Downton Abbey Costume Designer Anna Robbins: Interview

Photo: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

Image Source: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

Returning to the big screen since its first cinematic installment in 2019, before the world turns upside down, the Crawleys and their inner staff of “Downton Abbey” are once again providing charm, intrigue and fashion in their second film, “Downton Abbey: A New Era.” The new movie picks up where the last one left off before the end of the Roaring Twenties plunged the world into a global economic depression in 1928.

Much needed in a world currently plagued with depression and sadness, the film is far more joyful and humorous than the last movie and far more than the series that brought the inhabitants of the English estate into our homes and hearts. There’s quite a bit of adventure thrown in too, from a wedding in the South of France to the entrance of Hollywood film stars to create a movie within a movie.

Such an epic undertaking during a global pandemic required the skills of a costume designer who already knew Crowley and company quite well. So, after designing the costumes for the last two seasons of the series and the first film, costume designer Anna Robbins returned to head the wardrobe.

“The cast and crew are like family, and it was a great experience working with them again,” Robbins said of working on the second Popsugar film. “We were all excited and grateful to get that opportunity anyway, but during the pandemic made it extra special because we were able to see and work with each other. The pandemic definitely made it more difficult because we had to manage. Very differently. In the clothing department. There were many impacts, but we overcame those challenges.”

Photo: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

Image Source: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

None of these challenges are on screen from the start, when the audience joins in the joy of Lucy and Tom’s wedding to open the movie. “Having the opportunity to design a bridal look within Downton was amazing and a privilege,” said Robbins. “It definitely comes with a certain pressure because you want to perfect it and do the character justice with this particular gown. Knowing that it was the opening scene of the film, we knew we wanted an impactful look for Lucy’s dress, but also for the congregation that we were watching in the church. There were both ups and downs. Everyone was in their beautiful costumes, so we were able to look at the colors and really compose the scene so that all the colors were harmonious.” There were a lot of people on screen at the event, so Robbins definitely had his work cut out for him.

For Lucy’s stunning gown, Robbins was inspired by a 1928 photograph of a Chanel dress and another fashion image from the period. “What I was really drawn to was an asymmetrical hem and foamy layers of tulle,” Robbins says of the piece. “I wanted it to be really fresh, contemporary and sophisticated for the time. I wanted Lucy to be able to really gather her skirt and have a good dance at the reception, so there’s a kind of relaxed and comfortable atmosphere to it. From there, it was Creating drama with a low back, a beautiful boat neck with chiffon and silver embroidery over satin, so you’ve got a beautiful play on texture.”

Lucy also wears some incredible jewelry that is authentic to the period, including a diamond and pearl tiara and a beautiful Van Cleef & Arpels diamond brooch that she wears on her bodice. “It was a beautiful way to design a great costume and introduce Lucy to this new world that she’s universally a part of,” says Robbins. “We were able to really express her personality through her clothes in a way that we weren’t able to do with her dressing as a lady’s maid in the first film.”

Although the movie jumps forward only one year from the first film, there are significant changes as we all know that styles can change drastically within a year. And there were definite changes in the fashions of the ’20s and ’30s that already shone in the looks of wealthy women like Lady Mary. “She’s always been very beautiful and ahead of her time when it comes to her style,” Robbins says of Michelle Dockery’s character, who works with film director Jack Barber to turn her silent film set on an estate into a talkie. “We were looking at some 1930s silhouettes with him, and it was really exciting.”

Robbins also styles Lady Edith in trousers for the first time as she turns her holiday in the south of France into a work trip where she covers the new palatial home given to one of Downton’s youngest. He starred in the rise of the pajama set in real life at the time, which was popularized in the region by fashion designers such as Paul Poiret and Calette Soires.

“Within Downton, in that time period, and in the upper classes, there was a great deal of etiquette about what you should wear and when you should wear it,” Robbins says. “Traveling is no exception, so you’ll travel in a traveling suit and you’ll have your hat and your gloves in your bag. We started in Yorkshire, so our traveling suits were done in the English style. The weight of it was suiting tweed on the gentleman, and the hats. felt.”

Then, when Crowley and the crew arrive at the villa, you see them shift into South of France clothing — a really exciting and surprising twist because we’ve yet to see the family this relaxed and sun-kissed. This shows through light fabrics and a soft color palette, women in pink and yellow and men in cream colored linen. “We introduced Robert separately which is a really cool look that I’ve been waiting to do,” Robbins said of the Downton patriarch. “He was in a Grenadier Guards blazer with separate trousers, a gray trouser for leaving and then pale, fawn trousers when he arrived at the villa. Little things like that showed they had an outfit for every occasion and situation. He still comes across as this quintessentially English gentleman who’s meeting this French gentleman.”

Photo: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

Image Source: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

And in case you’re wondering, there were real similarities in dress between the aristocracy in different countries at the time, especially between London and Paris. “The rules are much more relaxed in the south of France, because it’s a place where people start vacationing at the height of summer at that time, and the pajama set brigade are women who are wearing trousers,” says Robbins. “Menswear is more comfortable with a double-breasted suit jacket to distribute the waistcoat, which will make them much cooler. The Crowleys look much more stripped down and relaxed with a smaller section of their staff. In the villa, that’s a nice contrast to Downton.”

But Crowley and their beloved crew weren’t the only characters making waves this time, as two Hollywood movie stars were thrown into the mix: Myrna Dalglish and Guy Dexter. “It was a great opportunity to design for really interesting new characters who come from completely different backgrounds and have an exciting possibility with the boundaries of the story and how they dress,” Hollywood Movie Set. “I had a really great co-designer on the film named Maja Meshede and we worked very closely on Mirna’s look. Maja came up with this beautiful outfit for her arrival that was very much about who the character is and what we wanted to do with her. She’s wearing a very icy dress, though. He heats up a bit throughout the film.” Myrna is full-on tinseltown glamour, with cuffs, exaggerated necklines and a certain “more” energy. Meshede and Robbins looked to Hollywood stars of the time, including Clara Bow, Louise Brooks and Marlene Dietrich, to create her jaw-dropping ensembles.

Photo: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

Image Source: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

The movie also takes an embarrassing turn with the death of Downton’s matriarch Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. The moment is seen in a couple of scenes, with the family gathering in his bedroom for his last breath and farewell, followed by his funeral which is a moving and royal affair. “I had to design the look knowing that they would be working together in many different configurations and in many different scenes, ending up in this very intimate space,” Robbins says of the first scene with the family. “The palette had to feel harmonious so that nothing got in the way.”

And for funerals, almost everyone is in black, but some workers are muted in gray and brown because they may not have a specific black dress for the occasion. “It was about knowing what these characters were, so some of them wore their Sunday best,” she says. “Some of the characters wore the same look at the beginning of the wedding as they did at the end. We wanted to represent their characters through clothing, but we wanted different textures, fabrics, details and accessories, so we could add interest.”

Overall, this second “Downton Abbey” movie feels more open and enjoyable than any previous chapter in the story. “We need fun, laughter and uplifting moments now more than ever,” Robbins said. And this movie does all of the above in spades.

Image Source: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

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