Interview: Trish Summerville, 'Catching Fire' costume designer
From canvasses to costumes, this girl is on fire
By Myriam Gabriel-Pollock
It’s early September in New York City, and though it’s a balmy 85 degrees outside, in this cozy hotel suite with costume designer Trish Summerville it is nothing but cool. After all, she’s here to accept the award for Costume Designer of the Year at the Style Awards, which kicks off this year’s New York Fashion Week. Summerville is known for her edgy, memorable work on the costumes seen in 2011’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” for which she won a Costume Designers Guild Award for contemporary film. Next we’ll see her eye-popping, fabulous costumes for “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” which opens November 22.
Summerville’s work on “Dragon Tattoo” led to a successful collaboration with H&M: a 30-item fashion line inspired by Lisbeth Salander’s hacker-chic wardrobe in the film. The leather jacket, ripped shirts, army pants and distressed hoodies were signature pieces in a collection that signified Salander’s tough, intense aesthetic; women obviously loved the wearable, trendiness of the clothes, as the line sold out in record time.
“Hunger Games” fans looking to channel Katniss Everdeen will be thrilled to get their hands on Summerville’s latest collaboration. In a partnership with high-end fashion retailer Net-a-Porter and Lionsgate Studios, a new line called “Capitol Couture by Trish Summerville” will roll out this fall, in time for the release of “Catching Fire,” the second film in the phenomenal “Hunger Games” series. Sixteen ready-to-wear pieces—clothing as well as jewelry and leather goods—inspired by the film will be available exclusively on net-a-porter.com.
We spoke to her about her work and inspiration for “Catching Fire.”
MSN Movies: Were you already a big fan of the "Hunger Games" films or books when you were asked to do the "Catching Fire" costumes?
Trish Summerville: To be totally honest, I didn't really know it, because I had been working a lot. Once I have down time is when my reading begins to happen. And it's in the same way as before I did Dragon ["Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"]; I had just gotten Dragon Tattoo the book to read it. And then that came up. So it was ironic. So for this one too is when I got the call for it, the movie hadn't come out yet. And so I had heard a friend of mine's daughter was talking about Katniss Everdeen, how amazing Katniss Everdeen was. So I started wondering, "Who is this Katniss Everdeen...what are these books?" And then I got the call for this and went to see the film because there wasn't quite a script yet, and then started reading the books.
Your mind must have been firing off: "Okay she can look like this, or like this..." I can only imagine.
It's so much to cover. For any costume designer, this is such a great project because it's expansive as to what you can do. So there was constantly...everything I wanted to fit in, how I'm gonna do all this, what's our color palette for each thing. It's a lot.
Judianna Makovsky did "The Hunger Games," and I think she did a great job. I was wondering between yourself and director Francis Lawrence, how did you guys come up with trying to keep certain things the same as "The Hunger Games," and then also moving towards your own vision of how things should look as well?
We had a meeting about it...and one of the things I thought that we should definitely keep that they all agreed upon was the hunting jacket and her boots. Because that's such an iconic thing for her from the first film. We wanted to travel that over to the second film. And then keeping the looks of Districts 11 and 12, having them have the same kind of essence of what they had in the first film, but then to build on it in the second film because we have other seasons. Before we only saw them in summer, and we mainly saw them at the reaping, where they're in their Sunday best. So we never kind of see that.
They're at the reaping, but this time they know who's being reaped. So they don't all come dressed up, 'cause they're not gonna leave and go to the Capitol. 'Cause it's only gonna be Peeta, Katniss and Haymitch that go. And they don't really care how they're going to the Capitol 'cause they're so anti- the situation now. So we were able to change that and kind of build on what they had from the first film for those two districts.
And then all the other districts you didn't see in the first film. So we got to completely do those anew. As far as Panem and the Capitol, fashion changes in the Capitol each season. So we got to completely do an overhaul on the entire Capitol because they constantly are wearing new, better, improved, "what can we have now." So we had a lot of liberties and we could just change pretty much everything.
I changed all the peacekeepers as well because this time around the uprising is starting and there's a lot of tensions. So they needed to look much more intimidating. They needed to look much more fierce and strong. And as well as President Snow, I changed his look completely because it's that same thing. His authority is being challenged. He has to step it up. He has to look more dignified, more regal, more powerful. So we were able to change all that because of the storyline.
That gives you a big, broad --
Big palette to work with. [Laughter]
I read that when you do a movie, you create inspiration boards. And I think in "Catching Fire" you said you created 40 or 60. And hopefully someday they'll be on display somewhere...
I hope so, too! I have a lot of them at my home. And then we were just trying to think, 'cause at one point we took photos of them because we were gonna ship them. And they were like, "Who has the photos?"
And how do you go about creating them? Do you just have canvasses around and you just start sketching?
It's sketches, it's tears, it's fabric swatches, it's yarns, it's color chips. It's anything you could --
It's a collage.
It's a total collage of everything. At one point when I was starting, when people start coming into your department to work, and you have to do the rundown of what each thing means, some were like, "What does that mean?" Because for me a lot of times it's like my boards can be really random. It's just something that inspires me, that I just wanna just throw up there, whether it's an artist's work, or it's a building, or it's bugs, or it's one piece of fabric, or a piece of metal.
For "Dragon," one day I found a piece of barbed wire on the ground. And I cast a bracelet out of it and made that for Lisbeth Salander. And in this, it was the whole thing with the seashells for the fishing district. I wanted to make sure we incorporated just various kinds of shells that they could have in their clothing.
Fans will be happy that you decided to give Finnick no shirt. [Laughter]
[Laughter] Yeah, he has no shirt. He has no shirt and then a low shirt. [Laughter]
I read that Sam Claflin, when he got cast, was like, "I was out of shape, I was this white British guy, I don't work out. And then I'm getting cast as this God-like gorgeous guy." So he's hoping that between the training and the costumes and some movie magic, he'll look like the Finnick that the fans are expecting. And he looks pretty good.
He does! We had this funny conversation when he first came in 'cause we were talking about different things. 'Cause I was saying, "I try to read the fan sites to see what the fans wanna see, what's really important to them." And he was like, "Oh God." And I was like, "But you don't read them?" And he said, "Well, one girl even said, 'Oh my God, Sam Claflin...if it's him I'll just literally kill myself.'"
That's pretty intense!
I said, "If she feels that strongly about that, there's not much you can change." And then at the second fitting and third fitting when he came in, I was like, "You are Finnick. The fans are gonna embrace you as Finnick. There's no better Finnick than you." He's great and he worked so hard and trained so hard. And he's just easygoing and sweet and lovely and a giant goofball. And he completely transformed himself to be Finnick. And he did an amazing job.
Did any of the other actors have any kind of input? Like, "I want to look like this," or "I think I want this accessory." Or did they kind of just leave it all up to you?
I think also too because it's such an interesting story that you can't base... with period films you have documentation of what that looks like, of what people wore, what body shapes they were, how their hair was. But for this because it's this mysterious time and place, and it's all fantasy in your mind of what it could be, it's the future, but we're not sure when. So I think it's once we started doing fittings with them, they would have maybe a few ideas or concepts. But they were really good about me being like, "Hey, I think you're wearing this because here's why, and this relates to your district because of this."
And they were all really open and really eager to see what my ideas were. Everybody was really great. It was really, really great. The biggest thing I would always kind of ask for them is when we were trying on the Games costumes. Literally, can you do squats across the room and roll around and jump up and down and do jumping jacks, so we can see can you move in this. Because it's the thing that they have the most function in and the most stunts.
Because they're wearing that the whole time in the arena, right? That kind of black and white, gray--it looks really high tech, and really stretchy.
Yeah! [Laughter] Super functional, yeah. I was trying to make it functional physically, comfortable for the actors, making it visually appealing. And then what fits on 24 different body types, 'cause you have 24 different body types. And they're wearing it for such a long period. They're wearing it in the water, out of the water, running up the hill, in the jungle, in the heat, in the cold. And even with the shoes--what could they swim in, what could they run in. So it was really, it was a little bit challenging to kind of encompass all of that.
Was there a character that was a bit more challenging for you to come up with certain costumes for?
I think the thing that was challenging...not being a particular character, but with all the districts...the victors that come forward, the tributes. For the stage interview with Caesar Flickerman, and with the chariot, you have to relate it to what their district does. So some of them are challenging. There's a grain district. There's the lumber district. The power district. So it's like trying to find interesting things that you can do for each one of those that isn't comical, but is a bit tongue in cheek about what their district does, but is still an interesting idea. So that was challenging.
Was there a particular costume you just had so much fun with and really loved?
There's a lot that I love. I really love one of the jackets we made for Jeffrey Wright, who plays Beetee. One of the ones we did for him; we had two different ones. One of the jackets we had just put all kind of gears and electronics. We hand-sewed all these gadgets. It's as if he's working in the factory, he kind of puts things on his clothes, his character. And these are backstories that you don't see. But it makes sense that his glasses, he hooks on with his own wire. And then on his chariot costume, his jacket looks like power surges of different colors. And we have light strips that are sewn onto all of it that actually light up. So those were fun.
And then also for the grain district, Seeder's dress is made out of husk. And then she has a lot of wheat that we hand-sewed onto her dress.
Amazing. We haven't seen these in the trailers yet.
No, and I don't know how...it's sad because there's certain things I don't know how much you will actually see in the film. 'Cause there's a lot of things that you make that you never actually see. So I hope at some point there'll be photographs of it that will circulate. 'Cause her little dress was so cute.
Have you seen the film?
I have. It's not totally complete from what I've seen. But it looks amazing.
Was it just incredible to see your work up there alive, moving?
It is incredible to see your work. But it's also for me the whole overall of it matters so much. Just seeing some of the opening shots are so beautiful. And there's nothing of mine that's in that of this opening. But the shots are so beautiful and so moving, and hearing some of the music that they've laid in--that's amazing and great. The special effects, the visual effects are amazing. So overall I'm so happy for Francis and for everyone who's a part of it. Because it just really is gonna blow people away.
Just the trailers are amazing.
Yeah. The trailer is so good.
It seemed to capture the essence.
And there's a lot of really emotional scenes in it that are really moving that you get a little caught off guard. [Laughter] You're like, "Oh!" You get a bit tripped up.
Are you prepared to sort of be, if not already, a household name? You had the H&M line for "Dragon Tattoo," and now you've got this new line coming up [for "Catching Fire"]. And it's got your name on it: "The Capitol Couture Collection by Trish Summerville!" Are you prepared for this change--to be a bigger thing in the fashion world, while now you're known in the movie world? Now you'll be huge in both.
I hope so. For me, I just stay the course and I take each project as it comes. 'Cause we never know what's out there for us. And we never know what can happen. So I just try and take each project as it comes and really focus and give it my all. Like I was saying, it's like when I get a project I kind of eat, breathe, live, sleep it. I engulf the whole thing. And I kind of do that with each thing that I do.
And I hope that this expands and opens up. 'Cause I wanna do everything. I wanna do a line, I wanna do a jewelry line, I wanna keep doing film. I wanna experiment with everything.
That's what I'm really excited to see. Other than the clothes, I can't wait to see the accessories, the leather stuff.
I think people are gonna really like it. It's interpreted from the film, but it's ready to wear items that you can wear. A part of the reason I didn't do Effie's kind of clothing is because her clothes are so much more over the top. And I think Effie needs to stay that way. She needs to stay couture runway, and a tribute to McQueen in that sense. But the other things that we've done, we've kind of done it and interpreted it so that it's wearable clothing that is functional for your life.
I have to ask you about Katniss' wedding dress. Because we've seen the front, and we see that little bit in the trailer where she spins, 'cause Caesar Flickerman asks her to. And then you see the back of it, you see the shape, you only see the front. And then you see Snow's reaction. How did you and Tex work out how that would look?
It's actually two different dresses 'cause she's in the wedding dress and then she spins into the Mockingjay dress.
The top one burns off, right?
Right. And so I was working with [Jakarta designer] Tex Saverio on the wedding dress, figuring out what fabrications make it light so that it can spin and she can move in it. And then keeping the cage, the metal piece of the cage; it feels like it's flames and fire. And then there's laser cut pieces around the waist that are laser cut to look like feathers. So it's like white fabric that's just cut in the shapes of feathers. And then having the straps kind of work so that you can buy that maybe the other dress is underneath and this one burns away. So yeah, we did a lot of Skype sessions before he came to town.
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" opens November 22.