Costume Designer Anna Robbins On Ethereal Fashion In ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’

Emmy-nominated costume designer Anna Robbins is no stranger to the fascinating world of Downton Abbey, having worked on the TV series and the films.

It was her work on the television series that her two Emmy nominations. In support of the home entertainment release of Downton Abbey: A New Era (on digital July 26 and on Blu-ray/DVD on August 9), I was invited to the UK to escape to the gorgeous countryside where the film was shot.

Nestled in the gorgeous countryside in Sudbury is Belchamp Hall, where the exterior shots was used for Tom and Lucy’s wedding. Right across from Belchamp Hall is the Church of St. Mary’s, where Tom and Lucy’s wedding was actually filmed.

We sat in the Church of St Mary’s and spoke to Anna Robbins about the beautiful costumes in the film, bridal trends and her favourite pieces.

What was the inspiration or the influence, especially now that this film looks at the emerging fashion in the 1930s. Can you talk about your overall vision board that you had for this film?
Absolutely. So I think when we first got the script, and saw how many different worlds we were able to inhabit, it gave us a huge amount of new research to do so looking at the French Riviera and looking at how we might develop that palette in a very different but complementary way to Downton Abbey itself. And then layering upon that the film within the film and the fact we were able to explore lots of new characters, it meant we were able to just delve into more research and sort of gather imagery that feels really fresh and new for Downton. But at the same time revisiting the characters that we love so well and moving them, as you say, into that ‘30s silhouette and looking at ’30s detailing that starting to emerge within the fashions of the decade. So it was like a lovely step forward for the film.

ABOVE: Allen Leech, Harry Hadden-Paton, Tuppence Middleton, and Laura Carmichael in Downton Abbey: A New Era (Photo Photo by Ben Blackall)

So when you’re looking at the transition from what we did see in the first one to this one was there anything that surprised you in terms of the transitions that we see in terms of dresses, or even the fashion at that point in time?
Well, I’ve been really looking forward to getting one of the ladies into trousers. So I managed to on this film. It felt like the perfect opportunity for Lady Edith to make that move and embrace the pajama set look that was so famous in the Riviera at that time. So that was like a really exciting sartorial leap forward. I felt like we needed to mirror it with Lady Mary. So we have Lady Mary in pajamas. But I mean, I love the ’20s I always have and I think they will forever be part of my costume designers DNA. But to be able to look at the ’30s and the change in silhouettes, it was lovely to find lady Mary’s waist again, and be slightly more form fitting and just shift things forward subtly but in a way that really does look visually quite different.

ABOVE: Costumes from Downton Abbey: A New Era (Photo by: James Gifford-Mead Photography)

One of my favorite pieces is Lucy’s wedding dress. So can you talk a bit about that inspiration in terms of the vintage look?
Yeah, I mean, it’s one of my favorite costumes. There was two images that are used as reference. One was a Chanel wedding dress from 1928 and another was from a Vogue photoshoot. It was lots of silk layered  in an asymmetric hem with quite a low back and it felt daring and fresh. I think what I wanted for Lucy’s wedding dress was to have the sense that she could gather up her skirts and have a real dance at the reception and for it to feel liberal and free and fashionable but kind of really true to who she is as a person. So that was the starting point. It was about layering up lots of different textiles. I found this silver thread embroidered to train that we overlaid on to the satin to make the bodice of the dress. That’s what gave me the kind of authentic 1920s aspect to it. Then it was about layering up using a veil. That’s a reproduction of a early 20th century hand embroidered veil. So lots of points that are really different to the other brides of the series. So yeah, it was gorgeous to design.

ABOVE: Costumes from Downton Abbey: A New Era (Photo by: James Gifford-Mead Photography)

When you look at the modern trend now with terms of bridal dresses, a lot of that inspiration goes back to the ’20s and the ’30s. They’re taking inspiration from this. Do you feel like this is a vintage trend that is now transitioning into the current period?
Oh, that would be wonderful. Let’s see if it kind of trickles through and we’ll see it kind of in on real life brides. I mean, I think fashion and film are just really cyclical in their influences. So it’s lovely that it just they influence each other and yeah, that’d be wonderful if it inspires some new brides.

ABOVE: Costumes from Downton Abbey: A New Era (Photo by: James Gifford-Mead Photography)

What do you see the trends for today’s bride?
I’m always driven by the craft of textile. So anything that’s got like beautiful handwork in it so like beading, handmade lace, embroideries, the things that have got the craft element to it. That’s where my true love is. So I think that’s always what I’m drawn to.

I loved the scenes in the French Riviera when they go decide to go to France. What was it like doing the costumes for that?
It was so wonderful. I mean, even the fact that we were able to suit the gentleman in linen and completely changes how they look, it was like so it’s a real jump away. When you’ve when you’re offsetting the women’s costumes with the gents when they’re in a pale suit rather than a dark tweed color plays differently. So it just it allowed us to explore this really Neapolitan sort of sorbet colored palette for the women. And it was just so zesty and fresh. And you know, when we designed the costumes back in London, and they were made, and then we traveled them out, and then the sunshine brought them to life in a completely different way as well. So it was, yeah, it was glorious.

And lastly, what is your favorite piece in the film besides the wedding dress?
Oh, gosh, that’s a really difficult one. I mean, I could maybe give you my top five I think to narrow down to one it’s really hard. I loved an original art deco printed kind of kimono jacket that Lady Edith wears with her trousers. So I think probably in terms of how important it was as a sartorial step forward for you to see the jacket, set the whole thing off with the blue headscarf, and that’s possibly my favourite.

ABOVE: Anna Robbins and Marriska Fernandes. (Photo credit: Marriska Fernandes)

Tags: anna Robbins, Downton Abbey, Downton Abbey A New Era, Downton Abbey fashion, top story, topstory

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