Costume designer Ane Crabtree has had a busy year – first creating the distinctive look of Westworld, and then the oppressive style of The Handmaid’s Tale. Crabtree has plenty of experience working on big, groundbreaking shows, having created the look for the pilot episode of HBO’s The Sopranos, as well as for ABC’s Pan Am and Showtime’s Masters of Sex. She approaches her work with the belief that costumes can convey a powerful message; in the case of Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale, she uses clothing to explore the opposing forces of subjugation and liberation.
In an interview with Deadline, Crabtree describes her experience working on Westworld as “quite zen.” She explains, “Basically you had to jump off a cliff without a safety net, and trust that having no control would take you to a place of absolute beauty, design-wise. That’s exactly what happened, and that’s because the whole job was quite secretive, and in a brilliant way, Lisa [Joy] and Jonah [Nolan] were able to pull it off.”
The female hosts are initially clothed in traditional western-style clothing for women. Maeve (Thandie Newton) in particular is forced to wear revealing and constrictive outfits designed to put her body on display for potential clients. Crabtree did this intentionally, saying, “I knew that there would be a transition for the women, and was excited about it, because I knew that at first glance, some people that were watching it, some feminists were saying, ‘Oh, God. This is so backward.’ I was like, ‘Ah, just wait!’”
“It was an amazing end result and having the costumes exemplify that was pure joy, as a woman. I love the whole idea of the purist Western, and if you combine that with a dystopian future, it’s really incredible, because it’s quite masculine, and it’s beautifully masculine,” Crabtree adds. “To have Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood gain this kind of power, it was really palpable when they stepped out in their costumes, for men and women.”
Maeve’s evolution strongly resonated with Crabtree. One of the most empowering scenes was when Maeve shed her park costume and embraced a more modern style. She explains, “With Thandie, besides being naked, and feeling more powerful naked than in her madam’s costume, my proudest moment was when she tried on her black trousers and black lab coat, posing as an employee, and she said, ‘Oh my God, I feel like a Black Panther.’ And I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, yeah!’”
Does Crabtree see similarities between her work on Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale? “Probably more than I imagine, right?” She adds, “I’m just now getting ready to prep something else, and it’s dystopian – not because I only do those, but they’re just becoming more popular, story-wise…I think that the through line, for me, is that I’m always looking for the thing that speaks to classicism.” She explains that although it’s not necessarily her style, “The beauty of classicism [is that] something is timeless…You try not to go crazy so that you don’t date yourself a year after the thing comes out.”
Read the rest over at Deadline.