Interview: Caroline Harris

We loved the outfits in Bernard Rose’s 2010 film Mr Nice, and got in touch with the films costume designer Caroline Harris for a quick Q&A:


Q: How did you become a Costume Designer? Was there a direct path so to speak, or did you get a lucky break?

I didn’t follow a direct path. I began making stage outfits for a friend. Simple dresses at first, then coats and more elaborate structures. I cut up existing clothes to examine the flat shapes and see how the pieces fitted together. Then I worked with whoever would have me, short films, full-length films, usually for little or no money.


Q: How do you go about your research to create the perfect wardrobe?
The 20th Century is well documented in photographs. So books, libraries, museums and the Internet offer an ample resource for research. I also look at today’s fashion to get the measure what people are seeing in their everyday environment. Shapes are reinterpreted decade after decade so a classic 50’s style, for example, can also be very current and I risk losing a sense of the past.

On films set during a period that’s pre photography, I search museums and galleries for portraits, diarists for written details, and books for illustrations.


Q: Do you ever take into account the actors requests/preferences?
I always listen to actor’s opinions. They are building a character and it is essential they feel that their clothes work for the role they are about to inhabit. The director’s opinion is also important, it is their vision and the characters need to look how they imagine them to be.
On period films, the look is dictated by the era, so there are some boundaries. Most of the clothes will be handmade and during that process there is ample opportunity to make sure everybody is happy.

Contemporary films can be more complicated. There are a lot of people at the hub of a film and if they all get involved with the aesthetic, which happens, though not always, it can be a minefield. That’s the difficulty with clothes; everyone wears them so everyone has an opinion on them.


Q: What is your ideal story (book/play/film?) to dress?
Mr. Nice was ideal. It began in the 50’s and went through to the 90’s. I was able to scavenge and buy everything, chop it up and make it work. And of course, with Chloe Sevigny, I had someone who understands clothes so she was a dream to work with.
Also fantasy films are ideal when they are no specific period.

Of the books I like to read, a William Faulkner perhaps, 1930’s impoverished, rural America. Rough, dusty and filled with peculiar characters.


Q: And who would be your ideal artist?

For film, abstract art for the colors. Lee Krasner’s combinations are beautiful. And then Josef Beuys for texture, I like to look away from clothes, particularly when I’m building a concept from raw materials.


Q: Have you any industry secrets on where to source amazing costumes/samples to use?
There is no one place and no great secret. It’s about seeing the potential in a piece and transforming it. I prefer markets, Portobello is one of my favorites, dealers come in from everywhere. Rellik on Golborne Road has an exceptional selection of vintage and they are very knowledgeable and helpful.
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