LONDON | Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue — all these elements went into the costuming of “Downton Abbey: A New Era.”
While that phrase is usually applied to good luck tokens worn by brides on their big day, the new period drama not only opens with a wedding, but displays approximately 300 garments over the duration of the movie, which hits U.S. theaters Friday.
Anna Robbins is the costume designer in charge of dressing both the upstairs and the downstairs residents of Downton. Having worked on the TV series and 2019 film, she has plenty of experience to draw on.
“There were new characters to design for. There was new settings where we had to kind of go back to think about palette and what would work against the production design in these new spaces and new geographies. But when it comes to ‘Downton,’ I know the red sofa of the library so well, I know what colors are going to work off that. So it’s a lovely combination of the new and the old coming together.”
The nuptials that start the film are of Tom Branson and Lucy Smith, played by Tuppence Middleton, and her dress was a combination of a satin bodice, chiffon sleeve and silk tulle, decorated with vintage silver thread and a hand embroidered replica of an original 1920’s veil.
“It was terrifying,” says Middleton of the delicate dress, which she had to keep out of the mud on set.
“This kind of pure white silk dress and there was about four people lifting it off the floor everywhere I went, and going to the toilet was a really difficult thing, but yeah, lots of fun.”
When it comes to recreating 1928 looks, Robbins and her team used a combination of vintage, recycled and fresh fashions.
“It’s a real treasure hunt, which is very rewarding but it is a challenge to find pieces that suit the character, the scene, the setting and that are of the quality that we require for the big screen. So we’re looking for pretty much museum-quality pieces or pieces that can be restored to that level to feel like they are new and pristine.”
With some of the characters heading to the south of France to investigate a bequeathed holiday villa, she also got to add a continental twist to the usual drawing room styles of the upper-class family.
“Some of them are just completely from the era. It’s a real honor to wear them,” says star Elizabeth McGovern of Lady Crawley’s Riviera wardrobe.
“I’m always looking for full garments,” explains Robbins, “but it might be also that I’m looking for fabric that I can use to make a new make, so it’s a kind of hybrid. And then even with new bespoke makes, I would definitely be looking for trims or buttons or little accessories that would still anchor it to that time, so it is a real mix.”
As well as the voyage overseas, the outside world arrives at Downton Abbey when a film crew turns up to use the castle as a movie location.
A look Robbins is particularly proud of is the movie star moment when Myrna Dalgleish, complete with peroxide blond hair and red lipstick, first walks into the stately home.
“The Hollywood stars of the time afforded us some really exciting possibilities. And Myrna is just this fantastic, strong, bold, brash character and a wonderful contrast in beauty. You know, she is beautiful, but it’s a very different beauty and style to Lady Mary, Lady Edith, Lucy.”
The arrival of Laura Haddock’s character Myrna was taken care of by Robbins co-designer Maja Meschede.
“We sort of looked at this icy blue and then sort of what evolved was this velvet coat with a cape which gave great drama, like a great proportion and movement as she stalked into the house when she gets out of the car,” Robbins said. “That actually was an original ’20s shoe that we were able to see in that beautiful pan up from the ground, so everything just fell into place there.”
All in all, there were many more looks than in “Downton Abbey”‘s last cinematic outing in 2019, with Robbins estimating they made around 300 outfits for the sequel.
“Just for our principals alone, there was about 24 story days and a cast of about 20, so when you start multiplying it up, especially with the number of changes that you typically see with our upstairs characters, you start getting a sense of the scale of what this was,” she said.
“It’s really upping the ante again and hoping that it feels lavish and a real feast for the eyes because of the beautiful array of costumes that we had on show.”