Why did Queen Mary come to mind for Maggie Smith’s acerbic character Violet Crawley?
Her shape. That queen always had a certain look and it was right because we wanted a really strong, positive look for Maggie Smith. She’s the dominant character in the series. You want to costume to help emphasize the character, to be part of who that person is. It’s almost totally different from fashion. Fashion is all about the clothes but not about the person. It’s about making them look thin and beautiful, whereas a costume is about helping that character develop.
Do your costumes help distinguish between the three sisters Lady Mary, Lady Sybil and Lady Edith?
I really tried to get the difference between the three girls. For Lady Sybil I tried to show she is more of a free spirit — slightly bohemian for her time, and not so interested in high-end fashion. Her style is slightly more individualist. Lady Mary is very much high-end fashion. The Crawley family has got money, so they go to London, which already has big department stores. And since her mother, the Countess of Grantham, is American, I tried to show both of them as very keen on the latest fashions.
As for Lady Edith, she tends to not get it quite right because she’s the more awkward girl. I didn’t want to make her frumpy, because that would be predicting her character. She wasn’t supposed to be frumpy, just the less beautiful girl. I tried to avoid cliché. Sometimes she looks stunning, but sometimes odd, so that Mary can make scathing remarks. They’ve got quite a bitchy relationship on-screen. I should say they’re best mates off-screen.