Q&A: Trish Summerville on Catching Fire’s Otherworldly Costumes

Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate,Getty Images

This weekend everyone on the planet we finally saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, after much anticipation and beauty preparation. We came out of the movie with new faith in Sam Claflin’s hotness, feelings about seeing Peeta in spandex, and lots of questions about all of the crazy costumes in the film. So we called up Catching Fire’s costume designer, Trish Summerville — the woman behind Lisbeth Salander’s outfits inThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the Hunger Games-inspired Net-a-Porter collection, and the wardrobe for the upcoming Gone Girl film — to get all the info on the amazing costumes Katniss, Effie, and the rest of Panem’s residents wear on-screen.

Photo: Lionsgate

When we first see Katniss in Catching Fire, she’s back home in District 12, wearing her everyday clothes, but they’re different than what she’s wearing when we first met her in the Hunger Games, because now she’s a victor and has money. How did you decide what Katniss’s new style would look like?
Her clothing is funneled from the Capitol to Victor’s Village, in the same way that Haymitch’s, or any other victor’s, is. She has this relationship with Cinna, and he understands who she is and who Peeta is, so he can abide by what the Capitol standards are and still stay true to who they are. So it was taking elements of how I thought they would dress, whether they had money or not, and then bringing it up a bit. So she still wears denim, she wears these coveralls, and they’re both still in boots quite a lot. As they start to go along the victory tour, the clothes start to incorporate more color, more texture; they start to get more fashion-forward, and they’re a little bit more refined. Finally, we see them at the gala party [wearing] the finest of the clothing that Cinna’s designed for them, so it’s this progression you see from the time they leave Victor’s Village until the Capitol.

Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate

How much did Katniss’s wedding dress weigh? And how did Jennifer Lawrence twirl in that?
It’s really huge — I want to say it weighed between 25 and 30 pounds. The inside of the dress is architecturally structured to support the garment [so] that there wasn’t really a problem. We got her a stool to sit on that we would tuck up beneath the dress so she could sit in between takes, but she carried it really well.

The wedding dress looked Alexander McQueen-esque, but who designed it?
Tex Saverio. We collaborated on building this piece. He’s a young, brilliant desginer from Indonesia. I’ve been following his designs for a while, wondering when I could use one, and I actually thought it was going to be for editorial or a stage performance, because they’re really intricate and quite detailed. But when Catching Fire came up, he was the only designer I pursued to design the wedding dress.

So the flames in the wedding dress scene must have been CGI, but how did that work?
Yes, it’s all CGI, because you’d have to have a fireproof gel to coat your body in and then wear fireproof suits, so that didn’t really apply. And then you can never control the flames the way you want to, and you’d have to have multiples of the costume. So we would shoot the wedding dress and then she would spin in the dress, then change into the mockingjay dress with the printed feathers on it, and she’d spin in that one. I worked closely with the amazing visual effects gentleman on scanning fabrics and seeing what the costumes were really like so he could see how the flames and ash would read the best.

How long did it take to create the wings? [Full disclosure, we thought those wings were real, not CGI. Damn.]
Those were a visual effect. With the size and the scale of those wings, she’d never have been able to hide them behind her, and then once they would have been up and erect, she would have fallen over. Those were quite large.

Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate,Getty Images

Tell us about Effie’s butterfly dress!
That’s Alexander McQueen, an archive runway piece. I went through several years of various seasons of McQueen and put in requests for some of them. That piece came in, and it’s even more magnificent in person than it reads on-screen. It’s feathers painted like monarch butterflies, and there are thousands. When we received it, we made a headpiece to match it, and then Ve Neill, the makeup artist, glued little butterflies on her arms and face. When we were shooting that scene, two monarch butterflies came flying through and headed towards Effie — Francis [Lawrence, the film’s director] and I joked it was like they were heading to the mother ship. The hips are quite molded out, so it’s quite structured, and the butterflies come out three-dimensionally at the neck. It’s a really phenomenal piece.

There was quite a bit of McQueen in the film — how did you actually get all of those pieces?
Some of the designers that I was interested in for the characters didn’t know the story, or some had seen the first movie, and whether they felt they fit into that world or not kind of determined how they wanted to approach the new one. So I did a bit of a presentation of here’s the world, here’s where I want to take it. Some designers and PR houses knew that we really were stepping it up and that this was a whole new movie, and the vision that Francis has is a heightened reality, a darker reality of what’s happening in the Capitol. And this is Catching Fire and our script is new. With the Capitol, they have an insatiable appetite for fashion, for clothes, for food, for makeup, for hair. We felt we could take the liberty to change the look; we didn’t need to stay tied to anything from the first film.

Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate

What’s the story behind Finnick’s futuristic puka shells?
Finnick wears them both for the chariot and stage interview. Later, you begin to find out more about who Finnick really is, but when you meet him, he’s the darling of the Capitol. I wanted to show what each district really does — that they have this responsibility to provide for the Capitol. Since he’s from the fishing district, his skirt has dyed fish pelts along the front of it, and he wears these necklaces that are mother of pearl and shells. My thought process behind it was that even though he’s in the Capitol and has access to anything he wants, he has these shell necklaces that Annie made him that Mags taught them how to make — Mags has them as well. So when he has to leave and go [to] the Capitol, Annie has given him these necklaces, and he wears them so that whenever she sees him on camera or on-screen, she still knows that he’s close to her always.

Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate

What was Johanna’s interview dress made out of? Because it truly looked like it was made of wood.
Yes, because she’s from the lumber district. That’s by a designer that I love named Jan Taminiau, and when I saw that dress I thought, That’s her dress, because it’s made of cork. The whole top is made out of cork and has tiny brass nail heads in it, and then I love the bottom of the dress because it’s shredded chiffon, like fall leaves. Timber is a tricky category to make something gorgeous for.  The neck is quite high, but she carried it magnificently — it gave her that presence. It contorted her body to make her quite regal, and Johanna is quite fierce.

A lot of the clothes seemed to actually affect the characters’ attitudes in that way. Like, a lot of Effie’s clothes actually made her look stiff and uncomfortable. Was this something you thought about?
Yes, we sat down with Elizabeth [Banks] and talked about this – there’s good and bad in the Capitol, and with Effie, she’s been this kind of person who always wants to present the positive side of things and is oblivious to what’s going on. But this time around, with what she’s dealing with with the kids, she’s really tormented, and really torn about what’s going on. She’s like a flower or a bonbon in the room. She’s always this silhouette and this brightness in the room, but I wanted her to feel quite conflicted. Elizabeth was really good about letting me do this to her — her waist had to be cinched just a bit too tight. We got these amazing belts from McQueen that were actually made out of metal – one was about three inches wide, and one was four or five inches — so it’s about contorting her shape. She’s always on her toes — some of her shoes don’t have a heel, so she’s balanced on the front of her foot. With the cinched-in waist and the exaggerated skirt or shape, she has to maneuver in and out of rooms and she can’t really sit down, so it’s this kind of penance to herself — she can look a certain way, but internally, she’s struggling.

Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character doesn’t seem to fit in with all of the more froofily dressed citizens of the Capitol. Why does he look so “normal” in comparison?
All of his garments were made for him, so all the fabrics have this tone-on-tone texture and he’s in all colors of royalty: navy, dark aubergine, emerald green. But he’s someone like Haymitch or President Snow — he has some pomp and circumstance, but he’s also very political. You have to look a little bit further down the line at what he’s representing: He’s representing himself, not representing what the Capitol is. He even says to Katniss, “Yes, it’s quite indulgent, but if you relax and you enjoy it…” but he doesn’t partake in the whole external extremeness of it. He wants to be taken quite seriously, so for him, it’s the transition that he’s making, there’s an end to the purpose that he has. Like Finnick or Haymitch, he’s not a person of the Capitol, he happened to end up in the Capitol — it’s these conscious choices that they’ve made that they’re always working, so they don’t buy into this kind of outlandish, comical hair and makeup look.

Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate

Who was your favorite character to dress?

I really enjoyed designing for and dressing Donald Sutherland, President Snow. His character is so important in the storytelling in this, and he’s such a powerful character. We wanted him to look so much more regal — like someone you would fear. With the uprising happening, he has to look ten notches above everyone else. Really pulled together.

Q&A: Trish Summerville on Hunger Games Costumes