The king’s man – a 2014 prequel Kingsman: The Secret Service and 2017 Kingsman: The Golden Circle – takes place during the turbulent years surrounding the First World War. Directed by Matthew Vaughn (and on a budget of $100 million), the story centers on an elite British spy, the Duke of Oxford (played by Ralph Fiennes), who must stop criminal masterminds from leading indeed a plot that would destroy humanity.
Costume designer Michele Clapton, who won a BAFTA for her designs on the first series of The crown, had his work cut out for him in The king’s man: designing an Edwardian wardrobe that mirrors the stiff upper lip of London’s Savile Row, and ensuring that this impeccable tailoring – starchy and heavy by nature – is flexible enough for an action-based image.
“The weight of the fabrics in those days was really heavy and they really defined the fit of a suit, unlike today where the fabrics are so much lighter and you can move around,” says Clapton in a British accent that doesn’t is no different than Emma Thompson. In fact, I’m sure she would have been compared to the actress on more than one occasion.
“We also found a lovely Scottish weaver who would weave catalog pieces for small quantities, she would sometimes weave 12 yards for us which was brilliant,” Clapton continues. “For us, the fabrics were really essential to find our way in the film. There were such wonderful colors and weaves used in that era and bringing that to a modern audience, I thought, was really exciting.
Read on for our interview with the award-winning client.
The king’s man is currently in theaters.
GRAZIA: The crown was based in the years surrounding World War II. Can you tell us about the different types of weaves and fabrics that were available, compared to The king’s manis the setting of the First World War?
MICHELE CLAPTON: “The First World War was a period when women’s clothing really revolutionized, because they obviously had to be much more active and sometimes had to play men’s roles – and even more during the Second World War. But each time, I think that the wars have advanced women’s clothing. Shortened skirts, there were fewer petticoats. The king’s man was so heavy with men’s clothing – of course we have scenes at the Russian ball, and we also designed servants’ clothing – but overall it was just the weight fabrics. We found old pattern books and they were amazing, there were so many colors! We’re so used to seeing black and white photos from that era that we tend to think it was dull. And that was not the case at all! The silhouette of a woman at that time was so huge, they had enormous shoulders and these really tight collars, it was a very particular time… and excessive.
GRAZIA: Movies are notorious for giving the costume department low budgets. Is there anything in the movie where you thought, “I would have done this differently if I had had more money”?
CLAPTON: “As [director] Matthew Vaughn is so passionate about clothes that you can usually go to him and plead your case! [Laughs] You always want more money, but he gave me a lot more time before the shoot to research what I could do. People were also very enthusiastic about the idea of working on king’s man, because I think they know the quality of it, so we’ve worked with some amazing people who have been generous with their time.
GRAZIA: How long did the shooting take?
CLAPTON: “I had about four months. I had never worked with Matthew before and this [costumer-director] relationship is so important, especially for someone like him who is so passionate about clothes. It’s really important to try to understand what they want and give them ideas.
“It’s a period film, and sometimes these shapes are quite hard to accept at first: the very high collars, the very long jackets. Your eye has gotten used to it and see how it will work for a modern audience.
GRAZIA: How involved was director Matthew Vaughn in the costume design process?
CLAPTON: “He has to see pretty much everything you do. He gives you time to do it, but then he really wants to see it. If he’s not lying, he’ll tell you he doesn’t like it. But he’ll also change his mind – if he sees something again, he might be like, “I really like that.” That’s what I liked about him. He doesn’t just say something and not change his mind to save face. He will actually say, ‘Actually it’s good, I got used to it.’ A costume designer is always difficult because you are kind of always in the middle: you deal with the actors, then with the director. That’s sometimes the hardest part of the job, the dynamic between the actor, the director and you. It is sometimes tricky. »
GRAZIA: What did Ralph Fiennes like to work with?
CLAPTON: “He loves clothes and loves how they look. It’s so important for him to find the character. Most of the actors are involved with Ralph wants to understand Why he is carrying something. It was a very nice way of working – that’s a lot. I would adjust each outfit and then plot it out and then send her photos of each fitting and notes on where I think it should appear in the story so that we have this ebb and flow of emotion . Every time I draw, I don’t say: “A costume for that, a costume for that”. It is a wardrobe of clothes. One day on set, we might be like, ‘We know we’re going to do the pinstripe suit, but what tie? What mood do we mean the character is in? How to weave in emotion? I love it, I’m a storyteller.
GRAZIA: How to work on a film like The king’s man compare to working on a TV series like The crown Where game of thrones?
CLAPTON: Activated The crown, you have more time to tell the story. It was over 10 episodes – so 10 hours – to tell the story. Amusingly, you’ve had time to develop the character, and you can do it more subtly. In film, you have so little time to tell a story arc and sometimes you make hundreds of costumes, they’re just in shot. In a TV show, you spend more time in a room and [the camera, and thus the audience] go through all the work. A movie is a short story. It’s a small moment in time, told in detail. This movie is epic, I love how big it is. I think you have to be stronger with your costume choices because you won’t see them for so long and they have to tell the story much more quickly and succinctly.
GRAZIA: What did Gemma Arterton enjoy working with?
CLAPTON: “She was divine. When we first met, we sat down to discuss the character and I showed him some moodboards of what we could do with it. We bonded right away. The ideas we just had matched the way she saw the character so well; the structure of these costumes, the silhouettes. She also has this wonderful way of holding herself which, as a costume designer, is frankly a dream. She is content to engage and inhabit the costumes she has donated.
GRAZIA: Whatever the project, things don’t always go the way we originally planned. Was there a scene or a piece that worked even better on screen than you imagined?
CLAPTON: A piece that I like was a piece that we did. A little oiled biker jacket in which Conrad arrives at Sandhurst. I loved that it was blood red and anticipated the story that was to come – the desolation, the damage – and I thought that was just the perfect tone. The props department put two small suitcases on his back and I thought that was perfect. It kind of underlined that he was leaving.
GRAZIA: Do you have a favorite scene that GRAZIA readers/viewers can look up?
CLAPTON: “I loved the Russian ball. I like when Rasputan [played by Rhys Ifans] and his two female cohorts walk in and scan the room. It was really fun to design. There were many balls in Russia where they wore traditional Russian headdresses. It was kind of fantastic, which was exactly what happened at the time. We made these metal headpieces and just about every costume in the play. It was so satisfying.
GRAZIA: You should take out that whole prom dress line on the runway…
CLAPTON: “We could all marvel in fantastical Russian costumes. That would be pretty fantastic, wouldn’t it? [Laughs]”
The king’s man is currently in theaters.