The fashion from Emma
Oct 12, 2016 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
It’s been a lazy bones kind of a weekend. Sure, I’ve run some errands and stepped out into the world, but mainly I’ve been taking it easy. Cuddling up with the pups, writing in my journal, reading, and of course watching a movie or two (including one of my feel-good favorites: Emma). This 2009 BBC adaptation is wonderful – just as charming as our heroine. The story line and endearing characters aside, let’s speak of the amazing costumes which drew the attention of the Emmy nomination committee. Join us on a tour of the fashion from Emma.
I highly recommend any fans of this book and particular adaptation buy the expanded DVD set as the special features are fantastic. We’ll focus on the interview with the costume designer and force behind the amazing fashion, Ros Ebbutt. In the feature she walks through all of her inspiration boards. It is so fun to see inside the artist’s mind and gain her perspective. She begins by explaining the general vision the director shared with her: to make the clothing feel like an oil painting. Isn’t that a fantastic idea! Ros took the concept further, selecting strong colors from the Georgian era to add to the characters’ depth (and in the interviews with the actors they echoed that these accessories and color choices helped them step into the proper mood).
Obviously Emma’s fashion choices were a particular focus. We see her so often in hats to match Emma’s social status, but Ros made sure that no bonnets obscured her face. Emma’s emotions are always accessible to us as an audience (perfectly paired with Romola Garai’s facial expressions) and seeing these wardrobe choices enforce these traits is awesome! Continuing this further, the detailing, textures, and accessories display Emma’s wealth and status as lady of the house. Now let’s talk about that ball gown – because after all – ball gowns are the best. When Ros explained the construction process I couldn’t help but think Jane Austen would be pleased. Some argue that Emma was her strongest character and it’s quite fitting that her gown was so carefully planned; layers of fabric came together to achieve this effect. The result is not just a pastel pink, it’s a shimmer in the light as Emma twirls on the floor.
Ros extended this level of attention to all of Emma’s friends. Mr. Knightley’s costumes were inspired by his home. Truly his home was like his castle, with him as the capable master. Lots of greens, blues, and earthy tones reflective of his broad estate. Strong construction with tailoring that allowed Mr. Knightley to go out into the world with confidence. One of my favorite bits in the feature is when Ros described one of the coats as the color of the Atlantic when it’s a bit stormy. Swoon!
For Harriet Smith, given her humble background, she dons more organic colors. As her friendship with Emma grows (and let’s be honest her admiration), her wardrobe adjusts accordingly. Harriet finds herself mimicking the colors of her dear friend. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, no?
I found it particularly interesting when Ros described her approach to Elton’s fashions. One thing I learned that made me watch the early episodes in a new light – as he worked his confidence up to confess his love for Emma, his hair got even taller. Like a peacock – foolishly placed in the English countryside. Ros struck a similar tone with Frank Churchill (hair aside). On her inspiration board: Mick Jagger. Fitting, yes? Due to his time in London, Frank wore bold colors which contrasted profoundly. He is holding a secret and his clothes reflect that glamour and romanticism.
The object of his affection, Jane Fairfax, was viewed from a place of glamour and passion as well. When the actress described how the clothes made her feel, she spoke of a sky with a storm brewing inside her. Wow – I’d say mission accomplished by Ros.
Perhaps my favorite lesson from the interview with the esteemed costume designer, revolved around Ms. Bates. Sweet and sad Ms. Bates. Her heart on her sleeve, striving to not allow poverty to overshadow her life. The character had two dresses, of the same fabric. One faded from the sun, worn and over-washed. The newer version somehow sadder than the old. Knowing her future would never hold any more adventures – a life of limited joys. Bummer yes, but a testament that clothing can say so much about a life lived.
There are many reasons why I love watching Emma on a day of reflection and quiet peace. But the fashion from Emma is definitely a reason for my adoration. Learning more about the designer’s vision enhances my enjoyment and makes me think about what my own clothing choices tell the world. To quote another favorite movie, “Dressed like a dream your spirits seem to turn about.” Tell me about your favorite fashions in the comments…