Breaking down the immersive fashion of epic science fiction film 'Dune'

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  • Tuesday, 07 Sep 2021

The work of 'Dune' costume designers Jacqueline West and Bob Morgan has caught the attention of fashion writers as well as film fans. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

The work of Dune costume designers Jacqueline West and Bob Morgan has caught the attention of fashion writers as well as film fans. It was an epic undertaking for the veteran costume designers.

"Well, we've worked together many times and when this came up – when it was so large – she said, 'would you collaborate on this with me?' And I said, 'of course.' I adore her. We've been dear friends for many years and loved the project," says Morgan.

Read more: 'Devil Wears Prada' costume designers on their favourite looks, as film turns 15

Both are big fans of the Frank L. Herbert novels, and methodically broke down the epic's main three worlds of Arrakis, Caladan and Giedi Prime, "which were three kind of diametrically opposed places in their climate, and then the people that inhabited them, which meant three armies, three different things that we had to do," he adds.

Dune premiered Sept 3 at the Venice Film Festival. – Reuters/Carole Horst

What was your starting point for the costumes?

West: It was the book. It has everything: mysticism, ecology, politics, religion, philosophy, history, evolution, poetry, so complex, and so multilayered. I started with conversations with Denis [Villeneuve, the director], who really had such an idea about the film by the time I came on. He didn't want to make a film about space ships, you know, with a look of what you see in so many sci-fi movies and video games, but he wanted to make a futuristic medieval movie.

How did the three worlds dictate the costumes?

Morgan: Caladan is this very rich, lush, wet place and the colours influenced the colours we used and the richness of the fabric we used. [On the desert planet Arrakis] it affects how you would dress much, like it affects how people dress in the Sahara or in Jordan; we're in layers and wraps their heads to not only serve as a protection from the weather and from the heat, they'll also a tool.

It keeps your head cool, but it's also something you can take off, and it becomes a rope, a backpack, you know, it's 25 yards of fabric. So that lent itself to form following function and, and we started that way.

West: As Frank Herbert described, the "stillsuit" was the colour of the rocks. I had the head of locations bring me back rocks, different vials of sand of different colours [from] Jordan where we shot it. The rock was this incredible colour, a very kind of dusty black charcoal with some brown in it. I had done a gauze line years ago when I was a fashion designer for Barneys, and I remembered how you could still see people's bodies and their shapes and their movement.

And I thought, gauze shifts like sand does. And I had dyed it in all these desert sand colours. So that became the palette. And it's just how the desert looks there. There's all these colours, beautiful salmon colour and a dark rust and kind of a pale gray-beige.

The colour of Caladan was green, and I used the Romanovs as inspiration for their uniforms. The Harkonnens were Goths, they were very dark and evil. I used black leather for a lot for [them]. For the Bene Gesserits, I used black, very lush fabrics, beadings veils, lots of cut velvet and silks.

Read more: How a costume designer fashions cinematically-immersive film scenes

Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in the film. Photo: FilepicTimothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in the film. Photo: Filepic

How many costumes were needed?

Morgan: In our first talk, we said we need to make 300 specialty costumes. I mean, all those three armies in those three worlds. But we had a wonderful small army of artisans worldwide that helped us make that happen. Don't quote me exactly on this, because I really have lost count, but I would say hundreds, hundreds of costumes bordering on probably a thousand.

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