When it comes to The Huntsman: Winter’s War—the follow-up to Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, and Jessica Chastain—our review is simple: Go for the epic narrative; stay for the jaw-dropping costumes. Colleen Atwood is responsible for the latter, and to say the award-winning designer is talented would be a major understatement. One look at Theron’s hand-foiled feather cape and Blunt’s intricate headpieces (made from a 3-D printer!) and you’ll understand why.
After seeing the film, we jumped on the phone with Atwood to get the scoop on how these beautiful pieces were made. Keep reading for our exclusive interview.
WHO WHAT WEAR: You worked on the first film, Snow White and the Huntsman. Was there a consistent theme you tried to keep between the two?
Colleen Atwood: I tried to keep the mood similar, even though it’s a whole new movie. There’s Ravenna’s cape from the first one, which is gold-plated. I kept the Huntsman's style very similar. This film was nice, because I got to tell the journey of the Huntsman. I got to do all these Huntsman children and that world, which was really rich and fun for me. But it’s a different movie, so I did different things. I didn’t want to do the same things over again.
WWW: Freya’s (Emily Blunt) wardrobe is definitely a standout. What kinds of materials did you use for her looks, and why?
CA: For Freya, for that final battle scene, her bodice is made with leather and the spikes on it are Aquarian toothing cut at angles and applied to leather to look like ice. The skirt is made out of an aluminum fabric completed to look like crystals. Her armor, when she’s riding in on the big bear animal, is a leather that I found and then cut and twisted to get a two-tone effect from it. It’s all wired to keep it in place. I sourced a lot of fabric in Italy for the dresses that she wears. She has a lot of Italian velvets and silk in her dress and croquets from different vendors in Italy. Some of her fabric is vintage fabric I had in my stock. I get materials from anywhere I can. It’s a journey when you do a movie like this, because you end up with huge amounts of fabric from all over the world.
WWW: Can you tell us about all of her amazing headpieces?
CA: We wanted Freya to have something that wasn’t a crown, and we needed the mask to convey this owl thing, but we didn’t want to do feathers as a mask because it looks like Mardi Gras. I have a 3-D printer in my crafts department, and this guy is a genius at operating it. I said, “Let’s do little tiny feathers and glue them together.” So we grew that mask as separate elements in a 3-D printer and applied them to a facemask. For the headpiece, again, like the owl thing, I found this old antique piece at the flea market with these feathers, so we duplicated that with the 3-D material and then glazed them with silver and stones. They were quite fragile but definitely gave it a different vibe.
WWW: What were some of the key elements of Sara’s (Jessica Chastain) look?
CA: She makes the journey from childhood through the ranks of the Huntsmen. It was fun to create her look, along with the female huntsman kind of vibe, which consisted of leggings and armored body pieces, which are sexy and hard at the same time. They had to be made in a way so there was flexibility in them because she did a lot of fighting. Her costume is protective clothing, as opposed to clothing that’s conveying power in a certain way. She’s a warrior, so it was fun to have that sort of juxtaposition to the other women’s costumes.
WWW: Sara’s ear cuffs felt like a cool nod to what’s happening in the jewelry world today. Where did that idea for that accessory come from?
CA: We were in a fitting, and Jessica’s incredibly meticulous about things being genuine, and she had a hole in her ears from them being pierced and didn’t want to have to fill them in every day, so my craft guy pounded this metal and kind of crushed it against her earlobe. It came up in the fitting and was so basic but looked really cool and tough and ended up staying on her ear. It played a lot more in the movie that I realized it would. You really see it. In the beginning, it was just a thing that happened, but it ended up being a cool kind of look—very contemporary in its own basic way.
WWW: Is all of the jewelry made specifically for the film, or do you source from somewhere else?
CA: [Charlize’s] claw ring and the triangle diamond necklace Emily wears were all made by a jeweler in London named Solange [Azagury-Partridge], who is a very famous jeweler. And then the earrings and all the other jewelry in the film are real jewelry, except for a few pieces made by a jeweler here in Los Angeles named Cathy Waterman.
WWW: What about Ravenna’s (Charlize Theron) look? Feathers seem to play a major role.
CA: It seemed kind of weird to reuse the same [costume from the first film] for the raven scene, so we built a different kind of cloak with feathers that I had all hand-foiled and made into the cape. It was quite an ordeal for the people who had to feather it. I had a feather room, where it was just feathers stuck into Styrofoam. It was really beautiful, you walked in and there were all these shelves with gold feathers stuck in foam before we applied them to the cape. So that’s where the bird thing went.
WWW: Which costume required the most time and work?
CA: I think probably Charlize’s gold dress and Freya’s silver cloak/cape that she wears in the beginning. If took four people working 10 hours a day, 50 hours a week, for a month.
WWW: How is designing for a fantasy world different than when working on a more traditional/historical narrative?
CA: Well, the difference is initially with a fantasy piece, like this one, it’s already set in a time period. You research a certain area of medieval history, like the 10th and 11th centuries. You sort of get a general kind of shape and feeling for that, and you take it to a newer place. You use what you know from the past and incorporate it with modern materials and an element of fantasy, like fairytale illustrations. If you’re doing a historical piece, you take the historical research and you try to duplicate, with accuracy, the silhouette and the materials of the period, so you may end up using modern materials, but you have all the scale prints of the period you’re doing, and the different kind of qualities of a fabric that might come from that actual time period.
WWW: What is often the most challenging part of designing costumes like these?
CA: The big challenge with both is that you’re working with modern bodies, you’re working with people that are three times the size what people were in the actual periods. When you look at all the costumes from historical figures, you realize how small they were. You have to adapt that period or that fantasy silhouette to a modern body so that it doesn’t look really goofy. You back away from it to get the proportions right, so that you feel it’s historical, even though it’s on somebody eight inches taller than the average man was in that period, and it’s a woman.
WWW: Where do you often look to for inspiration?
CA: Everywhere. I look at materials for inspiration a lot, like, “What can I do with this leather piece of chain?” I had all these amazing people on The Huntsman that are leather craftsmen, and I would go to them and say, “Can we try something like this?” and they come up with amazing things, and I can be inspired by their craft. I look at fabric and different kinds of materials that I think can adapt to the shapes that I want. I look at historical paintings; I look at all kinds of things. There’s no one place where you can have that many ideas.
WWW: What’s your typical process like when you begin working on a film?
CA: Well, once you start, you’ve read the script and you’ve met with the director to find out from him what his vision is, and who each character is and their backstory. Usually the set designer starts before me, so I go and look at what the art department is doing, what they’re creating. And then I start doing my research, looking for materials and shapes. On The Huntsman, I was making costumes the whole time we were shooting. I’m not done the first day of shooting. When you have an army of people, you’re making [costumes] for 300 soldiers and 400 of this and that, you have to get the first prototype up quickly in order to manufacture the rest in time for the shoot. So you start with those things the same time you’re starting with each principle character. And then researching the materials, I work with sketch artists on the drawings and interpretation of what I want to do. Once the actors are in place, I meet with them and show them what I’m thinking. So when they come in for their fittings, they’re not like, “Oh, that’s what I’m wearing?” They can know ahead of time. If they have an issue, you can sort it out fairly early in the process.
WWW: Do you collaborate with the actors at all?
CA: I like to listen to what they have to say. For the case of the movie The Huntsman, where there's that level of costuming, it’s not like you’re going and asking them what designer they want to wear. They really don’t comment. In the fittings, I make sure everything is comfortable for them, there’s movement, and we collaborate, but in the design process, they’re not so involved.
WWW: What advice do you have for someone looking to get into costume design?
CA: Learn as much as you can when you’re studying, and don’t be discouraged if your first job has nothing to do with the costume and you’re picking up coffee for people or pins when asked. Just do it well and with a great attitude, and people will remember you.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War hits theaters nationwide April 22.
Love costume design? Check out our interview with the Oscar-winning Sandy Powell.