“The Northman”: the stories behind the costumes

Costume designer Linda Muir guides IndieWire through the complex and culturally symbolic wardrobes of Alexander Skarsgård, Ethan Hawke, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy and Björk.

After diving deep into Viking culture, storytelling, and the arduous craft of clothing-making, costume designer Linda Muir was ready to become the medieval Coco Chanel of director Robert Eggers “The Northman.” In fact, one of the first things she did was build a huge chart to map out all the scenes and character beats for that “Hamlet” riff about power and revenge, rooted in the same historical text. 12th century Danish adapted by Shakespeare.

“Robert provides me with an incredible amount of information and takes great pains to answer my questions and educate me on not only the backstory of the characters, but how that backstory relates to the sagas, relates to culture,” Muir told IndieWire. “Then I did my master chart so I could look at it all at once as a game plan. Then when I figure out where those changes should be sitting, I go to Robert and suggest what I think. .

Muir was tasked with creating a multitude of wardrobes for three distinct worlds with different classes and cultures: the island kingdom of Viking royalty, where young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) is forced to flee after witnessing the assassination of his father, King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke), by his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang); the Slavic village of Rus, where Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) wanders 10 years later as a marauding berserker; and the Icelandic Farm, where Amleth seeks revenge against Fjölnir, who has settled down with Amleth’s mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), and their family after being deposed. In total, it was almost a thousand individual hand-sewn main garments.

"The man from the north"

“The Nordic”

Aidan Monaghan / Key Features

Muir’s creative journey has not been easy. After immersing herself in the sagas – medieval literature about the Norse people who first settled Iceland around the year 870 – Muir realized that the costumes she needed to research weren’t didn’t exist because the sagas were written 200 years after “The Northman” takes place. Yet she visited the British Museum, studied the online lectures of Viking scholar Neil Price, and learned all about the cutting and construction of early medieval clothing and accessories (especially the intricate weaving and dyeing ), before finding weavers for twill and plain. -weaving woolen goods and other appropriate clothing and accessories.

“Reading the sagas has been a great help to me. [for understanding] how people really lived and believed in larger-than-life fantasy characters,” Muir said. “It was much more rooted in who they were. One, in particular, had a protagonist sneaking up on a group of women and watching them weave, which at the time was done on a vertical loom. They used guts and intestines and stones were replaced with skulls. And you think: it’s culture. I had no idea how resourceful, intelligent and beautiful Viking culture was.

The best way to understand and appreciate Muir’s creative accomplishments is to break down the main characters of “The Northman”:

Prince Amleth

MAN FROM THE NORTH, Alexander Skarsgard, 2022. ph: Aidan Monaghan / © Focus Features / courtesy Everett Collection

Alexander Skarsgård, “Man from the North”

©Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collection

We first see Amleth as a child, when he displays all the cues of wealth: He wears woolen garments that are woven with very intricate patterns, which was very time consuming. “He has very specific bands of tablet weaving, a dragon band across his chest, shield and spear embroidery around the bottom of his coat,” Muir said. “These are meant to promote learning, later success in battle, all appeals to the gods as someone to watch. He is a little prince with a handsome hat lined with fur, gold, handmade silver buckles, garters.

But then all of that is taken away in Amleth, and then we see him in the Slavic village where he’s a fierce berserker warrior played by Skarsgård, dulled and asleep by his surroundings. “Amleth wears a unique garment in that his first linen shirt has buttons down the front and he has more oriental pants,” Muir continued. “He loses that quickly and turns into a berserker skin, which is both a wolf and a bear. He channels the spirits of these two creatures.

After the raid, when he learns that Gudrún and Fjölnir are living in Iceland, he changes into slave clothes. “He has a few different versions of slave clothing as he gets higher with privileges,” Muir added. “We meet all these different cultures through his eyes, and then we see him when he becomes a Viking again in stolen clothes that Olga [the Slavic sorceress, played by Anya Taylor-Joy] provided him. It was a tricky line to draw because you’re trying to draw out what is thought to be an accurate representation of those classes he claims to be in.

King Aurvandil

4179_D049_00102 RCEthan Hawke stars as King Aurvandil in director Robert Eggers' Viking epic THE MAN FROM THE NORTH, a Focus Features release.  Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2022 Focus Features, LLC

Ethan Hawke, “Man from the North”

Aidan Monaghan

Historic license was taken with Aurvandil in that these kings of the time did not wear crowns, but Eggers thought viewers would expect a crown, so he and Muir opted for a crown style with ornaments. attached to a metal ring. “For this I have taken some of the beautiful stamped designs from the Sutton Hoo [medieval] collection,” Muir said. “From the waist up he’s a king: the fur on the inside of the coat was made in Rome and there was an excessive amount of red sable on the inside of his coat, which was made of woven wool complex and jewelry. And I gave him practical pants and work boots, suitable for carrying out raids.

Queen Gudrun

The man from the north

Nicole Kidman, “Man from the North”

Focus characteristics

Gudrún was designed to be the true trophy wife and wears 20 long outfits of the same design, each serving different purposes, thanks to all that Aurvandil looted, plundered, and brought back. “High status symbols are colored and all herbal dyes: madder red, blue, green, marigold,” Muir said. “It took a lot of time and money to re-dye back then. It’s all about layers and excess. If you have a train on your dress and it’s pleated linen, it takes a lot of time [effort]. She had an apron dress with big gold brass brooches, and we added a front made with decorative braid, and some of them have gold threads embedded in them. And she has strands of glass beads.

Later, in Iceland, Gudrún becomes a happy, down-to-earth farmer. “Her clothes are very well made, of strong wool, and have a beautiful weave of tablets, which not only enhances the beauty of the piece but also extends the life of the garment,” Muir added. “She only really flaunts – the brass brooches and the glass beads – when they make the trip to the knattleikr game.”

Olga

Anya Taylor-Joy, Man from the North

Anya Taylor-Joy, “Man from the North”

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When Amleth first meets Olga, the slave slave, she displays the typical motives of an unmarried woman. “She wears a zapona [a tunic overpiece] whereas married women had skirts,” Muir said. “She has a small linen pouch, which contains herbs and means to calm her fellow villagers on a boat. Her connection to the land is less in the clothes once she becomes a slave, obviously. She is very simply dressed [in a distressed garment made of hemp and wool] and wears barefoot shoes, which proved popular due to filming in the rain and cold in Ireland. When they reunite at the end, it’s a Viking woman in a blue dress and a cloak with woven tablets.

The seer

The man from the north

Björk, the Man of the North”

Focus characteristics

As a berserker, Amleth encounters The Seeress, or Prophet (played by Björk), who predicts that he will take revenge on Fjölnir. Its nighttime sequence was shot in monochrome by cinematographer Jarin Blaschke to evoke moonlight using special filters. “I had to do a lot of dancing to figure things out on my black and white iPhone because we’ve already established what Slavic villagers wear: raw colored linen with red and black embroidery,” Muir continued. .

“All the designs mean something like an appeal to the gods for prosperity or health. The seer would be covered in embroidery [supplied by the wealthier villagers for private readings] and it had to read, it couldn’t go black, so we ended up with pinks and grays and we did screen printing. And then her barley headdress is the natural color of barley. And she had big golden time rings and many necklaces. His eyes had been removed by the opposing militia, and above the blackness are the cowries and bells hanging from his blindfold to ward off evil spirits. It was so fun to do that.

However, the day before the shoot, Björk called Muir and asked for chicken feet, a request the props department was able to fulfill with rubber facsimiles. “Björk was amazing: she was in charge of all the Slavic cultural connections,” Muir added. “As a performer, she’s very used to wearing [such elaborate costumes and head gear].”

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