In blockbuster science fiction and superhero films like Iron Man, Batman, and Suicide Squad, where the costumes are much more conceptual, edgy, and sophisticated, the role between production designer and costume designer seem increasingly blurred. While the production designer is supposed to be in charge of the concept team, more and more I’ve found myself involved with costume design team to bring a more conceptual edge to the pieces they will be building for the film. For Suicide Squad, for example, I had started as a concept designer working on environments, and soon after I started, the production designer directed me to work more closely with the lead costume designer.
In the case of Aquaman, I was directly approached by the costume designer who I suspect had seen my work on Suicide Squad and asked if I would be interested in working with her specifically on costumes, and I agreed.
Working solely on costumes, without being engaged in the environment design was a surprisingly challenging experience at the beginning. I kept wanting to think about the costumes in context of the environment and storyline. While I was encouraged to explore these more global ideas at the beginning and help with some of the design of the underwater city, I was gradually guided to focus more on the details of the characters and costumes themselves, without being as attached to the world.
Over time, as I started designing more costumes I found great joy in the rich exploration and the intricate details of the costumes and the amount of character costumes I worked on was enormous. I touched on all the characters that populated the world of Atlantis, both past (before it collapsed into the sea) and present. I engaged in all the different cultures and species – humanoids, hybrids, and more fish-like creatures. And I designed costumes for both the general population and royalty of Atlantis, with special attention to many of the key characters.
For each costume I did multiple explorations of style and particular details – for example the ceremonial attire of King Orm, where I spent a lot of time developing intricate capes and shoulder pieces. What was wonderful about working with a costume designer is that she came to me with tons of ideas and references, with an eye for materials and the practical considerations of building these items without CG. We explored how to push designs that were both very modern and fashion-forward, and had a lot of natural underwater imagery and textures. This lead to images that were both purely conceptual (like those of Murk, the captain of the Atlantean army), and those that were much more ethereal, like those of the Fisherman King, Queen, and Prince, or the Atlantean courtiers, which bring more conventional fashion but while still using elements of sea life – like corals, sea anemones, and jellyfish. .
I did get to take the themes of the costumes and apply it to some architecture as well, when I was asked to come up with a design for the throne of the dead King Atlan, when Aquaman discovers him to retrieve his trident. I was able to use many of the same patterns and elements from the royal costumes, while also leveraging elements of the Kraken-like creature that protects the tomb of Atlan and the trident.
While only a fraction of the designs were used in the film, working directly on costumes was a very creative and pleasant experience, allowing me to explore tons of different ideas, and push the limits of what’s possible in fashion concepts.