UPDATED: The Witcher’s costume designer touches on character journeys, elf costumes and Nilfgaard

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With Netflix’s upcoming fantasy series The Witcher, starring Henry Cavill, mere months from release, more and more articles on the show are being released around the world. Not so long ago, Turkish magazine Episode brought us the first in-depth interview with The Witcher’s composers Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli. That wasn’t all though, as they also spoke to costume designer Tim Aslam about the beginning of his career, how The Witcher costumes were created and what events influenced their making.

He talks quite a bit about the ideas, the materials and the work that went into creating the costumes, letting us in on some of the secrets of the trade. He also reflects on how character journeys influence what they wear, especially those of the main trio Geralt (Henry Cavill), Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), and Ciri (Freya Allan). If you’re eager for word on how the non-humans will look and what inspired the controversial Nilfgaardian armor, Aslam has you covered as well.

A huge thanks to WitcherTurkey for this excellent translation!

UPDATE: The man himself has uploaded a gallery of costumes on his website, including some that have never been seen before. Feast your eyes on them here.

Episode: How did your journey as a costume designer begin?

Tim Aslam: My journey, like most designers, started with the education I received at art school. When I was little, I was always interested in history, both social history and clothing history. Besides, I had an incredible passion for old movies; I was particularly interested in old Hollywood movies, Film Noir and Screwball comedies of the 30s, 40s, and Neo-Realist cinema. I chose to study architecture. Architecture was one of my passions related to history. However, this period did not last long, I turned to fashion designer and worked for a few years in the fashion industry in London. The history of the costumes and my interest in cinema always continued, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do. For several years I continued to work with theater costumers. During this period, I learned a lot about clothes of different periods and tried to improve myself in creating character and personality through costume. Then I switched to the film industry and I continued to work as a freelance designer, assisting designers working for both traditional and modern films. All this gave me an amazing experience.

Tim Aslam showing author Andrzej Sapkowski and executive producer Tomek Baginski some of his costumes (photo credit: Nowa Fantastyka)

Episode: Where do you get inspiration for your costumes? Do you do specific research?

TA: First of all, it comes from reading scenarios, books, and creating the primary vision in my head. Then we have meetings with the production team and the TV series supervisor. Of course, this is Lauren Schmidt Hissrich when it comes to The Witcher. They give an idea of how to proceed in terms of costumes in the series. After putting something in my head about what kind of visuality we need, I go to the research section and [look into] everything, everything. In this case, I examined both gothic and Renaissance clothes and clothes that were influenced by gothic movements in all periods of history. I have done all kinds of research on contemporary luxury fashion, futuristic fashion and world clothes. Ideas may even come from sources you don’t expect the most, which don’t necessarily have to be related to clothes.

I examined both gothic and Renaissance clothes and clothes that were influenced by gothic movements in all periods of history.

Episode: How does the process of creating costumes work? What kind of fabrics do you use? How long does it take to design a costume from start to finish?

TA: The first thing to do is to compile a reference image file about the style and emotion of that character. Then I design the costume in more detail; forms, shapes, colors, fabric techniques… With all this in mind, I try to create a special outfit using all of them. Sometimes I pick a fabric for a particular outfit and go with it. But sometimes after drawing the final design, we realize that the fabric we have chosen is not fully fitted and we need to make changes. In a huge series of sets like The Witcher, I actually have to pick any fabric or material I like. So I took everything I thought I might need, relying on my instincts, not knowing who or what to design. Before going to Budapest, we had to make our purchases all over the UK and Europe. We were going into a fast production process, so it was very important that we had everything we needed. It would be a waste of time to place orders otherwise and wait for them to arrive. In fact, this can be a little intimidating because you have to rely on your instincts. In the future, you may need to buy according to what you expect to use for months later. Sometimes, even for a character that has not yet been written, you will need to have the materials at hand.

Aslam (right) with fellow crew members

The design is approved by the production team, the fabrics are selected, and after I decide which actor is to wear which costume, I start to design. I work with the head tailor on the set. We talk about parts and details, and then the head tailor takes out a pattern or canvas of the costume. This is a test costume made with cheaper fabrics of the same weight. This allows us to try out the costume on the actor, to make corrections and changes. Thus, you can change details without damaging the actual material, without wasting the fabric.

We continue to make a series of trials and edits to complete the costume. The photos are taken and sent to the production team for final approval. Then we do fabric aging and dyeing to give more depth and character to the final costume. I work with many high-quality fabrics, mostly upholstery fabrics and home-design fabrics. Because they have more interesting, avant-garde touches than regular silk, cotton or linen fabrics. I love fabrics with unusual features and textures. Sometimes I try to create different textures by using fabric processing techniques such as applique on flat materials. It’s hard to tell how long it takes to design and finish a costume from the ground up because it can vary depending on how complex the costume is. Mostly we are working on 10 costumes at the same time. Some complex garments can take more than two weeks with eight people working on different items.

Geralt’s character is a character who has entered many battles with different monsters. That’s why his costume and his armor always reflect attrition.

Episode: How do you describe a character’s journey through costumes?

TA: In series such as The Witcher, some characters appear in only a few episodes, and these characters can remain the same throughout the series unless something extraordinary happens to them. Some characters change and mature. For example, Yennefer starts her journey at a lower position, realizes her power and gains confidence. In the case of Yennefer, we initially prepared her clothes based on the model of the farmers / peasants. Then we turned the costume into an Aretuza uniform. Then, after fully fulfilling her potential, her clothes became more courageous, strong and flashy in accordance with her new physical structure. Ciri begins her journey as a princess; in fact the future leader of the territory itself. But then she has to escape and cannot change her clothes. Therefore, her clothes become messy and uneven. The characters who maintain their status more or less, remain more or less the same. Tissaia, for example, always represents a structural and architectural authority with her clothes. Geralt’s character is a character who has entered many battles with different monsters. That’s why his costume and his armor always reflect attrition. But during his journey, he obtains new versions of his costume by getting similar outfits that fit his needs.

Episode: What did you consider when designing costumes for the two female characters of the series, Yennefer and Ciri?

TA: Designing costumes for Ciri and Yennefer was equally challenging. Ciri begins her journey as heir to a great dynasty. Perhaps the greatest dynasty on the Continent. Ciri is evolving into a young woman. Her first costume positions Ciri as a fashionable and noble young lady, the leader of the future. After Ciri’s escape, the outfit she wore during the entire season was supposed to be practical and useful because there were many escape scenes and running scenes. Therefore, we used wide pants skirts for Ciri in skirt appearance and our aim was to not be restricted in the action scenes. On the other hand, it has an almost childish fragility and sensitivity. After she escapes, she’s left all alone and unaware of what’s going on around her. So the cape I designed for Ciri has a certain elegance, but this is not an entirely “adult” outfit.

Ciri on the run

Yennefer is also undergoing a major change. The opposite of Ciri’s transformation. Yennefer begins her journey as a confused and timid character. She doesn’t know exactly what she is, what powers she has. She’s a character that’s even been ostracized by her own family. So we designed her clothes to be that of a poor farmer; dirty, neglected and disheveled. Yennefer then develops over time in Aretuza. She reinforces her abilities and gains self-confidence. Ultimately, when she becomes a powerful character as we know it, her clothes reflect this. She wears brave clothes, a reflection of her newly discovered self-esteem. In the books, Yennefer wears only black, white and gray clothes because the colorlessness of the clothes reinforces her strength and abilities. Therefore, the biggest challenge I had in designing Yennefer’s costumes was to design different and interesting looking clothes with such a limited color palette.

Yennefer after developing her full potential

Our goal was to make Geralt look fierce and sexy

Episode: Can you tell us about the process of creating Geralt’s appearance? Accessories, armor, clothes..

TA: The starting point for us was the depictions in the books. I also examined armor in ancient Eastern civilizations, Roman and medieval times. Black leather armor never existed in medieval times. Natural leather armors or similar ones were used in ancient Rome and ancient China. But this is ultimately a fantastic series and everything is closely related to visuality. The heavy and spiky armor in the books has very cool touches, but in reality, it is quite unsuitable for use in life. Our goal was to make Geralt look fierce and sexy. We aimed for him to defeat every enemy he came across and to display his magnificent body. As I said before, his clothes and armor wear off by the events he encounters in each department. That’s why he often changes clothes, but this is always done with a certain style in mind.

Episode: The Witcher has a wide range of characters. Elves, dwarves, humans, monsters and wizards.. When it comes to costumes, are there elements that you can call common to all these different characters?

TA: When designing clothes for different types of beings, I tried to create a costume with common and distinctive characteristics specific to each group. We used a special fabric processing technique for the elves. We used multi-layer dress sleeves and hard tunic cuts similar to a medieval tunic. Their costumes wear off and change the same way because they have to live in harsh conditions and are constantly chased and hunted by humans.

Other groups also have common design elements in their costumes because we want these different “peoples” to be distinguished. We also try to capture a certain appearance in the clothes of different groups of people. For example, Cintra, inspired by the 1930s Film Noir and gothic sentiment. Blaviken blends oriental fishing towns and Japanese high fashion.

Episode: Which character have you had the most difficulty designing for?

TA: I think the hardest costume to design was Geralt’s costume. Expectations about Geralt’s appearance due to the games were quite high. Also, there was a certain image in the minds of those who read the books about how Geralt should look. The challenge was to design a convincing armor for Geralt. The armor had to give Geralt a tough and dangerous look, but also allow Henry to move freely with his highly structured body and to perform the complex physical movements required by the series. I’ve been forced to keep this balance.

After Geralt, I think the most challenging armor is the Nilfgaardian armor. It was supposed to be threatening and strange. This armor is actually described as a black armor with a sun motif on it. It would have been easy to turn it into any medieval or Renaissance armor. But I thought it would not be enough to express the dark and scary power of the Nilfgaardian army.

The Witcher launches on Netflix on December 20.

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