This medieval fantasy film is fresh and new, it appeared on screens in 2021. And you will find a number of curious and skillfully made stage costumes in it. Although, they’re mostly not that period accurate, the costume designer took inspiration from medieval garments and the clothing style of the 4th-5th century (which is a rare path for fashion designers) and combined these styles with contemporary trends. What they got in the end, let’s see.
This article is based on the video from YouTube channel “Costume CO”.
The Green Knight is a newly released epic medieval fantasy film by American filmmaker David Lowery and it stars British actor Dev Patel as Gawain.
The costumes were designed by Malgosia Turzanska.
The setting of The Green Knight is in the 14th century but with a contemporary twist.
Although, the costume designer has stated that her inspirations for the costumes are much earlier – more like the 4th and 5th centuries.
The story begins at the Christmas feast held by King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Malgosia Turzanska said in an interview with Slash Film, “It definitely is inspired by early medieval times, but it's absolutely inaccurate. So it is definitely a fantasy movie with fantasy costumes”.
Malgosia Turzanska's design process involved her researching by going to museums and looking at early medieval pieces. She examined medieval imagery at The Met Museum in New York and also museums in Poland and London. Knowing that most of the pieces would be custom-made, the designs were nailed down rather early, as she sought approval on her renderings from writer and director David Lowery.
During this process, actor Dev Patel had yet to be cast. She said, “It was kind of designing it in the darkness”. But she added, “But then of course, during the fittings, there's a lot of tweaking… we're still finding the characters”.
One of the first things you notice about the press images in the trailer are the punches of color – Gawain's quilted velvet yellow cloak, for instance, that he dons throughout the entire film. It's almost sort of a houppelande that he wears in many ways – like a coat or a scarf or blanket.
It's actually a bit of relief against all of the dark interiors and the gray overcast skies.
It also picks up on the golden flowers and lichens growing amongst the dead things in the countryside.
Malgosia Turzanska said that the yellow cloak was within the script but the design team itself settled on the color of the gorse, which is this invasive plant that grows all over the countryside in Ireland.
We’re not sure if this was intentional, but it also has a nice tie and color-wise to the fox that accompanies Gawain on his quest.
The quilting of Gawain's cloak is done in the shape of a magnified thumbprint. His costumes suffer along the way in the same way that he suffers through his trials.
To achieve this well-traveled look, production had 8 multiples of the cloaks at different stages of filth and muck that saturate his cloak and settle into the creases.
Malgosia Turzanska said, “… so the one that he arrives home in is compared to the fresh one that he left his town in is unrecognizable, but still the same thumbprint”.
From the Top Fabric of Soho in London, we know that the fabric might be silk or cotton velvet. Here are some examples of this type of fabric, although the color is less vibrant.
Gawain wears this tunic-like gambeson to the Christmas feast. The sleeves are detachable and laced at the shoulder, leaving some room for movement when swinging King Arthur's sword.
Top Fabric says that the staggered brick pattern fabric might be cotton velvet, and it's trimmed with black braid.
The other bits of costumes worn by Gawain as he sets out on his journey to meet the Green Knight are also lovely.
His shirt or hauberk of riveted mail is historically accurate.
But the best clothing item of his are these laced split hose worn over braies.
There are lots of medieval paintings depicting men in split hose, many of them brightly colored.
According to Malgosia Turzanska’s sketch of Gawain in his hose, they are made from a tapestry-like texture reminiscent of the bayou tapestry.
Funny thing is, Gawain had this bassinet-style helmet in the sketches, but the only time it's brought out in the movie is when Gawain gives his horse some water just before he's attacked by thieves.
The other iconic thing – they are represented in the posters as well – are the crowns with the halos.
Malgosia Turzanska said that they were inspired by the religious paintings of the time, just very, very simple halos.
She said, “I wanted to connect the royalty with the idea of divinity and how they are treated by their countrymen, how they are treated with such huge respect and love. And that they are almost divine”.
For the king and queen costumes, Malgosia Turzanska was inspired by early medieval pieces, saying, “It was fascinating, metal threads that were woven through cotton or wool clothing, but the clothes itself just decompose and the only thing that stayed was metal”.
We'll add that this is consistent with Viking grave finds in Sweden.
The king's gown worn when he visits Gawain is possibly made from a fabric that Top Fabric had in stock at one point. it's sort of like this Tussar raw silk.
The queen's gown, according to the notes in Malgosia Turzanska's costume design, is covered in hundreds of milagros. Milagros, meaning “miracle”, are religious folk charms that are traditionally used for healing purposes, and they can be constructed from gold, silver, tin, lead, wood, bone, or wax.
The king's costume, meanwhile, is covered in a series of metal, almost armor-like votive plates.
Votive plates are a type of votive offering or votive displayed or deposited in a sacred place for religious purposes. A votive candle is an example of a votive offering. In Buddhism, most votive plates are made of clay, while a rarer and more expensive tablet was made from metal.
Aside from Gawain's cloak, Malgosia Turzanska uses plenty of textured fabrics that are pleated and manipulated in several ways.
Gawain's shirt, for instance, worn at the Lord And Lady’s Castle, whose raglan sleeves are absolutely not period correct, according to Malgosia Turzanska, are made from this contemporary pleated poly Dupion silk gray fabric from Top Fabric, although pressed flat.
At first glance, the arrowhead smocking texture of the fabric appears to look like chainmail.
Gawain's cloak as well, appearing to be velvet, has sewn down pleats done creating this unusual texture.
This same technique is used on Lady’s gown worn by Alicia Vikander.
Malgosia Turzanska said in a BTL news interview that the Lord and Lady’s costumes “were inspired by the architecture of the place where we shot – it was very intricate, so we pleaded their outfits”.
This one outfit worn by the Lord appears to be made from raw silk, while Top Fabric thinks the costume is trimmed with this ginger fox and gray faux fur in their shop.
In an interview, the director said that he couldn't speak to the significance of the blues formed by the Lord and Lady, saying that Malgosia Turzanska would have to speak to that. But perhaps we can glean something of it, based upon what she said about the nature of the castle itself, sort of a Brigadoon-like respite for Gawain. She said that the castle was almost in a different time and place, almost to the future.
While it's likely a coincidence, the Lady’s gold earrings with a floating pearl remind us of the caged skeleton the Gawain happens upon.
The Knights of the Round Table also have pleated texture on their sleeves. And Gawain's mother Morgan le Fay and her daughters – from what we can tell – are dressed in an assortment of crinkled taffetas and metallic silks.
Of these, Malgosia Turzanska’s said, “… because I couldn't find one that had the right color and was a double-sided fabric that we did what we needed it to do”, they had to hand-spray the gray fabrics of rusty brown over three weekends.
With its abundance of textures, King Gawain's couture-like costume is one of the most striking outfits in the movie.
Malgosia Turzanska said that Dev Patel called it “The Tilda” because, as she said, he felt like British actor Tilda Swinton in it.
Top Fabrics said that the cloak fabric is possibly this textured silk Dupion in the color “ivory”.
And one of the costumes that Malgosia Turzanska is most proud of is Gawain's bride's wedding gown made from tears of pleated satin.
She says, “It was just like a lot of pleated ruffles. And she literally was wrapped in it like a candy and we could unwrap her whole gown, which was very fun”.
Top Fabric tells me that this fabric is possibly made from duchess satin, which is available everywhere.
Aside from the gold crowns with the halos, of which the designer said, “I wasn't sure if that was going to fit on anyone's head and actually stay so that was really cool”, she encountered some challenging aspects.
The first one was the green girdle or sash – a significant enchanted piece worn by Gawain for much of the movie. This costume piece took the longest, as they went through a series of designs, beginning with something very elaborate, with metallic threads and gemstones, but decided in the end that it was too much. They concluded that, since it was handmade by Gawain's mother and sisters, it should be very simple on the outside and the magic should be contained on the inside.
Another physically challenging costume, both for English actor Ralph Ineson and the costume team, was the Green Knight himself. While there are some CGI aspects, the costume is largely practical.
According to Polygon, the costumes and makeup took three and a half hours to apply and an hour to remove. Ralph Ineson was covered in tree bark, like prosthetics on his hands and face, designed by Barrie Gower, prosthetics supervisor on HBO's Game of Thrones. And he had to wear specialty contact lenses. The makeup and lenses impaired both his hearing and vision.
And the Green Knight’s cloak is made from tree bark found in Uganda, an alternative to leather because it turns out Ralph Ineson is a vegan.
Malgosia Turzanska said in an interview, “One of many textiles that I discovered was this barkcloth, this skinny layer of fiber that's between the trunk of the tree and the bark”.
But it proved to be laborious because they had to rub baby oil into it for many hours to make it work. Barkcloth is produced by stripping lengths of bark from the mature Matuba tree, which grows easily in the fertile central-southern region of Uganda, where it has been produced for centuries.
Malgosia Turzanska said, “The tree bark acts a bit like leather if you treat it right, and it looks both like tree and felt”.
If you zoom in closely, you will also see that the Knight's chest piece is etched with the Sabaic alphabet, an old southern Arabian language spoken between 1000 B.C. and the 6th century A.D.