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Unorthodox - Season 1 Episode 2 - Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix Unorthodox - Season 1 Episode 2 - Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

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‘Unorthodox’ costume designer Justine Seymour on modesty (Interview)

Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

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Unorthodox costume designer Justine Seymour spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about the art of dressing modesty and expressing mood through shades of color with Shira Haas’ Esther Shapiro.

Emmy nominated Unorthodox costume designer Justine Seymour pictured the show’s lead Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro to be at the hazy crossroads of her life. Two arms pull at Esty in opposite directions with fierce tenacity, debating her future. The comfort of a traditional modesty she’d always known, and the exit door she’d been warned never to use everyday since birth.

Seymour described the emphasis on subtlety in Unorthodox from adorning a “petite” Shira Haas in the show’s beautiful yet restrictive wedding dress… To Esty feeling the ‘blues’ in a physical and emotional sense. Every subtle shade of clothing, every accessory representing its own mood by careful design.

Interview with Unorthodox costume designer Justine Seymour:

The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: I noticed Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro is wearing blue the first time she openly asks to move back to her grandma’s house. Blue is typically this soothing, calming, gentle color… Yet, in this scene, it paints the collapse of a marriage. It was a subtle detail that stayed with me. Was this juxtaposed, clashing contrast intentional?

Justine Seymour: That’s right! We actually built that dress for her (Shira Haas) and even dyed the fabric to get that blue color. I mean blue is also a sad color, the blues, you know? Who’s singing the blues? Esty was very sad in that scene and starting to really doubt her convictions of being married. I had that dress slightly oversized, slightly long, and a bit frumpy because I wanted her to feel swallowed by the world… On a very subtle level. I think good design work is subtle and subliminal.

Unorthodox - Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Netflix (Photo Still)

Unorthodox – Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro [Shira Haas] – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

Esty is standing by the window and sort of looking out as if she’s longing for another life. I think that was the thought process behind that choice. I was happy when I saw how the cinematographer had lit the whole scene because it looked like some Vermeer painting. It was a very special day on set… A very emotional scene, and juxtaposed by her Auntie sort of telling her, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, pull your socks up, and get on with the life you’ve chosen!’

In the scene before Esty attends her big audition, her mother, Leah Mandelbaum Schwartz, chooses a dress for her. I was a bit surprised that the dress was still quite modest, with noticeably muted colors. Particularly, in contrast to Esty’s original plan to wear her fairly vibrant yellow sweater. To me, it seemed this was done to keep Esty with one foot still majorly cemented in her past. Was that the intended direction?

All throughout, I played with the idea that Esty’s sort of going back and forth, pulling in colors from her past into her Berlin life. For example, I used a pumpkin colored dress for the scene where Esty first met her husband and again for the dinner party with the music students.

Unorthodox -Pictured from left to right: Yanky Shapiro [Amit Rahav] and Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] - Art / Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Unorthodox -Pictured from left to right: Yanky Shapiro [Amit Rahav] and Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro [Shira Haas] – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

So for Esty’s big audition, I was playing with the idea of her original green house dress and dress at the end being modest. I wanted that transition of Esty leaving her modest clothing behind to be very slow… It was all deliberate to give Esty the feeling of comfort & security she found in the modest clothing…

Unorthodox - Season 1 Episode 4 - Pictured from left to right: Yanky Shapiro [Amit Rahav] and Esther Shapiro [Shira Haas] - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

Unorthodox – Season 1 Episode 4 – Pictured from left to right: Yanky Shapiro [Amit Rahav] and Esther Shapiro [Shira Haas] – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

And how she’d still use that a little bit in her exploration of a new life. It wasn’t a very long time period and I didn’t want her just to suddenly go, ‘Oh, okay, I’m completely different now! I can totally handle all these new experiences!’ I deliberately made it slow and paced for her.

Unorthodox - Season 1 Episode 1  - Pictured : Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

Unorthodox – Season 1 Episode 1 – Pictured : Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro [Shira Haas] – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

When you were picking out clothes for Unorthodox in the heart of Williamsburg, there were shops that didn’t wish to sell you the items… Who did you end up sending to purchase them for you?

Well, the Satmar community is a closed community and they’re very private. I did respect that as best I could but we were making a story about them. I bought all of the male clothing there, and I had to do that because it’s a very specific type of clothing. The men dress with their jackets buttoned up right over left, where as gentiles button up left over right. So, I had to buy it from their community to get that detail correct.

Unorthodox cast during wedding scene - Photo Credit:  Anika Molnar/Netflix

Unorthodox cast during wedding scene – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

When I first went into a Dry Goods shop there, they did actually sell to me and they were happy about it. But somebody took a photograph of me in that show, me and Alexa Karolinski (Producer).It was sent out virally by some group within the community and they said, ‘These people are making a television show about us… Perhaps, you know, don’t serve them.’

So, from this moment on, we didn’t get much service! (laughs) But you were right, once I got to Berlin and I tried to buy more clothes here, I thought I might be able to rent more men’s clothes for the wedding.

Yanky Shapiro [Amit Rahav] in Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

Yanky Shapiro [Amit Rahav] in Unorthodox – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

I soon realized, I actually really needed to get back into that shop. So, I did have a young lady who lives in New York to do the shopping for me, and just so that she wasn’t offending anyone, she did dress in a very modest manner. There’s no way that I can because I’m 5 foot 10, I’ve got bleach blonde hair… I’m a very loud character! (laughs) She wasn’t, so she was a much better option.

What was it like constructing Esty’s wedding dress? I particularly took notice of Esty’s headdress when everybody’s dancing and she’s in the center of the circle.

The idea behind the wedding dress was that it had to both be modest and be the wedding dress that catapulted Esty into this future existence that she’d been longing for all of her childhood. Bare in mind, she was only 19. She wanted to look like a Princess, to dance, and have fabrics swirl around her… But I made it very tight & restrictive while covered in pearls.

Unorthodox - Season 1 Episode 2 - Pictured from left to right: Yanky Shapiro [Amit Rahav] and Esther Shapiro [Shira Haas] - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

Unorthodox – Season 1 Episode 2 – Pictured: Yanky Shapiro [Amit Rahav] and Esther Shapiro [Shira Haas] – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

The thought process behind it was to allude to the restrictive marriage life she was entering. That she was going to have all the constraints of the religious community and all the work that she was expected to do was God’s work. Which was to replace the six million Jews that had perished within the Nazi regime in the second World War.

That is her goal, to help contribute to make as many beautiful babies as possible… And as we know in the story, that does not come to pass. I wanted that dress to kind of have the bittersweet essence of the dream that doesn’t come true and the restricted future that she feels she has with her mother-in-law breathing down her neck. Watching every move she makes.

Esther 'Esty' Shapiro in wedding scene on Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Netflix

Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro in wedding scene on Unorthodox – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

As for the headdresses, I took a little bit of a design leap there. She wouldn’t normally have had three head dresses but because the third headdress was so beautiful. I mean I made it. So, I really loved all of the references that I had seen of that headdress and I coped it. Normally a woman who would wear a turban headdress like that would then wear a turban within her actual married life but as we all know, Esty doesn’t do that. She wears a wig.

Esther 'Esty' Shapiro in wedding scene on Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Netflix

Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro in wedding scene on Unorthodox – Photo provided by Justine Seymour – Credit: Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

That was just a slight abbreviation from all of the research I’d done. I thought it was so incredibly beautiful, I thought it was a really nice way to end the wedding.

Do you rely primarily on real life references? Would you sit in the park and watch the community or do you utilize photographs & history more?

Everything! When I do research, I cover all bases. I started by reading Deborah Feldman’s book, and then I read a couple of other books on the Satmar community. I actually watched any film that was about Orthodox Jews that weren’t necessary Satmar.

Unorthodox cast with Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] at center - Photo Credit: Justine

Unorthodox cast with Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro [Shira Haas] at center – Photo provided by Justine Seymour – Credit: Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

I also watched documentaries, and I spent two weeks walking around Williamsburg, taking photographs & notes, and drawing little images here and there. Buying little treasures from shops to give me ideas of what I could do. I actually did even manage to speak to a couple of the women on the street, they were a bit shy, and it was a bit unusual for a stranger to come up and talk to them. Some were very friendly and very forthcoming with information. Others were unwilling to engage with me.

Unorthodox cast - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

Unorthodox cast – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

I learned a lot from my time, while I was there. We also had a full time consultant, Eli Rosen, who also is an actor and plays the Rabbi. Eli actually grew up in the Satmar community and experienced it firsthand. So, he was a fantastic reference point for me.

Unorthodox - Season 1 Episode 3  - Pictured : Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

Unorthodox – Season 1 Episode 3 – Pictured : Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro [Shira Haas] – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

Whenever I wanted to stretch the reality, I always checked with him and made sure that it was okay. That it wasn’t going to be offensive to anyone. I was very careful not to offend the community. I just wanted to be an observer, and I didn’t want to make any judgments about the way certain people choose to live their life. I just wanted to recreate it in a beautiful and creative artistic way.

Unorthodox cast - Photo Credit:  Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Unorthodox cast – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

Do you feel budget concerns ever affect your creative process at all?

I think necessity is the mother of invention. I actually love a good challenge! That’s why I’m in the film industry because you’re challenged on every single project. For the wedding dress, Shira Haas is a very petite actress, it was going to be almost impossible to buy anything that would fit her. We couldn’t afford to make it, we didn’t have the time or the resources. We actually looked at eBay, and I think my assistant found 10 dresses for me to whittle my way through.

Esther 'Esty' Shapiro in wedding scene on Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro in wedding scene on Unorthodox – Photo provided by Justine Seymour – Credit: Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

I picked out the one that we actually ended up buying. We took Shira to the person’s house to try it on, and it was just enormous! (laughs) It swam on her, it was like a foot and a half too long. But that’s fine! I bought the dress at a very, very good price, I think I paid 350 Euro for it. Then, I took it back to my tailor and we pulled all the pieces and we remade it to how I wanted to do it.

Shira Haas and Justine Seymour, behind the scenes of Netflix's Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour

Shira Haas and Justine Seymour, behind the scenes of Netflix’s Unorthodox – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour

So, originally it had a drop waist which would have looked lovely on the actual bride who wore it for her wedding. But it didn’t really work on Shira’s body because she’s so petite. I pulled the waist right up and I made it a big, huge Princess style dress. We cut as I said, about 18 inches out of the skirt, and then we just made everything much, much smaller and rebuilt it on her.

Were you involved with the wigs as well? I noticed on your official website you’re spraying the Satmar top hat.

Yeah the hats are my department but the wigs are not. The wigs are a very specialized department and we had a fabulous hair and makeup, Head of Department, Jens Bartram and he actually handmade all of the wigs.

Unorthodox Cast - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Unorthodox Cast – Photo provided by Justine Seymour – Credit: Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

He and his team made all of those Payos, which are the curly hair bits which come down the side of the Orthodox Jewish men’s faces. They must’ve made over 100 of those, it was incredible.

What’s the process like when you’re working with a director day-to-day? Do they ever make special requests in the middle of filming?

I’m not a fan of special requests in the middle of filming because it’s a lot of pressure on my department! (laughs) I don’t make a secret of that, so in preproduction, I try and get all of the ideas on the table. If there are special ideas that the director or the showrunner wants, I try and make sure that they really think it through before we start shooting, so that I can facilitate them as best I can. Because if somebody turns around on the shoot day and goes, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely if we had a donkey walking in the background?’ It’s like well, where are we going to get a donkey from?! (laughs)

In preproduction, which I think was about six weeks, that’s where we have the meetings, we pull apart the script. I do the mood boards for each character. Esty, of course, is the main character so she’s my one character that pulls the whole visual story through the narrative.

Moishe Lefkovitch [Jeff Wilbusch] and Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] in Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

Moishe Lefkovitch [Jeff Wilbusch] and Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro [Shira Haas] in Unorthodox – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

I often liken it to the idea of taking an enormous jigsaw puzzle and you just drop the jigsaw puzzle on the floor and you pick out the centerpiece. You know that the centerpiece has got to be built around. Esty is my centerpiece!

Shira Haas in Wedding Dress - Behind the Scenes of Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour

Shira Haas in Wedding Dress – Behind the Scenes of Unorthodox – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour

When I was watching Unorthodox, I noticed Moishe’s jacket appeared slightly blue. Maybe navy blue. Was that an intentional detail?

Yes, yes, yes! With Moishe, who actually has in the story left the community and then come back, he was kind of a bad boy. That’s why his payois were a bit shorter because he had cut them off and was regrowing them. He had got back together with his wife but he still had these ghosts within him. Moishe was still addicted to gambling he still drank alcohol, smoked, and he did things that are a bit frowned upon within this community.

Moishe Lefkovitch [Jeff Wilbusch] in Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Moishe Lefkovitch [Jeff Wilbusch] in Unorthodox – Photo provided by Justine Seymour – Credit: Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

So, how I separated him was I did give him a self striped, navy blue three-piece suit. All of the other members of the community I put in black or very dark grey. I wanted him to just stand out a little bit because he is kind of a sexy bad boy and I wanted to play on that! (laughs) I also gave him a very nice pair of boots because I think that whatever an actor is wearing, it will change their attitude.

Moishe Lefkovitch [Jeff Wilbusch] in Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Moishe Lefkovitch [Jeff Wilbusch] in Unorthodox – Photo provided by Justine Seymour – Credit: Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

Yanky, Esty’s husband, I gave some very comfortable, sensible shoes that were just very ploddy and you know, nobody would ever look at them. But with Moishe, I gave him some suede slip-on ankle boots, to give him the kind of sensation that he actually really nicely dressed. So, he could have a bit of a swagger in his step. Actors really appreciate little tricks like that, when the costume designer makes you feel a certain way, and it pushes the character into life.

Moishe Lefkovitch [Jeff Wilbusch] in Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

Moishe Lefkovitch [Jeff Wilbusch] in Unorthodox – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

I noticed the difference immediately with the Yankees and Mets caps. Do you feel there’s something about the Yankees’ logo that’s considered more ‘sexy’ visually than the Mets?

Those fateful caps were only for them to be incognito while they were in Berlin looking for Esty. I think it was a really cute scene when Yanky and Moishe were sort of fighting over who gets which hat. Of course, Yanky doesn’t get the cooler hat and Moishe takes it.

Moishe Lefkovitch [Jeff Wilbusch] and Yanky Shapiro [Amit Rahav] in Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

Moishe Lefkovitch [Jeff Wilbusch] and Yanky Shapiro [Amit Rahav] in Unorthodox – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

But actually, they were scripted, so I just got those hats, and we had to clear it with the legal department. Then I let the director play with the way that scene turned out.

I thought you were really able to convey Esty’s Father Mordecai Schwartz really well. He had this disheveled, sloppy kind of look, his clothes appeared a bit wider as well. What was it like bringing this vision of the character from drawing to life?

Thank you! He was obviously not a good husband to Esty’s mother and the relationship broke down very quickly after those two had gotten married. Esty’s mother ultimately did want to keep her daughter but wasn’t allowed because the community considered her children the property of the community. That’s a little bit of a controversial point but Mordecai is an alcoholic and he was a very troubled life. He’s not a father to Esty and the actual actor [Gera Sandler] who plays him is a theatre actor who’s originally from Israel but now lives in New York.

Esty's father Mordecai Schwartz [Gera Sandler] on Unorthodox - Art/Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Esty’s father Mordecai Schwartz [Gera Sandler] on Unorthodox – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

He really wanted to show everyone up so he wanted the clothes to be dirty and I really made them look old. I used sandpaper and spilled food down on the front. He looked really like he wasn’t looking after himself. The hat actually was the brainchild of our wonderful Eli Rosen who was helping us all the way through it. He grew up in the Satmar community and he became our consultant and then he became our rabbi. So he was not only acting as the rabbi but consulting all the way through the show.

Unorthodox Cast - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Unorthodox Cast – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

I’d found the hat in the shop and was like, ‘What about this?!’ Eli said, “Oh, that would be so good for Mordecai because it’s so old fashioned. I got what. It was really big to wear those 40 or 50 years ago. And now of course, they’re totally out of fashion. We brought the hat for Gera (Sandler) and he really loved the idea of it! We made him really stand out from the crowd of well dressed Satmar community.

What inspired you to want to be a costume designer originally? I’ve read that your first career was in modeling.

(laughs) Yeah, like a million years ago! I have always really appreciated the stories that clothing tells. I started sewing from a very early age when I was about five or six and my granny used to help me make clothes for my dolls I was amazed because she was a very good sewer. She made lots of doll clothes for me and that really inspired me to learn how to sew. And then I started making clothes for myself, for humans. (laughs) The first dress I ever made was actually for my two year old sister, and I think I was about 10.

Then I started making my own clothes when I was about 13, 14 and I really noticed the different types of fabrics. How they made me feel, how they flowed. I was just coming into puberty, so I was experimenting with clothes that were a little bit more feminine, a little bit more sexy. I noticed that certain fabrics and certain designs helped me feel a certain way. That was the seed being planted of using clothing as a communication tool.

Justine Seymour - Photo Credit: Katerina Stratos

Justine Seymour – Photo Credit: Katerina Stratos

I loved going to the theatre of course, going to the West End with my other grandmother who took me to plays. I remember watching Peter Pan and thinking how the costume of Peter Pan had to be made to go over the construction, the girdle harness, the thing that made him fly in the air.

Unorthodox cast in wedding scene contrasted with Deborah Feldman's original wedding photo - Art/Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Unorthodox cast in wedding scene contrasted with Deborah Feldman’s original wedding photo – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

I really remember even at the age of 8, thinking that was something technical that people would have to think about. It was just in my blood! Being a model was just something I did because you know, it’s fun & I happened to be 5 foot 10 and I was very slim. I got to go see New York and go see all that for years. But by the time I was 20, I was utterly bored with it, and thought it was frivolous and stupid. I was also told I’d need plastic surgery, and “I was like that’s it! I’m out of here!”

Really? That’s what they said to you? That’s such a brutal statement.

Yeah! Actually, I was even younger I was 19 and they told me I need an eye job, and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s not going to happen. That’s not ever going to happen!’ (laughs) So I started sewing again. I made clothes for my then partner who was a DJ & a musician and I made all his stage clothes.

Unorthodox cast - Art / Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Unorthodox cast – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

Then I worked with Sinéad O’Connor in the 80s and then with Seal. He had a dancer in one of his performances and I made all of his clothes. It just sort of snowballed from that.

Did you have the art, drawing side down prior to taking your innate instinct in fashion to the next level as a costume designer?

Well, when I really realized that I actually could make a career out of doing something I loved. I actually enrolled for film school in Sydney, Australia and I went to a fantastic film school called the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School. I did my master’s degree there. One of the courses I took was a live life drawing class. That really helped me get a bit of movement into one what I like to call my stick figures! (laughs)

Unorthodox's Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] - Art / Photo Credit:  Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Unorthodox’s Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro [Shira Haas] – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

To be honest, when I first started drawing they weren’t that great. But I’ve been a costume designer now for over 20 years. I have to draw a lot in order to communicate what I want, whether it’s to my tailor or the director or just to present ideas. I just naturally got better at doing them because I do them! I’m a true believer in the 10,000 hours makes you a genius.

Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] in Unorthodox - Art / Photo Credit: Justine Seymour / Anika Molnar / Netflix

Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro [Shira Haas] in Unorthodox – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour (Art Design) / Anika Molnar & Netflix (Photo Still)

I haven’t done 10,000 hours of drawing but I have done the 10,000 hours of sewing! (laughs)

Have you been able to work on The Mosquito Coast, your upcoming Apple TV show, or is production currently frozen due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus epidemic?

We are halfway through shooting it. We’d been in Mexico at the end of last year and beginning of this year and we got to exactly the halfway point. COVID-19 just shut us all down… So, I’m actually waiting to find out whether or not we’ll be able to up and running again. In a way it’s actually great because I have all this time to do interviews! If we were shooting I wouldn’t be able to.

Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] in Unorthodox - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro [Shira Haas] in Unorthodox – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

It’s a bittersweet time for all of us but it’s fantastic that Unorthodox has been nominated for 8 Emmys. It’s very exciting! I actually also won the German award for Best Costume Design for Television. Which was just really, really wonderful! So it has to be an amazing year for me but at the same time, it’s been just horrible and difficult to deal with the world, having so much pressure on it.

Thanks Justine!

Thank you!

See more of Justine Seymour’s Costume Design Work:

Justine Seymour - Photo Credit: Justine Seymour

Justine Seymour – Photo Credit: Justine Seymour

Visit Justine Seymour’s official website and see her impressive Portfolio of work!

Justine Seymour is up for a 2020 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes on Unorthodox along with costume supervisors Simone Kreska and Barbara Schramm.

Unorthodox - Season 1 Episode 1  - Pictured : Esther 'Esty' Shapiro [Shira Haas] - Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

Unorthodox – Season 1 Episode 1 – Pictured : Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro [Shira Haas] – Photo Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

Watch all four chapters of Unorthodox right now on Netflix! You can purchase a copy of Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots which the series is based on, over at Amazon.

– Fan of Netflix’s Ozark? Be sure to read The Natural Aristocrat®’s exclusive interview with Lisa Emery on Ozark’s Darlene Snell, Season 4, the Coronavirus pandemic and much more!

– The Natural Aristocrat® also recently interviewed Netflix’s Wizards: Tales of Arcadia executive producers Quandt, Waltke on the season’s ending, character deaths as a narrative plot device and more!

– Check out more interviews with the top talent in the Film & Television industry in The Natural Aristocrat®’s Interview Articles category section.

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Fashion

Mulan hair, makeup, prosthetics designer Denise Kum talks creative process (Interview)

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Yifei Liu as Mulan in Disney's MULAN. Photo credit: Jasin Boland. © 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Photo credit: Jasin Boland / Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Denise Kum, Makeup Designer, Hair Designer, and Prosthetics Designer for Disney’s Mulan spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about her diligent, academic-like exploration of historic Chinese culture for the live-action film adaption.

Denise Kum is a well researched student of history, incorporating classical Chinese culture in every element of her designs from the days of the Tang Dynasty, Five Dynasties, Qin Dynasty, Han Dynasty. Occasionally, also being inspired by an Alexander McQueen runway show or two. Each aspect of Kum’s design work is intricately though out, there’s always a reason for its existence.

Li Gong as Xianniang behind the scenes of Disney’s MULAN. Photo credit: Jasin Boland. © 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Whether it’s Xianniang’s white makeup matching the color palette of a Hawk well with the Chinese symbolism of a mysterious, cunning, powerful individual or Böri Khan’s personifying scars… Which she drew directly on actor Jason Scott Lee’s face while he did live facial expressions. There is an exceptional amount of sophistication behind crafting a ‘face in motion’ visually.

Interview with Mulan’s Denise Kum:

Disney’s MULAN – Pictured: L to R: Groom’s mother, Matchmaker (Pei-Pei Cheng), Xiu (Xana Tang), Wuwei (Rosalind Chao) and Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Natural Aristocrat : The matchmaker scene is one of the film’s most visually aesthetic moments, and there’s a lot in this movie, preciously because of the way the makeup is styled on Mulan. What did you use as a reference or inspiration for the colors to vividly burst like that? I particularly noticed the blueish-green eyebrows.

Denise Kum: It’s quite a fun scene and a comedic moment too! I mean, one thing we really wanted was to have something with not just visual dynamism but a lot of fun in it. So that lots of little girls would watch it, or anybody really and just laugh. I think the way that Pei-Pei plays matchmaker was just so endearing for those of us that are Chinese. We can all really relate to living with a stern, patriarchal figure… From the matriarch. (laughs) The matchmaker was this stern matriarchal figure, that we were all afraid of.

For the matchmaker, we really wanted her to be quite over the top. You probably noticed that a lot of the makeup, whether it’s the makeup that’s on the matchmaker or the ceremonial makeup that’s put onto Yifei as Mulan is being presented up for marriage… A lot of those colors & the hair ornamentation kind of come from the late Tang & Five Dynasties time. The structure of all the hair, the high buns & the shapes, are often decorated with different kinds of flowers and ornamentation. Many opted to buy wigs in that particular time. So we really wanted to make use of that and I looked at a lot of sculptures & figurines of that early period where they have these kind of hair styles.

Xana Tang as Xiu and Rosalind Chao as Li in Disney’s MULAN. Photo credit: Jasin Boland. © 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

We just pushed it over the edge a little bit more. Often in that time too, they wore very heavy Rouge, often covering the cheek along the jaw line. They often refer to this look as red clouds at dawn and it’s kind of been associated with the story of the female musician at the palace. You know, put her face on the screen and there was like scatter marks running down your face. A lot of these lovely stories come up when you start researching about lyrical ideas to makeup I suppose.

In any particular society, people kind of copy things that well-known people or aristocrats have done. Also on the actual matchmaker are little scar-like crescents on her face. Every mark comes from a little fable. These scar-like marks emerged from the northern and southern dynasty. Apparently, because we don’t know what’s true and what’s fiction, a palace maiden was doted on by an emperor because she injured herself which left scars on the side of her face but the emperor continued to adore her. (laughs)

In any particular society, people kind of copy things that well-known people or aristocrats have done.

This serves as an endorsement for this kind of trend of beauty and then fiction, where I had these very symbolic shapes, which also look slightly cartoony. I would draw them onto the matchmaker, she also has these little dimples on both sides of her mouth, these kind of beauty marks. On Yifei herself in that scene, the props we used for the makeup application when she’s getting ready. The white powder is whittled into rice powder, and then you’ve got the yellow, the blue, and the red.

Disney’s MULAN -Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s all very much Primary Colors, I also wanted them to pop because those are the colors were used in early Disney. Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck. The primary colors are the beginning of all color palettes, alls colors are mixed out of those. It was also to be very heightened. There’s a lovely joke in the film, ‘That winter storm could not ruin this makeup!’ So, it is the fact that it is really over the top. She has so much makeup on because she’s being presented & the fact that she’s like, ‘This is my happy face! This is my sad face!’ (laughs)

The primary colors are the beginning of all color palettes, alls colors are mixed out of those.

It was really about working within the tone of that. The eyebrows, that bluey-green pigment that you mentioned, it’s like a peacock color. We used the yellow because the yellow forehead was extremely popular around the time of the Tang Dynasty. There was an idea in the Tang Dynasty that it exuded an auspicious aura as well as a symbol of good luck in Chinese culture. I really also wanted to use not just what the primary colors were but the symbolism of every single color, particularly in Chinese culture. A mix of symbolism and primarily palette.

Was that you directly applying the makeup on Mulan in the film? And if it wasn’t… Do you wish it was? It seemed like art imitating life, full circle.

It was actually meant to be me because we had written a little script for what we were going to do and Niki , the director & Mandy , the DOP. We discussed with them what they wanted to see, what would be good because it’s very much a visual scene with the powder in the air, the fabric being wrapped. But on that particular day, I was also working with Gong Li (Xianniang). So, the lovely Georgia , who was the makeup artist who was helping to look after Yifei, that was her doing that.

She was heavily pregnant at the time so she had to kind of keep her belly out & stretch her arm out because obviously we couldn’t risk to have her in the frame! (laughs) It was supposed to be Rosalind (Mulan’s mother), and when we did shoot the scene, Rosalind did a few pickups where we had her in the frame. But all the closeups were done by the makeup artist.

You mentioned scars before. I felt the scars/eyeliner on Böri Khan went a long way into furthering his look of ‘villainy’. Do you generally have a playbook for creative touches like that or is it typically directly referenced in a film script?

Well, it kind of came about from early discussion about his character and at that stage also, Niki had said to me that she wanted his whole group to be ground dwelling. They’re tribal & nomadic and they move around. Obviously, we wanted Böri to have a history, so the history of him was that people have tried to kill him many times but have not succeeded.

Disney’s MULAN – L to R: Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and Xianniang (Gong Li) -Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There’s one shot where you can see scarring not just on his face but on his body, I think when he’s washing in the tent. He has quite a big keloid scar, the whole thing is the group just keeps stitching themselves back up and carrying on being bad guys! (laughs) Early on also, when people do scars on the face it’s always the go-to types of scars where they may have had an injury. But with him, we really wanted to think about how those scars might have occurred. When he first started to do facial expressions like pulling faces, he was also practicing a Māori dance which is done with a stick, called a Taiaha. I know that Jason had been practicing that while over in New Zealand, it’s like a martial art.

It’s similar to when the Māori people do what’s called the haka, if you ever watch Rugby they do a version that at the beginning of the game. It’s like a welcome or a blessing but also a challenge. Often warriors would use the Taiaha, it’s quite a powerful, for a lack of a better term, a welcome. When you do that as a warrior, you have a lot of facial expressions, you stick your tongue out & move your face, and Jason would be doing this in the makeup chair. That really informed where I felt I wanted a lot of the prosthetics. Basically, I would get him to move his face and then I would just draw directly on, before we made attempts to do sculptures. You know, sculpt out the appliances of where the scars should be.

Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan in Mulan – Poster provided by Disney

So they should look like nicks, gouges, and old scars. But they were very much designed around his face. I don’t recall if any scar was mentioned in the script, at all actually. I think we just built that directly out of his character and Niki wanting to tell the story of him having had a history. It’s definitely something we developed for his total look as was his guy liner & his hair pieces so that he doesn’t look as refined and as handsome as he is in real life! We wanted to make him a little larger than life and villain-like.

It’s definitely something we developed for his total look as was his guy liner & his hair pieces so that he doesn’t look as refined and as handsome as he is in real life!

That’s pretty amazing Jason did live facial expressions while you applied the preliminary prosthetics!

Yeah, it was just the approach that I took with this because it’s a face in motion. How he would screw up his nose, how he would move his mouth, how he’d do things. Also, because you have to think critically how it will all come together.

What was the inspiration for Xianniang’s half painted face? I felt it greatly enhanced a sense of mystery around her.

It was quite a few different things for inspiration. When I started to look at a lot of artwork for that time, particularly from 600 to 800 AD, which is kind of loosely the high period of the Tang Dynasty, there’s a lot of pottery figures that have dancers. There’s an artist named Zhou Fang, and he used to make scroll paintings because there was no photos in that time. All the women had like a white central panel on their face and across their forehead.

Disney’s MULAN – Xianniang (Gong Li) – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This of course is probably the idea of the rice powder that is patted on the face, similar to what we were doing in the matchmaker scene. We decided to isolate that particular central panel and if you look at a lot of the old pottery, not only did they have them with bright red cheeks, they also have like a little veil of white. I liked how this was very of that period but also symbolically, white is kind of the color of mourning in Chinese culture.

It’s seen as one of the five elements, which is indicative also of moral purity. On the stage in Chinese culture, a white face can denote treacherous cunning but dignified person. So I liked how, there were these motifs with the color white, that there had been the symbolism in these paintings.

Disney’s MULAN – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Around a little bit earlier than that, probably during the Qin & the Han Dynasties from 200 B.C. to about 200 AD, there was quite a nice little feminist thing where the woman’s morals were much more cherished as opposed to her physical beauty during this period. And how the Chinese woman would dress in clothes similar to men, and the Chinese began to relate the White complexion with power. So I quite like all these different notes that kept seeming to pop up. So, it wasn’t just like, ‘give her a mask,’ I wanted to decide how that would set conceptually.

The whole idea of the mask came because we wanted it to be mysterious. It also came from the theatrical idea of having a disguise to hide by because we don’t really know who Xianniang is when we first meet her. There was a fantastic runway show by the fashion designer Alexander McQueen and he had a very similar panel of white across the face.

Gong Li as Xianniang in Mulan – Poster provided by Disney

So I kind of merged all of those things together really. And then we kind of put it through the strain of doing illustration and thinking about it very much with the costume & the crown. The crown wasn’t developed so it was set really well within that. It’s much more a process of bringing together a lot of different influences, from Avant-garde fashion to Chinese symbolism.

It’s much more a process of bringing together a lot of different influences, from Avant-garde fashion to Chinese symbolism.

The idea of what a disguise would offer rather than do eyeshadow and lipstick.

So is white both a color of mourning and power in Chinese culture?

The color white has always changed through time. It’s indicative of moral purity but it’s also seen on the stage with the Peking Opera, a lot of the Chinese there wear a white mask with things painted on it. It’s also denoting as I said, a cunning & treacherous person. Through time, people related that when people would use a lot of white on their face, became something that was related to power. Taking all these different histories of what white means to Chinese culture is why I decided on that color as opposed to any other color.

Also, it just really, really worked well with her color palette because her look is based off the hawk. The way that her eye shadow is slanted and the kind of spine that goes around her crown and forms her hair. It’s all additive, everything is related to everything. It’s not like ‘this is a good idea, let’s do that!’ there’s many, many layers into how to build a character.

Disney’s MULAN – L to R: Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and Xianniang (Gong Li) – Photo Credit: Jasin Boland © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Looking at good old fashioned tomb pottery had good references in there! (laughs) That’s how we built our witch! I mean she has prosthetic talons as well, which are weapons and come out. She’s a bit of a shapeshifter. I really wanted the makeup on her to be very supernatural and very eye-catching.

She’s a bit of a shapeshifter. I really wanted the makeup on her to be very supernatural and very eye-catching.

Mulan’s long locks flow eloquently after she reveals her true identity. What kind of work was invested in creating this look of freedom in femininity?

Long hair with wind machines, wire work, working on horses, and doing stunts is always very difficult so all the individual hair pieces had to be set & baked every day. Yifei’s own hair had been treated with three types of product to get her curls to set properly. Which we had to change out depending if we were shooting in snow, humidity, or the very dry climate of LA. You’ve got three different elements which with hair is very different. It’s a lot like baking a cake, to make sure it would rise at any different type of window with any type of situation.

Disney’s MULAN -Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo Credit: Jasin Boland © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There was some old fashioned fishing-line truth be known, to pull things out in the matchmaker scene when her hair tumbles down. And also again when her hair is released after Mulan decides, ‘Stuff this, I’m going to reveal myself!’

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Jasin Boland © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s good you noticed that because it’s not something happens without thought and a lot of prep.

Yeah, no one wakes up with their hair looking like that.

(laughs) But of of course, it has to be seamlessly done, and all of that had to be replicated on her stunt doubles & stand-ins. Even though she did the majority of things herself.

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

How many stunt doubles did Yifei have?

Oh gosh, I can’t remember off the top of my head because it depends if we were shooting on unit or two. She had running doubles, riding doubles, some of them are used just for trick scenes. Pretty much Yifei was in almost every single scene.

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) -Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When we were filming in China we had to have a double do a lot of the running on the roof tops and stairs. We obviously had a lot of stand ins for the actors because while they get ready, someone has to be on set and to lineup.

What did it mean to you personally to showcase Mulan’s story to a new generation? Particularly, the transformation from restriction (dirt on the face, hair always covered up, shame) to Mulan embracing who she really was and acceptance.

It’s really fantastic! I think even though the story is very endemically at its heart Chinese, it’s incredibly universal. It’s a very timely story. I think for me, what I like about it is she’s probably less of a princess and more of a warrior, which I think is a modern interpretation of a Disney princess or Disney story.

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Stephen Tilley © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The key central female role plays very strongly with how the world is now. Showing her emotional journey, there is that worry about being found out and then obviously, relinquishing that. But of course, there were threats in that time and that’s show in the film.

Disney’s Mulan – Photo provided by costume designer Bina Daigeler – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Expulsion and death were real threats that would happen to you if you had betrayed.

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Jasin Boland © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The key central female role plays very strongly with how the world is now.

So, it’s not necessarily just because she was in shame or embarrassed. She knew she would dishonor her family get killed, or expulsion which is actually worse than death. Bringing shame to the family is I think the main thing she was trying to avoid.

Yifei Liu as Mulan and Tzi Ma as Zhou in Disney’s MULAN. Photo by Jasin Boland.

How much did you use the 1998 animated film adaptation of Mulan (if at all) as a reference point?

Well, there were iconic scenes that we referred to but not really. I didn’t ever try to copy every frame. There were a few images like the reflection scene, that really had more to do with iconic things like her hair comb. That plays quite heavily in the animation and we obviously have that in our film, the father knows when she’s left because it’s the same hair comb Mulan wears when she goes to the matchmaker.

Tzi Ma as Zhou in Disney’s MULAN. Photo by Jasin Boland.

We also had Ming-Na Wen, who’s the original voice of Mulan. She had a cameo in our film, there were nice little parallels like that. Ming-Na Wen appears in the scene in the palace, when Mulan comes in to meet the Emperor , Wen presents her. She says ‘Your excellency, introducing Hua Mulan!’ There’s a very hidden layers like that as you go through the film. Wen was hugely influential in terms of the first two animated films.

Disney’s MULAN – The Emperor (Jet Li) – Photo Credit: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The scene where Mulan is praised by the Emperor is visually stunning all around, looks practically like a painting. Was that the scene that took longest to put together? It felt like it had an incredible amount of investment in every detail.

The set was really incredible! All of the costumes, it was so stunning to just be in there. I mean, of course, we have brevity, the scene has to be shorter on-screen but everything was so beautiful. It did look a lot like a painting.

Everybody had clothes and hair accessories & wigs that were all bespoke, so everything was built. Every single person was individually ‘fine tuned.’ We had the monks and the scroll writers, we really wanted the scene to be quite opulent to show the status of the Emperor. Yeah, it did take quite a long time to put together. I don’t think it gets as much screen time as is allowable but it’s great you liked it!

Every single person was individually ‘fine tuned.’

You can definitely tell you’re watching a big budget Disney production in that scene. It makes an impression instantly.

Yeah, it took a long time to get everyone’s hair and makeup because a lot of the women had hair that was built on hair cages, which are quite difficult to wear. The wigs were built over a structure more like sculpture some of them because a lot of the hair is very big.

You’re the hair, makeup, and prosthetics designer on upcoming film, Operation Mincemeat, by Director John Madden. How’s production of moving forward currently?

We just finished pickups for Operation Mincemeat in London, we did all of the principle photography right before the lockdown actually. So, we just managed to finish it! And we’ve only had five days of reshoots.

What was the spark that made you want to pursue a career in hair, makeup, and prosthetics?

It’s kind of similar to how life is a funny twist of fate really. I mean my background is as an artist, I’m an exhibiting artist and I pretty much make sculpture, painting, and Installation art. When I was an art school, we would make our own little short films, music videos, the typical art school kind of way. We all bunk in and you all do things for each other. I would always be tasked with doing the makeup, the hair, the wardrobe the art department.

That kind of segued into being very interested in developing that further and doing more training. I kind of did it alongside my art career & then I was asked to work on films and be paid to do it! So, it kind of grew out of that. It wasn’t me deciding, I’m going to be a makeup artist. I think it’s also that language you learn visually to paint and sculpt. As a conceptual artist, it’s having the ideas of how to build something together.

Mulan Poster Art provided by Disney

Thanks Denise!

Thank you!

About Denise Kum

Denise Kum on Disney’s set for Mulan – Photo provided by Denise Kum

View more of Denise Kum’s impressive portfolio of film work at Casarotto Ramsay & Associates!

Watch Mulan on Disney+ right now with Premier Access!

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read:

– The Natural Aristocrat®’s Mulan Review: Gorgeous, dazzling visuals paint sublime action (2020 Film)

– The Natural Aristocrat®’s Interview with Mulan and Mrs. America costume designer Bina Daigeler

Check out more interviews with the top talent in the entertainment industry in The Natural Aristocrat®’s Interview Articles section!

Disney’s MULAN – Mulan (Yifei Liu) – Photo: Film Frame © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Mrs. America, Mulan costume designer Bina Daigeler on researching every detail (Interview)

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MRS. AMERICA -- Pictured: Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly. CR: Pari Dukovic/FX
Photo Credit: Pari Dukovic / FX

Emmy nominated costume designer Bina Daigeler spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about the meticulous research invested into every nook & cranny of her designs for Hulu/FX’s Mrs. America, Disney’s Mulan, and Hitman: Agent 47.

Costume designer Bina Daigeler fully immerses herself into every single detail in the creative process, no piece of history to be relegated to pocket lint. No fabric left behind. From watching hours of tape of the powerful women she’s dressing in Hulu/FX’s Mrs. America to exploring museums in China for Mulan. In Bina’s own words on Mrs. America, “All these powerful women, it doesn’t matter if they were liberals or conservatives, they really had a language in how they dress. All women have it.”

A tailor at heart, Daigeler’s expansive vision for Mrs. America’s Jill Ruckelshaus caught the attention of actress Elizabeth Banks. “Bina! Wait! Are we doing more seasons and I just don’t know it yet? Are you dressing me already for Season 3 here? I love it all!”

Interview with Bina Daigeler:

The Natural Aristocrat : I noticed Phyllis Schlafly is wearing a bluish-green dress in the memorable scene where Jill Ruckelshaus tells her, “You want to get ahead climbing on the shoulders of men, Phyllis? Fine. Just know, they’re looking right up your skirt!”

MRS. AMERICA — Pictured: Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus. CR: Sabrina Lantos/FX

Ironically, Phyllis wears a similar bluish-green dress on ‘The Conservative Viewpoint’… Where the host, Phil Crane , kept lightly touching her backstage while feigning interest in Phyllis’ opinions. To me, this appeared to be an intentional creative choice. Were you trying to subtly callback and remind the audience of that moment?

Bina Daigeler: Yes, somehow the pastel colors were the favorite choice for Phyllis and there was almost an evolution. At the beginning, the Reds & light Blues were softer, then I slowly made them a little bit stronger.

MRS. AMERICA — Pictured: Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly. CR: Sabrina Lantos/FX

For example, from Episode 6 (“Jill”) on, I really avoided the light blue and went to a dark blue, to different kinds of grays. Then I had this green one when she’s in the elevator with all the men, and she stands out in her pastel green suit. There’s a evolution from the baby blue to the stronger but still pastel blue.


For me, from Episode 7 (“Bella”) on, Phyllis really shifts and loses it more… Which is why I had her in darker and darker colors.

What was Elizabeth Banks’ first impressions of the dresses for Jill Ruckelshaus? How was the first fitting?

We had a wonderful fitting! We enjoyed it so much! In the first fitting, we had just after an hour, we had so many outfits that she said to me, “Bina! Wait! Are we doing more seasons and I just don’t know it yet? Are you dressing me already for Season 3 here? I love it all!”

I said, “It’s because everything suits you so well, what can we do?” We really enjoyed it! It was just magical and amazing.

MRS. AMERICA — “Jill” –Episode 6 (Aired May 6) With a pro-ERA Republican in the White House, Phyllis protests her own party, which puts her in conflict with Republican Feminist leader, Jill Ruckelshaus. Written by Sharon Hoffman; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Pictured: Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

“Bina! Wait! Are we doing more seasons and I just don’t know it yet? Are you dressing me already for Season 3 here? I love it all!” – Elizabeth Banks

There seemed to be a clashing juxtaposition where Phyllis is at her most vulnerable while wearing the most vivid of colors. I particularly took note of this in Episode 5 (“Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc”) when she’s debating Brenda Feigen-Fasteau . Phyllis is wearing an attention grabbing Red dress, and is embarrassed after being labeled “Submissive” by her husband Fred on National TV.

In the earlier premiere episode, Phyllis wears an eye-catching pink suit going into her group meeting with Barry Goldwater … And is asked to simply take notes instead of expressing any opinions out loud. Was that the reasoning behind that?

Yes but I think mainly that Phyllis loves wearing the stronger red in public. Phyllis was always convinced that she’d win in kind of discussion, that everybody thinks positively of her. I think she wore red as a statement, ‘Here I am!’ because of her high self esteem.

MRS. AMERICA — “Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc” –Episode 105 (Aired April 29) Phyllis and Fred Schlafly debate superstar Feminist couple Brenda and Marc Feigan-Fasteau on television. Written by Micah Schraft & April Shih; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Cate Blanchett As Phyllis Schlafly. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

Then when Phyllis talks and notices that she’s losing, she also loses her strength… But she was dressed in red already like the winner. So yes, there is a contradiction. You never know. You dress but you never know what happens.

You dress but you never know what happens.

Some of the costumes we really reproduced from what the real Phyllis Schlafly wore. The orange dress I believe she wore in Episode 2 (“Gloria”) is an example of one. We took the liberty of changing the year because it was just better for us. During my research, I found Phyllis’ first appearance in public on television and she was super simply dressed in a very light blue knitted sweater. I used that when she was with Phil Crane .

MRS. AMERICA — “Betty” –Episode 4 (Aired April 22) Pictured: Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly. CR: Sabrina Lantos/FX

I think once Phyllis did that, she realized how much power television had. From then on, she really started to dress up very consciously for her public moments.

How much did you rely on references for your inspirations? I understand you made almost everything by hand essentially?

We made a lot! We mainly made all the principal actresses and actors and I was very interested in recreating the iconic moments of all these public personalities. It was out of respect and also interest because you know, when you hear someone’s name and don’t know them, you immediately go look them up & Google all their photos! I feel someone would expect that all they’ve seen on a show matches. I wanted to give our audience the same thing. I was really interested in that they match.

MRS. AMERICA — “Gloria” –Episode 2 (Aired April 15) Pictured (l-r): Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem. CR: Sabrina Lantos/FX

All these powerful women, it doesn’t matter if they were liberals or conservatives, they really had a language in how they dress. All women have it. It was so obvious you could see who was from each side at the beginning but later on in the 70s, it switched a little bit. The fashion changed, and it got more unified. At the beginning of the 70s, I think that you could really draw a line between them in how they dressed.

MRS. AMERICA — “Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc” –Episode 105 (Aired April 29) Phyllis and Fred Schlafly debate superstar Feminist couple Brenda and Marc Feigan-Fasteau on television. Written by Micah Schraft & April Shih; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Pictured (l-r): Ari Graynor as Rose Byrne. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

All these powerful women, it doesn’t matter if they were liberals or conservatives, they really had a language in how they dress. All women have it.

As you mentioned the scene where Phyllis was speaking with Jill, both of them are actually very similarly dressed. Jill is also a Republican.

MRS. AMERICA — “Jill” –Episode 6 (Aired May 6) With a pro-ERA Republican in the White House, Phyllis protests her own party, which puts her in conflict with Republican Feminist leader, Jill Ruckelshaus. Written by Sharon Hoffman; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Pictured: Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

They’re both married, they both have children. I loved that somehow, they are so similar! You can see a difference in their bags yet it’s an interpretation of almost the same blouse. I think it’s a great scene.

Do you ever come up with so many options for the cast that it’s difficult even for you to choose one? Does the director generally give feedback throughout the process?

It depends. Some directors love to participate and interact, some not so much. Sometimes, I have doubts and then I ask. I also look at the art and production design, the other actresses. It’s actually not so much about the physical costume where I have doubts. It’s more about what does this scene mean? What is the psychological background of the actress? And that is where the doubts sometimes start.

MRS. AMERICA — “Houston” –Episode 8 (Aired May 20) Alice, Rosemary and Pamela cross into enemy territory at the National Women’s Conference in Houston, where they come face-to-face with Feminist leaders. Written by Dahvi Waller; Directed by Janicza Bravo. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Pictured: Sarah Paulson as Alice. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

It’s more about what does this scene mean? What is the psychological background of the actress?

MRS. AMERICA — “Bella” –Episode 7 (Aired May 13) Bella is put in charge of the first ever government-funded National Women’s Conference. Phyllis and her women clash over how to best disrupt the conference. Written by Micah Schraft; Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Pictured: Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

For example, in all the scenes where they were not in public, where they’re at home, and I didn’t have any references. What would they wear? Who were they? That is the real costume design that you do. Where you think, ‘How can I create the feelings of my character through my costumes?’

MRS. AMERICA — “Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc” –Episode 105 (Aired April 29) Phyllis and Fred Schlafly debate superstar Feminist couple Brenda and Marc Feigan-Fasteau on television. Written by Micah Schraft & April Shih; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Cate Blanchett As Phyllis Schlafly. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

I was impressed with how well Mrs. America captured the 70s style in a realistic way. It felt genuine, you could tell a lot of research went into it. What was your biggest influence to capturing the era so accurately?

You know what I think it is? Several things come together, first of all everything is made for the main actors, so it fits super well. I think that’s why it looks so real, and perhaps I modernized it a little bit. Which made it look casual and really real. I don’t know how to describe it exactly but I knew what I was trying to do and it worked! (laughs)

MRS. AMERICA — Pictured: Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan. CR: Sabrina Lantos/FX

I didn’t want it to look stiff. I wanted the clothes to look stiff on Phyllis because Phyllis I think was a very somehow stiff person. I think she was very much in her own ambition and imprisoned. So for her, I really used the stiff materials… But for the others, I really tried to make the materials soft and that they adapted & moved.

MRS. AMERICA — “Bella” –Episode 7 (Aired May 13) Bella is put in charge of the first ever government-funded National Women’s Conference. Phyllis and her women clash over how to best disrupt the conference. Written by Micah Schraft; Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Pictured: Sarah Paulson as Alice, Melanie Lynskey as Rosemary Thomson, Kayli Carter as Pamela. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

For me, it was important that it doesn’t look like a fashion show or a period show because what is the most important thing about Ms. America? It’s the message, that we still are not there. That we still don’t have equal rights for everybody. That there still isn’t inclusion for everybody.

MRS. AMERICA — “Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc” –Episode 105 (Aired April 29) Phyllis and Fred Schlafly debate superstar Feminist couple Brenda and Marc Feigan-Fasteau on television. Written by Micah Schraft & April Shih; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Pictured (l-r): Ari Graynor as Brenda Feigen-Fasteau and Adam Brody. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

What is the most important thing about Ms. America? It’s the message, that we still are not there. That we still don’t have equal rights for everybody. That there still isn’t inclusion for everybody.

That really has to change and that can only change with our younger generations. So I hope that the younger generations see this show and don’t think of it as, “Oh, that was the 70s.” I’m a woman and I still don’t make the same money. Or I’m a lesbian and I don’t have the same rights. Or I’m black and I don’t have the same rights. So, wake up and look at them because yes it is possible if you come together change important things. That is why I really, really hope those who view the show come to this point and reflect… ‘Yes, it’s still happening.’

MRS. AMERICA — “Jill” –Episode 6 (Aired May 6) With a pro-ERA Republican in the White House, Phyllis protests her own party, which puts her in conflict with Republican Feminist leader, Jill Ruckelshaus. Written by Sharon Hoffman; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Pictured: Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug, Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus, Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

You’re the costume designer for Disney’s live-action reimagining of Mulan, which is releasing on the Disney+ (Premier Access) service on September 4th. The costumes in the film trailer and photo stills look gorgeous. What kind of research went into the creative process for Mulan?

I’m looking very much forward for the film to be released because I think it’s an absolutely amazing movie! I think it’s a big screen movie but the circumstances of the Coronavirus changed a lot of things… So it’s one of the side effects unfortunately. But the work on Mulan was one of the most beautiful things I’ve made on my life!

Yifei Liu in Mulan – Photo provided by costume designer Bina Daigeler – Photo Credit: Stephen Tilley / Disney Enterprises

It was so creative and there was so much satisfaction behind it to create all these costumes and get all the inspirations from visiting China and going to exhibitions. To create this world because at the end we create our own Mulan.

Disney’s Mulan – Photo provided by costume designer Bina Daigeler – Photo Credit: Disney / Disney Enterprises

I made an adaption out of the ideas that we created all together with the director and the production designer. It was really, really gratifying to work on it. Something very special.

Yifei Liu in Mulan – Photo provided by costume designer Bina Daigeler – Photo Credit: Disney / Disney Enterprises

How much time did you spend in China? Did you primarily visit the Museums?

I was in China for three weeks in preparation. Yes, I visited the museums, I went to Shanghai & Beijing and also visited the costume houses there. I had a crew prepping things that we needed from there or that we made over there.

Disney’s Mulan – Photo provided by costume designer Bina Daigeler – Photo Credit: Disney / Disney Enterprises

Do you make earrings & other accessories too? I particularly noticed Phyllis’ earrings on Mrs. America.

All the accessories are mine! I feel accessories are really important because it’s something so personal and it gives so much character to everybody. So I took my time to make sure there would be great accessories. We used photographs for reference and tried to match it as best as we could.

You mentioned creating feelings through costumes earlier and immediately I thought of another film you worked on, Hitman Agent: 47. There is no mistaking Agent 47’s iconic red tie and it noticeably popped in the film adaption. What goes into choosing that perfect, symbolic tie to best represent Agent 47’s personality?

Rupert Friend in Hitman: Agent 47 – Photo provided by costume designer Bina Daigeler – Photo Credit: Reiner Bajo//R.Bajo – © TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

Well, if I go for a red tie, then it has to be a really good one! I mean it’s Hitman, if that wouldn’t be perfect… (laughs) I tried to go for a really nice shade of red. For Hitman, that red tie is the character somehow.

Rupert Friend in Hitman: Agent 47 – Photo provided by costume designer Bina Daigeler – Photo credit: Reiner Bajo//R.Bajo – © TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

How has the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic impacted your work? Do you picture a future where all fittings will require mandatory masks and physical distancing?

Well, I know the production that are already working have the strictest rules imaginable. I know how they do it in other areas of work like banks. On the production side, I’m at the moment in Germany, and they’re shooting several big productions in Berlin.

Everybody gets tested, everybody wears masks, everyone is organized in smaller groups. There are very strict rules to avoid any contagion on the set. And the people really follow it.

What made you want to pursue a career as a costume designer originally? Was there a spark, a moment where you knew this is what you wanted to do with your life?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life! (laughs) So, that was what inspired me to do this because I’m actually like a tailor. A clothes maker, a seamstress. And I learned that in a place that made theatre costumes and costumes for movies. There I met costume designers and I realized that somehow, I can really communicate with them very, very well. We just understand each other and I can create something for them.

MRS. AMERICA — “Houston” –Episode 8 (Aired May 20) Alice, Rosemary and Pamela cross into enemy territory at the National Women’s Conference in Houston, where they come face-to-face with Feminist leaders. Written by Dahvi Waller; Directed by Janicza Bravo. Exclusively FX on Hulu.Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

One day, a costume designer asked me if I wanted to be her assistant and I said ‘Yes!’ Then I did my first movie and I realized that it’s really something that suits me.

What does it mean to you to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy for ‘Outstanding Period Costumes’ for your work on Mrs. America? Sharing the honor with your team: Erin Byrne (assistant costume designer), Mila Hermanovski (assistant costume designer), Eileen Kennedy (assistant costume designer), Sheryl Willock (assistant costume designer), Bettina Seifert (costume supervisor), and Erika Larner (costume supervisor).

Wow! I’m so thrilled, it’s absolutely amazing! It just feels so good and I’m so happy to be with all the other amazing costume designers. I think actually the nomination is already almost like the award. Because now, all the works are out and it’s just amazing. It’s wonderful our show made it up to there. I received great comments from people about the costumes in Mrs. America. It’s really nice that somehow you come to a point where people appreciate to see your work. It’s beautiful.

Thanks Bina!

Thank you!

MRS. AMERICA — “Jill” –Episode 6 (Aired May 6) With a pro-ERA Republican in the White House, Phyllis protests her own party, which puts her in conflict with Republican Feminist leader, Jill Ruckelshaus. Written by Sharon Hoffman; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere. Exclusively FX on Hulu. Pictured: Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus. (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/FX)

About Bina Daigeler

Bina Daigeler Headshot – Photo Credit: Bina Daigeler

Visit Bina Daigeler’s official website to view her impressive portfolio! Go to Bina’s IMDB page for a full Film & TV Credits listing.

Watch all 9 episodes of FX on Hulu exclusive Mrs. America now on Hulu!

MRS. AMERICA — “Betty” –Episode 4 (Aired April 22) Pictured (l-r): Sarah Paulson as Alice, David Snelgrove as “Buck.” CR: Sabrina Lantos/FX

Disney’s Mulan will be available to stream for Disney+ members who purchase Premier Access starting September 4, 2020.

Yifei Liu in Mulan – Photo provided by costume designer Bina Daigeler – Photo Credit: Disney / Disney Enterprises

Be sure to read The Natural Aristocrat®’s interview with ‘Unorthodox’ costume designer Justine Seymour on modesty! Check out more interviews with the entertainment industry’s top talent in The Natural Aristocrat®’s Interviews section.

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Fashion

Heidi Mae opens up on Instagram competition, truth of reality TV

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Photo Credit: Heidi Mae
Photo Credit: Heidi Mae

Instagram’s champagne haired influencer Heidi Mae spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about the art of taking the perfect photo and why she’ll never do reality TV again.

The Natural Aristocrat : Do you feel there’s a need to go the extra mile on Instagram these days because of competition rising exponentially all the time?

Heidi Mae: You know, that’s something I’ve thought about a lot… I don’t know if it’s going the extra mile, so much as it would be finding your own voice. I don’t want to create things just to get engagement, which is always sort of the trap. “Oh, I want to get more engagement, so I’ll post something that will get more engagement!” That can really make you suffer artistically. So, I’ve been focusing on creating stuff that I resonate with and trying to be more honest with people. 

This year, I started opening up about some mental health issues that I’ve had, and advocating mental health awareness. I don’t need to have a million followers. But what I would like is to have is a positive impact on whoever sees what I create.

Photo Credit: Heidi Mae

I feel your Adobe Lightroom “Vibrant Life” Presets give your photos an artistic, personal touch other Instagram influencers lack. Something beyond the usual filters everyone already uses. This desert photo comes to mind with the purple/pink hued sky and synthwave cover-esque sun. What made you experiment with Lightroom originally?

I love photography, I’m a big photography nerd! (laughs) I just love the way light plays on things. I’ve had a camera since I was like 18, way back in the MySpace days! When I take a picture, a lot of times, I want to reflect a feeling and create an emotion when people look at it. For me, a huge part of that is editing the tones, colors, and shadows to where each picture creates an emotion and has a feeling to it. You know, instead of just going straight from the camera.

Photo Credit: Heidi Mae

The biggest difference for me is just the fact that I feel much happier, and I enjoy the pictures a lot more when I look at them. I feel proud of them and that they will reflect what I was trying to capture. I read this quote once that said, ‘A picture is how a camera sees the world and the edit on the photo is how the photographer sees the world.’ It resonated a lot with me. 

Photo Credit: Heidi Mae

When I edit a photo and change the colors and shadows or put something like the sun in it, that’s how I felt in that moment. That’s how I experienced that moment in time when I took the photo.

I’ve read you already started singing at the age of two! Longtime fans have obviously heard your voice on the cosplay parodies on YouTube. Did you want to be a vocalist in a band growing up?

(laughs) Yeah! When I was younger, I wanted to be a singer or an actress or a Russian Supermodel! Not even taking into account that I wasn’t Russian. (laughs)  I grew up around music. My dad was a one man band and played every instrument. 

Photo Credit: Heidi Mae

My family had a traveling theatre show that we did at events and traveled around six to nine months out of the year, non-consecutively. So, it would be like six weeks at a time, eight weeks at a time. Always home for winter! The older I got, the more photography and travel became what I was passionate about making.


According to The Houston Herald, you and your siblings used to go to Texas County Library for the WiFi to upload those YouTube parodies. As the internet wasn’t strong enough countryside where you lived. Do you still have to do that?

(laughs) Not anymore! A couple years ago, the phone carriers here started offering unlimited data which they didn’t before. I mean they did at the very beginning and then they stopped. I switched carriers, so I could actually use the data at my house. When I used to upload a video or wanted to look something up, my cell phone reception and internet was so slow that it would take hours! I remember one time I wanted to upload one of the parodies, it took like a day and a half.

Photo Credit: Heidi Mae

You mentioned wanting to be an actress earlier. Many of your Instagram fans remember you being featured on season 6 of ABC’s Wife Swap. How did that opportunity arise and would you do something like that again? 

That opportunity arose because of my family’s theatre show,The CaboodlestoppersI don’t… I don’t think that I would do reality TV again. The reason is because I learned the hard way that reality TV is a story that the producers want to tell. And they will ‘accomplish’ that story by whatever means necessary. You do not know going into it what story they want to tell, until you’re in the middle of it… You know what? I would not do reality TV again! (laughs)

I see fans commenting on it on your Instagram all the time still!

Yes, yes. (laughs) There are actually quite a few moments involving me on that show that are absolutely not true! They used some copy and paste audio in an episode to make it seem true. There’s actually a conversation I had where they chopped up what I said, and then just didn’t show me talking when I said it. So, you can’t tell that’s not what I said. I’d actually had a boyfriend before, my family had a home that was 74 acres but that didn’t fit the story they were trying to tell. ‘So, let’s just not say that!’ (laughs)

Photo Credit: Heidi Mae

What are some of your style inspirations, fashion wise?

I follow Revolve because I really like a lot of their looks. It’s an online clothing company and they have designers there that create really unique things. A lot of my fashion actually evolves because of photography. A couple of years ago, maybe 4 years ago, all I ever wore was like black and gray. All the time! Then as I started doing photography more as my social media started taking off… I started noticing that the colors of black and gray don’t translate to the mood of an image very well.

Photo Credit: Heidi Mae

If I’m on this beautiful expanse of land and I’m wearing all black, it doesn’t lend itself to the feeling I wanted to create in the photos. So, I started steering more towards lighter colors and more romantic looks. And I started noticing, “Oh, I really like this!”  The clothing lends itself to the images much more to where everything felt complete in the picture versus say at opposition with each other.

Photo Credit: Heidi Mae

How vital do you feel wigs are to your YouTube videos? Do you prefer to do your hair naturally if you can?

I definitely prefer to do my hair naturally. It’s so much more comfortable that way! (laughs) Especially, when I did some Harley Quinn looks for Suicide Squad, the wig was in pigtails and it was such a nightmare. Because you’re pulling the hair up but you’re glueing it to your scalp so it’s always like trying to peel away from your skin. It was horrible! 

So, I definitely prefer to use my real hair with the exception if it’s like a crazy color. I definitely don’t want to dye my hair green, so I’ll use a wig for it! (laughs) So, any extreme colors or if I really feel like it will lend itself to the image well, I’ll use a wig.

I recall you mentioned the process of glueing that Harley Quinn wig on during a fan Q & A video. Speaking of that Q & A video, it’s been about two years now since it was posted… Are you ever going to do a followup? 

(laughs) That’s a very good question! Yes, I’m going to! Filming more video blogs has been on my to-do list. I’m much more proficient at photography than I am at video. So, recently I’ve been pushing myself more to do more videos. Like the Instagram videos that I’ve been posting recently. It’s sort of like, “Okay, let’s get out of your comfort zone and push yourself a little bit!” Instead of just like sticking with what I’m comfortable with. Which can kind of be a human tendency at times.

What has the experience of your YouTube cosplay parodies going viral taught you?

I think what it taught me is if you set your mind to something and you try hard enough then you can make it happen. It might sound cliche but it’s true. Those parodies were the result of quite a few months of research, planning, and creating the costumes. I think the Suicide Squad one took about a year, including writing and recording. 

It definitely taught me if I want something bad enough, and I work hard enough at it, I can find a way! Even if it’s not exactly what I originally set out to do. It can be a little different. I can still achieve that end goal!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euP6w83is3M

My last question, going back to that fan Q & A… Two years later, do you still listen to the Backstreet Boys?

(laughs) Yeah! Funny you should ask that! I just went on like a three week road trip with my mom to California, and we found this 2000 through 2019 Pop Hits Playlist. Backstreet Boys are definitely on it, and there’s definitely singing along in the car!

Thanks Heidi!

Thank you!

Photo Credit: Heidi Mae

Follow and subscribe to Heidi Mae on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Read up on Heidi’s latest adventures blogging at her official website.

Be sure to check out Heidi’s custom Adobe Lightroom “Vibrant Life” Presets to bring the magic to your own photos! 

Check out more Fashion and Style coverage on The Natural Aristocrat!

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