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Film Independent Wed 3.23.2022

How Medieval Times and Spanish Romanticism Inspired the Sartorial Visuals of ‘Dune’ (Part Two)

In Part One of our conversation with Dune costume designers Jacqueline West and Bob Morgan, they shared the logistical challenges of producing some 2,000+ costumes for the ambitious sci-fi blockbuster, as well as the influences that went into bringing Lady Jessica Atreides (the great Rebecca Ferguson) to life. Today, we continue the discussion on what inspired the Atreides military uniforms and the Fremen’s desert survival suits–or “stillsuits.”

It sounds like the costume production on this film spanned the globe–you had FBFX in London, in-house production in Budapest, and where else?

Morgan: We made the bulk of the costumes in-house with four workshops in Budapest–we had an armory die shop, a textile shop, an aging department, a sewing department and a prop department. I brought in many artists whom I had worked with on different films like Maleficent from England, like our armorer, textile master artists and pattern makers. There was also a huge contingent of people from Budapest making the costumes in-house and we had crew coming from New Zealand, Australia, United States, Spain and England.

What were some of the specialty items that FBFX produced for you?

Morgan: Due to the volume of specialty costumes and other costumes, we exceeded in-house capacity in Budapest pretty quickly. So we had costumes made in Spain and went to FBFX in London as well. FBFX made some of the more complicated ones–like the ones for the Sardaukar Army. For a film like this, there was nothing we could get off-the-rack–we also needed specialty shoes! FBFX does amazing work and is a one-stop shop with in-house scoping, in-house fabrication, fabric printing and 3D printing.

Leader of Caladan, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) with trusted advisor and weapons master Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) in ‘Dune.’ (Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment)

What inspired the look for the men of the House of Atreides on Caladan? Was there an Eastern influence to the Mandarin collar on their military uniforms?

West: For the Caladan court, it was all taken from the Romanovs towards the end of their reign. The Atreides empire was being taken away from Duke Leto and Paul, similar to how the Romanovs lost their dynasty during the Russian Revolution. But [House of Atreides palace doctor] Dr. Yueh’s (Chang Chen) costume was definitely Asian-inspired. For the world of Dune, I felt that buttons and zippers didn’t make it into that future. So, when Paul is training with his mentor Gurney (Josh Brolin), his shirt is fitted with a rare earth metal that clicks closed from the bottom up, to give it a modern effect – I call it the Dr. Zhivago shirt.

Morgan: The uniforms were a deep [wine] bottle green and the collar is a very traditional and prominent look in military uniforms. We wanted the lines to be simple but classic with their high boots, but also bring a new spin to that traditional aesthetic.

Heir apparent to the House of Atreides, Paul Atreides trains for combat in ‘Dune.’ (Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Once Paul and Lady Jessica go into exile on Arrakis, their whole world is turned upside down. We see this reflected in their costumes’ aesthetic as well.

West: I feel like Paul evokes a Dr. Zhivago meets Lawrence of Arabia vibe. Paul leading the Fremens against the Harkonnens parallels Lawrence of Arabia leading the Arabs against the Turks.

The world of the Fremens on Arrakis is diametrically different from the rigid-yet-refined structure on Caladan. How did you design the Fremens’ costumes to reflect their surroundings and culture? 

West: That was all inspired by the time I spent in Morocco. I felt like the Fremens were like the French Resistance and would camouflage themselves in the desert, so their wardrobe would reflect all the colors of the sand. I had the location scout bring back various samples of sand from Jordan so that I could have fabric dyed in various shades so they would blend in with the desert. The dark charcoal grey of the stillsuits reflect the colors of the rocks. When the wraps are draped over them and blown around, it was very romantic–like the Tuaregs on the salt trails–but it would also make their shapes shift in the sands so they blend in with the dunes. In the fittings, I wrapped the gauze and wraps differently on each actor to suit each character’s backstory. I made sure the gauze wrappings were sheer enough so you could see the actors’ faces, but still protect them from the sand.

Dr. Liet Kynes (played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster), Imperial ecologist and judge of the change on Arrakis. (Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment)

In the foggy sands of the desert, how did you make each character their own so that we can tell them apart from afar?

Morgan: We looked at how the Tuaregs and various North African tribes would wrap themselves for protection, camouflage and to reflect individuality. Each character is wrapped differently to give each a different hue and feel. Javier had that beautiful cape and Jason’s had a rough hewn to it. The head wraps are tools of survival in the desert–25 yards of fabric to wrap around your eyes and face, and they can also be used as a rope or cape or help you blend into the surroundings.

Now, let’s get to the famous stillsuits!

West: We took [concept artist] Keith Christensen’s drawings–which were based on descriptions in the book–to [the fabricator] who made the prototype and then set up a factory in our studio in Budapest, the Origo Film Studios. Bob hired amazing fabricators like David Bethell [chief costume props], Helen Beasley [costume cutter] for the pattern making and Rachel Freire [specialist cutter] for the masks, breathing tubes and nose pieces. The stillsuits were customized for each actor. For example, Rebecca Ferguson is 5’5” and Jason Momoa is 6’4,” so each suit had to be form-fitting to tailor to each actor and also reflect each character’s personality and backstory with bespoke details and talismans. After the specialty moulding was complete, each suit took two weeks to build since each one contains well over 100 unique pattern pieces. It was very labor intensive; we had set up a whole warehouse for these suits.

The desert survival stillsuit in ‘Dune.’ (Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Since the film was shot in the Wadi Rum Valley in Jordan, how did you make sure the actors were as comfortable as possible with the long shoots in extreme heat?

West: It was really hot when we shot there, but the actors said they were pretty comfortable. Each suit was made from a micro-sandwich of fabrics–five layers of cotton, nylon and acrylic that wicks perspiration away from their bodies. When the winds picked up in the desert, it actually had a cooling effect.

Morgan: Each of these bespoke costumes is supposed to be a walking filtration and recycling distillery–for example, the nose piece captures the moisture from your breath and turns it into potable water. In the book, this desert survival suit is a mechanical–not electronic–tool: it has a pump system that starts at the heels and is powered by the movements of your body when you walk. We made around 250 of these–and wanted to make them look breathable, believable, functional and look good on the actors.

The suits look bulky–how did they work out during those epic combat scenes?

Morgan: Using natural fibers and techniques like venting under the arms, the suits came out fairly thin, allowing flexible range and breathability. During the shoot, there were several sandstorms in the desert, so we didn’t need to age anything. The sand would just cover everything, which gave it a lovely patina that made everything look real and believable.

 

For more about Dune, check out our career-retrospective conversation with Denis Villeneuve from last year, part of our Film Independent Presents series of live and online events.

Nominated for 10 (!) Academy Awards in the upcoming Oscars, Dune: Part One is available on HBO Max and PPV streaming platforms, with filming for Part Two scheduled to begin this July.

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(Header, L-R: Actors Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Javier Bardem and Timotheé Chalamet in stillsuits on the desert planet Arrakis. PHOTO: Warner Bros. Entertainment)

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