Costume Designer (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back)
Interview: December 2015
How did you get started as a costume designer?
I started working on films as an historical advisor with particular attention to military costumes. My interest in the latter meant that I took a lot of trouble to makes sure they were correct and worn properly. My first five films were therefore historical, but during the shooting I learnt a lot about how the Costume Department functioned.
How did you get the job of costume designer for Star Wars?
Some time after the last of these films a costume designer friend of mine was asked to do the costumes for Star Wars. She had already accepted another job and kindly offered to recommend me in her place. As I had nothing on at the time I said yes, and was almost immediately asked to meet the director, which I did and got the job.
I am curious how you came up with the wonderful designs for Star Wars. What inspired and influenced you? And what was George Lucas’ input regarding your designs?
When I started work on Star Wars I had never seen a Science Fiction film so I had a lot of work to do reading as much as I could about the subject. As far as the costumes were concerned a lot of work had been done in the States and I was given drawing of sum of their ideas. These gave me the general idea, but the meetings I had with George Lucas gave me a much better idea of what he wanted, which he summarized by saying that he didn’t want anyone to notice the costumes. By this, of course, he meant that he wanted the costumes to look real. In fact we worked very closely together. He would state what he wanted, I would make drawings of his and my ideas, and we discussed the results making enormous progress in this rather simple manner.
After Star Wars you also designed the costumes for The Empire Strikes Back. You didn’t return for Return of the Jedi. What was the reason for this?
Star Wars had been a pleasure to work on, but George Lucas passed the job of directing its sequel over to an old friend (Irvin Kershner), who had taught him filmmaking in university. He needed a lot of help from George who was now in the States all the time, and was not able to supervise things as he had on the first film. I was very glad when it was over, and even happier when I was already employed on another film when number three commenced.
Of all the costumes you designed for the Star Wars movies; which one are you most proud of and which one was the most difficult?
It is difficult to say exactly which was the most difficult costume to make, because most of them were basically quite simple. I suppose the wardrobe department spent the longest amount of time trying to fit all the bits of the storm troopers together in a way which made it possible to dress and undress them quickly. The Wardrobe Department looked more like a car factory than a costume workshop. I have no particular likes and dislikes in the costumes. They all came out pretty well as intended and watching them now I think they worked pretty well.
Is there any costume from the Star Wars movies you wish you could change?
I can’t think of any costume I would like to have changed.
You have won no less than two Oscars: one for Star Wars and one for Gandhi. This is an incredible achievement you must be proud of. What did you ‘feel’ when you were handed the Academy Award?
We all went to Hollywood for the Oscars and had a great time. My feeling on the actual evening was mainly excitement, which in my case drove away any nervousness.