Game of Thrones’ Emmy Winning Costume Design for 2014

wedding-dress

The camera often doesn’t do justice to the detailing in Game of Thrones’ costumes. These exquisite works of art reveal character and mood — and even reflect the character arc. Game of Thrones Costume Designer Michele Clapton and her team’s Emmy for costume design for “The Lion and the Rose” (the Purple Wedding) is well deserved.

As the (head) Costume Designer for Game of Thrones, Michele Clapton overseas the creation of over 120 costumes per season from her office in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has noted several times that she and her team draw inspiration from various historical periods and look to the climate and activities of their characters.

Game of Thrones does not base its costumes exclusively on the A Song of Fire and Ice novels or attempt to replicate any one historical period. The King’s Landing Lannisters have less of a Late Middle Ages Burgundian or early Tudor look and more of a fused Mediterranean-medieval opulence about their garb. (The TV Lannisters wear more silks and not as much of the quintessentially Burgundian velvets and cloth-of-gold, and the lighter fabric seems appropriate to the warmer King’s Landing climate, which is filmed in sunny Dubrovnic (Croatia).)

sansa-shae-clothes

Note the flowing silks of Shae’s Grecian gown vs. Sansa’s stiff kimono-like robe.

Clapton and company created a unique otherworldly yet familiar look for each group of characters whether they are the horse-riding Dothraki to the snowbound Night’s Watch to those pacing the gardens in sultry King’s Landing. If you haven’t seen it, this video (previously posted on this site) about how Michele and her team get ideas for the costumes is certainly worth watching. Michele discusses the Season 4 costumes in this video:

Michele Clapton and Game of Thrones embroiderer Michele Carragher like to use embroidery to show house allegiance — no huge clunky gold livery collars for them — and provide information about characters symbolically. Clapton has stated that she read the first two ASOIAF novels when she began working on the show.

livery-collar

Wearing livery collars, such as this one for the order of the Golden Fleece, was one way that high-ranking retainers expressed allegiance in the Middle Ages.

Perhaps, Clapton took her queue from some of George RR Martin’s clothing descriptions, which often include embroidery to show sigils on men. Littlefinger wears plum-colored doublets with a mockingbird in black thread and silvery capes with a mockingbird pattern. Renly wears a dark green velvet doublet with a dozen golden stags embroidered on it. Theon’s black velvet doublet has a golden kraken embroidered on its breast. Edmure Tully’s tunnic has silver fish embroidered in it.

embroidered-jeweled-bookcover

Embroidery was treasured in the medieval and early modern period. This embroidered bejewelled bookbinding once belonged to Elizabeth I. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

For the “The Lion and the Rose” episode, Michele and her team put considerable thought into how the costumes reflected the character’s mood and point in their character arc.

As the young lion, stepped into adulthood, his clothes showed he was ready to roar (and likely tear more flesh). As Clapton explained in the HBO Viewer’s Guide:  “This is Joffrey’s wedding; it’s meant to be this huge celebration of Joffrey. Remember, when he took over from his father, he re-designed the whole hall. So this wedding had to be more opulent, over the top.”

vows-texture-of-cloths

In the Season 4 costumes video, Jack Gleeson tells us that the “majestic” and “shimmering” wedding is “… what Joffrey likes, something ostentatious and grand.” Still, as we soon find out, Joffrey isn’t the one pulling the strings on his big day.

The crown Joffrey wears at the wedding symbolizes the Tyrell roses slowly wrapping around him and controlling him as the Tyrells hoped to do, according to Clapton:

joffrey-wedding-crown

Joffrey’s new crown for his wedding day is laced with roses just about to bloom.

In Margaery’s crown the Baratheon stag horns almost seem to disappear. The roses are dominant. When you see these props, you have to wonder, who is marrying into whose family? Or, as MTV put it, “Joffrey is getting more than he bargained for with Margaery.” Indeed.

marg-crown

After Clapton decided to incorporate roses into a rather traditional wedding dress, she just ran with the rose motif to create a gown that is dangerous: the roses have thorns. And, as MTV shrewdly observed, it might not be that easy for Joffrey to unlace his bride’s thorny bodice on their wedding night — perhaps a subtle defense for the cagey Margaery.

margaery-back-wedding-dress

According to the embroider Michele Carragher’s website, the rose stems were primarily silver plaited cord “mixed with some of gimp covered with mesh wire for thicker stems and the thorns were a mix of Czech glass spikes and silver-painted leather cut and molded into shape.” Wow. The front of the bodice had several “small silver metal roses from her brothers armour, further embellished with painted fish scale sequins and Swarovski crystal centres.”

In contrast with Joffrey, the wedding makes Cersei feel marginalized – that is, Margaery is replacing her as queen. The designers deliberately made Cersei’s clothes reflect her more vulnerable mood. “Cersei is pulling back a little bit. She’s not the powerhouse that she was and I wanted her to be slightly quieter. She’s still very beautiful, but just not rocking the red so much. I think she can see her power is abating.”

cersei-wedding-dress

Cersei’s gown for Joffrey’s wedding. Note the embroidered heart on Cersei’s sleeve – it contains a crowned Lannister lion. The dress itself is a pale rose cloth-of-gold damask. © HBO.

In the case of Cersei, Carragher uses the embroidery to reveal her insecurity. As Clapton told the Hollywood Reporter, “In the beginning, [Cersei] was secure, so her gowns were lightly embroidered or printed. But the more precarious her position and the more paranoid she gets, the more Lannister emblems she wears to show her power.” (In fact,  Ecouttere notes that, as the seasons progress and Cersei begins to feel more insecure, she wears more of the Lannister colors, red and gold. They also start to take on an increasingly “armored” or structured look.) At Joffrey’s wedding, Cersei wears her heart on her sleeve quite literally— she openly displays her emotions of insecure defensiveness on the day that would have marked one of the biggest transitions in her life (from queen regent to queen dowager).

Another example of exquisite of award-winning episode’s embroidery is in Olenna Tyrell’s hat:

Lady-Olenna-Tyrell

Lady Olenna Tyrell’s embroidered hat for the wedding.

Ellaria Sand’s dramatic clothes certainly captured many people’s imagination. In fact, some people are even creating Halloween costumes based on them. Her gold dress for the Purple Wedding is exotic and may be inspired by Indian textiles.

Ellaria-Sand-embroidery

Another delightful embroidered piece by Michele Carragher. Embroiderer Michele Carragher told Eccoutere that she enhanced “the fabric’s pattern with layers of copper jump rings, turquoise and glass beads.”

Dazzling Duds in Other Episodes

While the costumers won specifically for the Purple Wedding episode, their work on other episodes presumably contributed to the overall perception of excellence.

The designs Michele Carragher stitched for all of these costumes is incredibly labor intensive. It took Carragher 42 hours to embroider the sigils on the gown Cersei wore to Sansa’s wedding:

Joffcersei-tyrion-wedding

Cersei at Sansa’s wedding. Note the gold embroidered lions on Cersei’s sleeves. © HBO.

Here is a time-elapsed video that demonstrates how Carragher created the sigils.

It’s truly remarkable that HBO invests in these details for their costumes.

This image shows Catelyn Stark’s fish emblem collar, which represents her ties to House Tully and its fish sigil:

catelyn-fish-collar

Catelyn’s collar is embroidered with fish with flat queen pearls for the fish heads and metal wire for the eyes. Is the embroidered collar an imaginative substitute for the traditional livery collars that showed your allegiance to a house?

Daenerys’ costumes incorporate dragon scales that “grow thicker as her power increases.” 

daenerys-dress-dragon-scales

The smocked fabric in the bodice replicates reptilian scales while the shoulders are even denser, more armored scales.

Japanese kimonos and medieval clothing combined to spark Clapton’s imagination when she created Sansa’s dresses. Like a medieval tapestery, Sansa’s wedding dress embroidery weaves a tale of its own.

sansa-wedding

As Michele Clapton tells Hollywood Reporter, Sansa’s “narrative journey begins in the lower back, where the direwolf and her mother’s sigil, the fish, intertwine. Moving to the front, the direwolf is shown succumbing in battle to the Lannisters’ lion.” Sansa’s clothes reinforce just how much she has completely lost her identity to the Lannisters.

sansa-embroidery3

And if you think that it is only the women that get the fancy costumes, think again. Daenerys’ Season 2 suitor Xaro Xhoaran Daxos, like many in Qarth,  adorned himself with insects.

Xaro-Xhoan-Daxos-insects

Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie) wears a tunic with embroidered insects.

Jaime Lannister gets a superbly ornate gold hand, courtesy of a loving sister who could not bear to see his stump. The detailing in the hand is superb and once again gets lost on camera.

jaime-hand

Jaime’s hand

You can read more about the embroidery on Game of Thrones’ embroiderer Michele Carragher’s website. For more about cloth-of-gold in the Purple Wedding costumes, see here.

 

All Game of Thrones images are copyright HBO.

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

5 Comments

  • Reply August 30, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    This article ended up being a little longer than I’d planned. I found myself becoming quite fascinated by all the symbolism they embroidered into the clothes – I had no idea! I hope I didn’t blather on about it too much.

    One thing that I’m trying to convey with this series about the Emmys is that — at least in my opinion — the books and the show are separate but equal. I know many hardcore ASOIAF feel let down by the show, but it isn’t without artistic merit. The show cannot reveal the backstory that you see in the books, but it adds different dimensions to the story and the craftsmanship is truly amazing.

  • Reply August 31, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I came to the show before the books so maybe the changes on the whole haven’t upset me as much they have the people who read the books first. I was a bit upset they made Jaime kill Cleos (he was called something different in the show) and I’ve already waxed lyrical on other threads about my loathing of Talisa Twitface…….Sometimes when the show has cut to the chase more quickly I have preferred the show (the feasting leaves me cold in the books, though to be fair medieval banquets were lavish). Also, I preferred Maester Cresson’s swift demise on the show than the whole prologue in the book version. I hope that doesn’t upset book loyalists – and I do appreciate that without the books there would be no show. Back on topic, the craft that has gone into the costumes is amazing and I feel the Emmy in this category was much deserved.

    • Reply September 1, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Hey Watcher,
      Once I started doing research, I was dazzled by the effort, craftsmanship, and creativity that went into the costumes. Who knew? I find it really interesting that HBO makes the investment when so few of the details come across on camera.

      I’ve read the costumes help the actors get into character. Lena Headey, I think it was, said that she becomes Cersei when she gets into costume and they tighten her corset.

      I started the series because it kind of dovetails into the long overdue article I have been writing about an allusion to Botticelli in the show – and not the books. But I hadn’t expected to find the research on the costumes interesting.

  • Reply September 1, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    At one time last year the (British) Vena Cava site (there’s an American one which is a totally different company) had some examples of GoT embroidery linked to their Facebook page. Their original website went down though and with it the link. They are a company that sells corsetry components. Not that I’m a lover of corsets but at one time I was getting a lot of lower back aches and wondered about supporting my back somehow. Back on topic, the embroidery truly is beautiful, especially as it is (I think) done by hand. I suppose people who have the larger flat screen TVs have the best chance of seeing the detail when watching the show.

  • […] It wasn’t easy to find information on Ellaria’s costume, it took a lot of digging. This site goes into great detail about the significance behind the different costumes, and has great closeups […]

Leave a Reply