCH: It was Patrik [Andersson], the Swedish producer, who approached my English agent. They were looking for a costume designer, and they presented me to Ari. It’s interesting because it’s a movie that was shot in Budapest, but I came through London. Soon, they introduced me to Ari. We first met in Budapest, and when we had our first meeting, I did some mood boards for him. I had the script, so I already had ideas to share, and it was a great meeting. I think from the first moments, we found we had the same feeling about everything.
DEADLINE: What did Aster convey to you early on, in terms of what he was looking for with the film’s costumes?
FLESCH: The main thing was that we should take elements from Scandinavian folk history, but create our own world. For example, the first vision he had was that we absolutely must start the movie all in white, with everybody in white, which is not [necessarily] Scandinavian. So, this is already something which is a little bit different, but we had to keep in mind that it had to look Swedish, in a way—and also, that we are in a small village, where this group lives, and they absolutely make their own life. It should look like they do their costumes themselves, and everybody has his own costume. That’s why it was also very important that all the costumes looked different—some of them are better made, some of them less—to see the difference. That it’s not come out from a fashion house or a factory. So, that was very important, that it looks like homemade things, in a way.
We used a lot of embroideries, original ones—a little bit from Scandinavia, but also from Hungary and Eastern Europe—because I found out that these motifs were a little bit the same. In all of the world, in folk costumes, you can really find big similarities between folk motifs. Because they were preparing the movie in Hungary, and it was not a very high-budget movie, I had to try to find a lot of things in Hungary. Also, I [was able to] find 100-year-old linen fabric, with which I made all the costumes, almost all from this old linen. But now, I don’t know. Maybe I went too far. [laughs]
DEADLINE: In prep on the film, you had a number of gorgeous costume illustrations made. What do these concepts reveal about the visual arc you crafted for the film, through clothing?
FLESCH: The concept was that we start the movie all in white, and as we go further, through these seven feasts, everybody dressed up more and more colorful. Then, every feast had a color. I don’t know how much you can see this in the movie, but the idea was that at first, we’d use only red. Then, we put some blue, and then some yellow, then some green, and in the end, all the colors come together.
DEADLINE: How did you approach the challenge of crafting all the incredibly intricate floral headdresses we see in Midsommar? In the end, Florence Pugh’s Dani winds up almost entirely covered in flowers.
FLESCH: I did a lot of research about headdresses, and really designed [based] on what was necessary for the movie, and matched [them] with the costumes. We made some headdresses from fabric and embroidery, and I think Dani had three flower headdresses, or maybe only two in the end. In the first, when she won the May Queen, she has a smaller flower headdress. Then, in the end, when we go with the huge flower dress, and she got the huge flower headdress, we had to remake [the headdress], because the first one was even bigger than that, and she couldn’t wear it. It was so heavy that she couldn’t wait until we made a new one. [laughs]
It was made with artificial, silk flowers. Of course, the first idea was, “Oh, it would be so nice to make the whole dress and the headdress from real flowers,” but because it took weeks or months to make these, of course, you cannot work with real flowers. So, I tried to find the best artificial flowers I could in Europe that looked the most real.
DEADLINE: Did you have to individually stitch all of the artificial flowers onto the fabric of Dani’s headdress and dress?
FLESCH: Yes. [laughs] It was me, personally. A lot of fantastic people helped me. First of all, we had to make the base of this dress, because it’s so heavy. So, it needed a base, like a hoop skirt. Then, we [dealt with] the fabric—“What color is it?”—and then on this fabric, some people were sewing, and also gluing, one by one, the flowers. First, it was covered with leaves, and then the flowers, one by one. It was around 10,000 flowers that we had on it.
DEADLINE: What did you most enjoy about working with Aster on the film?
FLESCH: I think he’s the third director in my life who I really adore—his vision, his imagination, his intelligence, his humor and incredible sensitivity. Also, he has a great sense to, not like me, express himself. [laughs] I like to listen, when he tells what his vision is, and how he tells me. He speaks so beautifully. When he talks to me, I see suddenly everything in my head, and it’s just amazing to work with him. Even beforehand, but on the shoot also, everything he’s doing, all this feels like magic. I don’t know why and how, but I think he’s magical somehow.