Downton’s back! And it’s most definitely a new fashion era. As Downton Abbey costume designer Caroline McCall tells us in this week’s issue of Grazia – out now – the shift to the 1920’s has meant a whole new wardrobe. Including two wedding dresses….
‘Lady Mary’s wedding dress was the most expensive costume we’ve made. It cost around £4,000 to make,’ she tells us. ‘It’s a silver lace tabard fabric that goes into a train at the back, and underneath is a silk dress with silk sleeves. The detail at the back wasn’t really seen on camera but the lace goes into a V at the back with tiny buttons and it’s completely edged with tiny rice pearls and Swarovski crystal.’
And, given the competition between the two sisters in the series, how much pressure was there to make Lady Edith’s wedding dress different? McCall says she planned it carefully – and with the plot in mind. ‘Edith always been a little bit awkward but I wanted us to see her on her wedding day as absolutely stunning so that’s the way I went with her dress,’ she recalls.
One of McCall’s favourite moments thus far this series was dressing the two grandmothers for Lady Mary’s wedding. ‘Both grandmothers ignore the tradition not to upstage the bride and wear cream. Maggie Smith’s costume is so sophisticated and Edwardian and then Shirley MaClaine is all Hollywood diva in a turban with a bird of paradise. It’s bit of an outrage – the American granny really gone for it,’ McCall says proudly. ‘You pinch yourself to see Maggie Smith and Shirley MaClaine sitting next to each other in your costumes.’ And contrary to reports MaClaine ‘loved her costumes but she is more of a leisurewear kind of woman she doesn’t like whole load of fuss’.
McCall works tough hours; ‘at least 6.30am to 8pm’ and then some; ‘I can’t really switch off once we’re filming, after we finish for the day I’ll still be making a hat, or going to collect a dress’. Unsurprising, then, that the costume designer sees herself identifying with ‘below stairs’ rather than the aristocrats above. But she says ‘I’m very lucky; I go to beautiful locations, surrounded by beautiful furniture, beautiful cars, even the food styling on set is amazing. It’s lovely to immerse yourself in this world.’
Hear more of Caroline McCall’s costume revelations in this week’s issue – including the high street shops she raids to source Downton costumes and who’s the trickiest character to dress….