INTERVIEW: Here's How the Outfits in Netflix's 'Wednesday' Came to Life
Hypebae speaks to the show’s costume designer Colleen Atwood about working with Tim Burton for over 30 years.
From Jenna Ortega‘s self-choreographed dance to Christina Ricci starring in the series, Netflix‘s Wednesday has probably been the most-talked-about show over the past few weeks since its premiere. One of the many highlights of the buzzy show is the outfits and costumes that contributed to illustrating each character in the show directed by Tim Burton.
Hypebae spoke to Colleen Atwood, the costume designer behind each and every look on Wednesday. You’ve probably already seen a lot of Atwood’s works as the creative is a long-time collaborator of Burton’s, with her portfolio including iconic titles such as: Edward Scissorhands, The Silence of the Lambs, 1994’s Little Women, Gattaca, Planet of the Apes, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, Fantastic Beasts, and so many more.
The creative breaks down Wednesday Addams’ key outfits, from the recognizable first scene that pays homage to the original Wednesday, to the character’s head-turning Alaïa gown for the Rave’N ball. ”My grandfather lived in New York City when I was young and I remember he had an original Charles Addams cartoon and it was this family treasure… I just love the humor of Charles Addams from such a young age, so I was very excited to help bring the show to life in today’s world,” she shares her love for the iconic Addams Family franchise and what it meant for her to work on Wednesday alongside Burton.
Continue reading for our conversation with costume designer Colleen Atwood on her latest collaboration with Tim Burton on Wednesday.
Walk us through Wednesday’s key outfits throughout the show. What were the key aspects you tried to focus on as you put together her looks?
Wednesday’s first look in the series is inspired by the original Charles Addams comic strip and we used that to contrast against the traditional, American public school setting. Wednesday’s school uniform was hand-painted in black and gray stripes to set her apart from the other students who are all wearing colorful, typical clothing for high school students. Her Nevermore Academy look was inspired by English school uniforms of yore, but with a modern twist to it.
Wednesday’s dress for the Rave’N was something I found at an Alaïa shop on Bond Street in London. She was supposed to have found the dress at a vintage store in the show, but even though it wasn’t vintage, I thought the fabric, movement, and color were just too perfect to pass up. When Jenna first put it on, she fell in love with the dress and it wasn’t something you might expect from the character, yet it was still very “Wednesday.”
The Poe Cup look was meant to be a last-minute costume for Wednesday because she wasn’t originally on the team. The team’s costumes were all based on catsuits, but we played around with each design and ultimately came back to this idea of the fitted suit with ears that are very close to the ears of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. The costume had its challenges. It was meant to be in the water, which was freezing cold, so we had to incorporate wetsuits and cold weather gear under the costume so that limited what we could do. But you don’t see it on camera, so it all worked in the end.
In the final scene, we see Jenna in a charcoal-colored coat that was based on an 18th-century shape and silhouette, which is more of a Great Coat. That was one of the first pieces we made, but it wasn’t used until that final scene.
Bianca’s dress was gorgeous as well. Can you tell us about that outfit?
Bianca’s Rave’N dress was inspired by ’60s fashion, but we incorporated scales and fabric that felt like her background as a siren. So it was slightly snake-like, but not entirely. We wanted something simple and sleek. Joy Sunday, who plays Bianca, is athletic and strong, so I wanted the dress to complement and embrace her strength.
I could see you tried to play around as much as possible while keeping within Wednesday’s signature black/white monochrome palette, through the use of patterns, texture and so on. What was this process like and where did you take inspiration for outfits in different scenes?
The process was one of combining different textures and patterns within the grid of black and white. We thought a lot about the environment of the scene and the lighting and how that would look on film. It’s a narrow color palette, so we played a lot with scale, patterns and textures to give variation so we could achieve variety in Wednesday’s looks.
In which areas did you add more of your own touch to the looks as opposed to the original Addams Family franchise?
I think what I did from the very beginning was pay homage to the original Addams Family. You see that in the opening scene where Jenna is in the white collar and black dress that is so well-known for her character. But once we broke out of that establishing scene, she is free to be the Wednesday we come to know in the story.
With Morticia, I was able to use the silhouette, but reinvent the way the shape and use different textures and update the look. With Fester, I kept him in his familiar black coat, but added a hat which gave him a more continental vibe.
I was inspired by the ’60s fashion scene for Principal Weems and based her look on a poster that I have of Tippi Hedren in The Birds. For Christina Ricci’s Marilyn Thornhill character, I looked to the plant world. Her character was an earthy type of person, so I found pieces that had a plant theme or had green in them.
What was the most challenging part about creating looks for the Addams family? Were there other characters that were particularly difficult as well?
The Addams Family characters are so well-known and have a specific look about them, which all started with the Charles Addams comic strips. But we were able to play within those bounds because of the script and story of our series to really update them in a way that still pays homage to the original inspiration.
The world of Nevermore and Jericho is what I call augmented reality. They could be real, but they’re a little bit off as they are seen through the eyes of the main character. We had so much more license to build those worlds so it was both a challenge and an opportunity.
You’ve worked together with Tim Burton multiple times now over a span of 30+ years. What was it like working with him on Wednesday in particular?
We approached it the same way we’ve worked on all our projects together. We deeply go into the world, the story and the inspiration and start laying out what it will look and feel like. I then get to work creating, showing Tim the fabrics and designs for his reaction, then working to put it all together with our actors and other designers on the project.
What were some initial thoughts that came to mind when you first learned you would be costume designing for this series?
I have always been a fan of the Addams Family and of the characters, so naturally, I was very excited to get the call. My grandfather lived in New York City when I was young and I remember he had an original Charles Addams cartoon and it was this family treasure. I remember the cartoon was of a man ice fishing and there was a shark fin poking out of the water. I just love the humor of Charles Addams from such a young age, so I was very excited to help bring the show to life in today’s world.
Aside from Wednesday, I’d love to know which character you loved dressing the most and why.
I don’t necessarily look at it that way. I had a great time creating for all of the actors in the story and each was unique. After Wednesday, Principal Weems was probably the one where we had the most changes and I tried different options to figure out Morticia’s dress. You want to bring something really special for an actor like Catherine Zeta-Jones. She brings so much to the show and came prepared to our first fitting with her hair perfectly straight in the Morticia style. She just made the work easy.