The Official Xena Magazine #3

Costume Drama

by Kate Barker

Costume designer JANE HOLLAND has taken on an Olympic mission, as Kate Barker discovers.

Previously responsible for creating costumes for Young Hercules, Holland has recently taken on a very daunting role. She is now costume designer for Xena: Warrior Princess, having taken over from Ngila Dickson, who departed to design costume for the Lord of the Rings feature film trilogy.

Joining the crew of Xena for the fifth season debut Failen Angel threw Holland in at the deep end. Designing costumes for the characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Callisto (and their various angel and demon-selves), not to mention assorted winged characters of the afterlife, certainly gave Holland a crash course in the complexities of her job.

"The volume of that was huge I I think Xena had four costumes in that episode alone." Then, of course, there are all the doubles to dress as well...
"Xena has had a lot of costumes," Holland says, and it doesn't sound like the complete list could be rattled off in a hurry.

Yet no matter how many brief changes the character has had in various episodes, Xena has always come back to that familiar copper and brown -- until now. For the fifth season, Holland has helped the warrior princess sport quite a different look.

'This is what we started with in the early days," says Holland, displaying one of Xena's original outfits, "the leather tunic with the breast plate on top."

But in Season Five, that look had to go... and conveniently, the producers have decided to make art imitate life. "We needed to introduce a new costume for Lucy Lawless anyway," Holland explains, "to cope with her pregnancy Also, it's been convenient because where the story was, there was a change that came into play That was part of the challenge of it, coming up with a concept that would follow through that we didn't have to keep changing with each stage of her pregnancy My way of doing that was to just go somewhere completely different in order to give us the scope to deal with her.., expansion."

So, exit brown leather tunic, enter blue leather and silver. Besides, as Holland points out, "she couldn't be pregnant in a corset!"

The first stage of Xena's new look was essentially a blue leather dress, over black leather trousers, laced at the sides. "This was disguising [the pregnancyl at the beginning," explains Holland, "that's what it was for. It's quite solid so that it didn't get pushed out."

Why blue leather? For that matter, why the change in the metal breastplate, from
familiar copper to shinier silver? For Holland, the simple answer was "to keep the warrior thing going. We wanted to keep some idea and reference to Xena as a warrior, so we kept the breast plate concept, but sort of went somewhere else, so it wasn't a complete copy of what she'd had before. It's silver as opposed to copper, because we needed a different look.

"Lucy's got amazing blue eyes; she looks great in blue.., so now she's in silver and blue and black. If it was all black and silver, it might be a bit more intimidating, so the blue sort of keeps it light.

"It's lighter in a physical sense, too. Instead of the heavier copper original, Xena's new costume has a more practical feel. "It's made in a different way to the coppers," says Holland, "it's actually moulded and then electroplated, not beaten out of metal.

"We've got all the coppers carefully stashed here, vacuum-packed. They're metal, which is quite high maintenance, so they're carefully stored...arid we're hoping that they don't oxidise too much because I'm sure that there'll a time when they re-emerge.

Of course, that's just the armour. Tht rest of this new Xena costume -- as with many of the others - Is the result of hours of slow, methodical crafting. "Xena's first costume had a lot of hand work in it," remembers Holland, "and now (over the blue and silver) she's got this big long leather coat, where every seam's got quite a complicated weaving pattern. That takes time."

Establishing the initial "new look" in terms of practical outfits was one thing, but as Holland points out, an actor in the developing stages of pregnancy needs costumes that will develop with her. This, says Holland unequivocally, has been the hardest part so far. "That's a challenge, because it's a constantly changing thing. In a practical sense, as soon as you change one thing on the lead, you've got to change it on all all thee doubles. We had to give the body and stunt doubles pregnant tummies so we could keep the uniformity across the board."

Not only that, but each double needs at least two changes of outfit, and although these aren't necessarily made of the same materials, they still need to have the same look. "With Xena's costumes, they are pretty much what they look like," says Holland. But she also points out that for safety reasons, "a stuntee can't wear a hard metal thing. So they'd have a softer version made out of some other material and painted to look like metal." As for all of the costumes that may be used for fights or fancy moves, "they have to be made stunt-friendly

"There's something quite scary about changing Xena's costume," Holland admits, "when it has been the same since she started, practically Even though there has been a change in the style, she's always had the brown and copper. That's her signature and it's a very bold move to change that. Now she's in blue and silver, which is pretty wild and wacky So especially as a new designer, that's quite a biggie!

"That's why I say that it was challenging." she continues. "Not only was it going into a completely different visual look, but also having something where elements could change, but still with some kind of thread that holds it all together. I think we did that; I think that where she's at now with that costume -- and when you look at her when she first got it -- you can see that there's a look that goes right across.., amidst themes and variants and tweaks along the way"

Holland has aftered Gabrielle's costume from the brown wrap-around skirt and green hal ter top to a style more in keeping with the Amazon that Gabrielle is now. "She is occupying a different, more developed role," Holland explains of the character, "she's become more of a fighter. Therefore it was appropriate for her costume to change."

Although the hair is cut short and the staff complemented by other weapons such as dagger and sai, Holland maintains that the look is still familiar of Gabrielle. "It's more leather-based; the clothes of a fighter as opposed to a pacifist. But there's definitely something reminiscent of what she had before."

Gabnelle's costume was no quick job to put together. Holland describes it as full of "a lot of hand-woven leather detail -- that sort of crafted thing." This, she says, is what takes the time.

So how many copies of one outfit does each character have?

"We keep building it up," says Holland, "so that we can always have enough gannents there. to cope with what's needed in the story. They might get wet, they might get dirty... and practical things can happen on set, like they might get caught on a tree and rip, or whatever. So they need to have back-up costumes. We need to beable to do modifications or repairs.

"You'd never put the same person in another person's costume, for hygiene reasons, apart from anything else-- quite apart from the fact that the doubles are different sizes and they don't fit...

"Also, for stunts -- for harnessing and things like that -- they will have specific costumes to cope with it."

This is becoming a long answer to a short question. In simple terms of costume-to-character ratio, it seems to be two each for body and stunt doubles, and at least four for the lead. "The stunt doubles will always end up with more," adds Holland
"because they need particular costumes to accommodate the things that they do."

But these fancy outfits aren't just brought forth by the gods...

At first glance, the Xena costume department seems the size of a small Greek village. This isn't surprising considering that at Holland's last count, (over 44) people work here. Housed for the most part under one warehouse roof, the whole thing is divided up into several specialist areas.

For instance, the people in Costume Props (where, according to Holland, "the hard kind of leather work is") deal with things like riveting, leather sa~ glue. Next to this is Jewellery sections, just on eo fthe ares that works with shaping metals. In the Xena workroom a coreteam works with costumes specifically fro the leading character. "It's very tidy in here," observes Holland with some surprise, "uspally it's much more..." She searches for a creative word meaning messy.."complex"

In the moulding room, armuo and helmets are moulded mainly out of soft metal and elctroplated. Holland holds up a piece of armour for a non-descript soldier. "This is electroplated so it's got a metal layer over the top of it, but it's actually moulded underneath. There are some things that are not completely authentic, because particularly with the metal stuff, it's too heavy to do like that. Also we can whack them out of a mould and then paint or elctroplate them to look like metal.

This is the same process used design of Xena's new breast plate, along with the arm and knee guards. "It's a good way for bs to duplicate them," Holland continues showing off one of the new Xena kneepads. "It's much more practical than using metal, because it doesn't require the same kind of maintenance and upkeep."

One of the largest areas of costumes is the Extras Department, whose workers must possess a number of detailed skills. "The Extras Department will do a lot of putting stuff together," Holland explains "adapting. recycling, changing, dyeing, adding other bits... making some other element that might change it in some way The Extra staff have to have the ability to style stuff~ they have to be able to existing garments and put them as well as have the practical skills to change and stitch stuff."

For many of the costumes, especially those of extras and guest characters, changing and altering plays a large role. "Quite often," says Holland, "they'll go into the soup pot and come out thing else.

"We would rarely recycle something exactly as has been seen before --  It's usually put together in a different way" Holland picks out the Extra costumers in particu lar.

"They're really good at putting differtent elements together. "In the Extras area, we do a lot recyding and revamping. Otherwise we just couldn't get nought out.

"There are certain people who know about particular things," Holland says, turning the topic back to the different sub-departments of costuming as a whole, "and you tend to go to them with your problems." The department has off-set specialists, such as at least two separate boot-makers

-- one for the extras and another for the boots~ worn by Xena and Gabrielle. "All of their machinery and skills are so specific, it's much better for them to do it than us.

Everyone in the costume department needs practical and background knowledge. Some are more specialised than others, and all must work with the other departments that make up the design of the Xena universe. After all, costumes are only one part of the overall Xena look.

"We all have to know what each [department] is doing," says Holland. "Like with the demons [in Fallen Angel], we talked about what the prosthetics were and what their skin finishes were, so that we ended up in the same sort of colour scheme."

Speaking of schemes, before all this work on creating the wearable product can even begin, there must be a design from which to start.

"The process is that you always start off with a script and a cast," says Holland of the initial stages of design. "That's always the starting point, and it just srt of happens that you'll see some thing at that point. Sometimes it's script-dictated, like they've been to China recently, so that gives you an area to go to. Other times, we're just In 'Xena-world', in fantasy, in which case its reference points are different. I have a discussion with the director [of the episode] and with Eric [Gruendemann, Co Executive Producer] and Rob [Tapert, Executive Producer] sometimes, depending on the episode. We talk about what they're planning to do; some times it comes from an idea that I have, some times they might have a strong feeling about something -- more of a characterisation than a sty listic thing. A lot of discussion goes on, so it's kind of interpreting that. We'll discuss the drawings from that point, then go into making it three- dimensional."

So in broad tenns, is there a general Xena look? "It's quite hard to pin down," Holland admits. "There is definitely a strong look at that goes through -- there's a feel that has evolved over the years, a feel that's there. But I think it changes and continues to evolve.

How does a costume designer continue that look when it seems so hard to define? For Holland, it's a detailed process. "You have your own approach," she says "There is the overall look of a particular episode in the context of the world of Xena. There are various other things that come into play, like we might be in a particular part of the world. There's that aspect to it, then it's interpreting the character that appears in the script,in a visual sense, providing it with the authenticity of what our Xena world is."

Nearing the end of the interview, we emerge from the treasure trove of weird and wonderful outfits, as Holland prepares to switch from ancient Greece into the modern world. "I'm going shopping in the future now, she says, referring to her latest project fur Pacific Renaissance, the upcoming futuristic action series Cleopatra: 2525.

"Everything happens so quickly," Holland says of designing fur two series at once. "You've got something in motion here, something shoot ing there, one story here, one coming up... you kind of get used to being a bee.

"It's a busy world," says Holland with a smile. Yet from the sound of it. she wouldn't have It any other way.

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