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Jane Eyre: Behind The Scenes With The Costume Department

07/09/2011 17:18 | Updated 22 May 2015
Jane Eyre: Behind the scenes with the costume departmentMia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre. Photos: BBC Films/Ruby Films

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is about to hit the silver screen thanks to a new adaptation of the novel by Cary Fukunaga. With a cast including Mia Wasikowska, Imogen Poots and costume-drama veteran Judi Dench we were keen to see what the costume department would come up with and equally eager to have a chat with the man in charge of costume design, Michael O'Connor. Read on to find out how Michael embraced the challenge of dressing one of the quintessential British literary heroines:

How do you even start on a challenge like this?

"The challenge for the costume department on Jane Eyre was to create a seamless, well-researched and, eventually, characterful film to support the script before us. We set about this challenge by dividing aspects of the film into the obvious; Women, Men, Children, Servants and so on for research."

What happens next?

"Following the detailed research I set about choosing the materials that could, as near as possible, represent the ones used from the period of the 1830s and 40s. Making fabric choices that reflect the characters correctly is difficult but very satisfying.

"Contemporary materials were, in some cases, combined with rare original pieces of material and lace."

What inspired you when you were creating the costumes for Jane Eyre?

"Inspiration came firstly from Charlotte Bronte's novel and Jane's personal struggle. Inspiration also came from artists of the time including Ingres, Winterhalter and Mary Ellen Best also early victorian photographers such as Robert Adamson. i also found looking at original costumes to be very inspiring."

What were the overall themes you were working with?

"Themes we explored in the costumes included Romanticism, early Gothicism and historicism. Fashion is forever looking back!"

Were there any specific considerations you had to keep in mind for this project?

"An early challenge for the character of Jane was to make her costume develop from dark, severe greys to paler greys and eventually leave the grey governess behind.

"Then we factored in the practicalities of the character's role (in the case of Jane, being a governess), how many costumes she needed and duplicates for rain, stunts etc... as well as how many metres per costume was needed.

"One enjoyable challenge was to ensure that the colours and scale of the costumes would work individually for the character and in contrast or harmony with other character's costumes."

And when you're working on something like Jane Eyre, how important is historical accuracy?

"Historical accuracy was important to the project because it helped to keep a rule in terms of patterns of costume, making and the technique of making. The fun of projects like Jane Eyre is trying to understand the past. This doesn't mean that it restricts one totally but knowing how something was achieved and why can help with understanding the society of the time."

Lastly, what's your own favourite costume from the film?

"One of my favourite costumes is when, at the end of the film, Jane returns to Thornfield and wears a brown with ribbon print dress which was made from an imported american cotton print fabric based on prints of the time. She wears a bonnet made from a combination of antique and modern straw, fabricated in an openwork design to give it a lightness."

To look through Michael's original sketches, click on the picture below and browse our gallery.

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