Michael Wilkinson graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney, Australia. He is wildly entertaining, talented, gracious and a delight to interview on the subject of—WAIT FOR IT—’Breaking Dawn’ (*HEAD SPLOOOODE*) because he is the dude tasked with costume designing not only B.D. one but B.D. two, too (that’s what we insiders call it *brushes dirt off shoulders*).
Before we move onto discussing the sartorial majesty of what may be the MOST SIGNIFICANT CINEMATIC EVENT since ‘Twilight: Eclipse,’ I’d like to take a sidebar to address Mr. Wilkinson’s curriculum vitae leading up to this moment. YOU GUYS, he worked on ‘Party Monster’, ‘Romeo + Juliet’, ‘300’ (for which he won a glut of awards [DESERVEDLY #teamfassbender]), ‘Watchmen,’ ‘American Splendor’ (R.I.P. Harvey Pekar), and he’s also working on the Zack Snyder Superman reboot, ‘Man of Steel.’ Yeah, basically, he’s the best.
In the impending interview, Michael spilled about which designers he worked with for the second-to-last film of the franchise, Robert Pattinson’s shorts phobia, Kristen Stewart’s enviably taut physique, and teased how GLORIOUS all those vampire capes will look in the spectacular battle scene in the final installment of this face-meltingly incredible saga. I AM RUNNING OUT OF EFFUSIVE ADJECTIVES.
MTV Style: How familiar are you with Twilight as a whole?
Michael Wilkinson: You have to have been living under a rock not be the least bit familiar with these books, they’re so much a part of the public psyche of pop culture. You can know about them through mere absorption. That was part of the appeal of working on this for me—being involved with something that’s such an important franchise for so many people.
Right, but did you read the books?
Yes, I read them all! We tried to do as much preparation as possible. We wanted to be respectful and reverent to the source material. As a costume designer, it was fantastic because there are so many details. It’s such a blessing that Stephenie enjoys describing her characters, so there was lots of material for us to cue off of.
The most critical element with this movie is, of course, the wedding (*spoiler alert* though, ed note: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT TWICE ALREADY?), and this was misleading in the previews but there’s a dream sequence wedding and a real wedding. How did you delineate the two dresses from each other?
The script gave us a great opportunity to get inside Bella’s thoughts about the impending wedding. There’s a nightmare wedding and her perfect wedding. For the nightmare, we chose something that was a version of the dress that she would hate to wear. Something that’s uncomfortable and a dress Bella would be embarrassed in. It was stiff and had a boned bodice that showed a lot of bare skin which she’d be horrified by because she’s a bit of a tomboy.
There’s nothing very girly about her style so we had a huge, cumbersome, puffy skirt. We just tried to picture everything she’d find difficult to deal with and import that into a dress.
The real dress fit Bella like a second skin and I was really glad about how all that worked out. It reflects her simplicity and elegance. It’s not too girly, I thought it really hit the right note of having some vintage elements while working well for a modern woman.
That dress was stunning. I went to the midnight screening and it was an entire theater filled to the gills with girls sighing in unison. The lace panel in the back with hundreds of covered buttons, we all swooned.
That’s the great thing about Kristen, she has such an amazing physique so we thought the best thing to do was to show that. The dress really reveals curves and highlights each part of her shape but it’s all covered up and so we thought it was sexy but completely elegant.
There was such speculation for a long time about who would design that dress but it was Carolina Herrera all along, right?
Carolina had worked with Stephenie personally for events. And they’d struck up a friendship and dialogue so we talked to Carolina for the dress.
As you do…
[Laughs] Right! As you do… They’d been talking about the day that this dress would hit the big screen for a while and I was happy to help with the design as a consultant because it had to work with the rest of the film. So we needed complementary language getting the same look across.
You designed the other dresses? There were musings that Alice was wearing Zac Posen (as in, we TOTALLY thought she was), how many costumes did you build from scratch?
I designed and built from scratch all of the Cullen women’s dresses. So Alice, Rosalee, Esme and Renee… it was lots of fun to start from the drawing board and think about getting all of the different personalities across. Alice has lots of fun with clothes and has a playful sense of style and a savvy approach to fashion so we wanted a modern take on a flapper. A 1920s dress makes a lot of sense for her because that’s when her character became a vampire so it’s a particularly strong era for her.
Plus, true to her personality, the ‘20s were very much a decade that celebrated female sexuality and independence.
You really did give it a lot of thought. The fans are lucky.
It’s all such a joy for me. This is gold for a costume designer, to have such great source material and these fun characters that are all so different from each other and, uh, a wedding? What’s not to love about that? You get to see the characters like you’ve never seen them before.
Let’s talk Rosalee. She has such a huge role in this movie.
Yes! I was so glad for Nikki, it was a great opportunity for her so show what a great performer she is. She’s got such different tonalities, for the wedding she obviously has a different personality from Alice so we went for something very dramatic, floor-length with a very high slit up the leg and it catches that great hourglass silhouette. We looked at the poise of the movie stars of the ‘30s and ‘40s so they were our references.
Total bombshell material.
Exactly. And it’s in the way they styled her hair and she has one of the most beautiful smiles in Hollywood, I think, which we actually get to see in this movie because in the other films she’s been a lot darker. In this one, she’s so protective of Bella and she’s at the wedding so there’s lot of different moments where she really shines and that’s a treat. Of course with Esme, she’s got that timeless understated beauty that’s so warm and appealing. It was a dream to dress them all.
Edward looked phenomenal in his tuxedo. Details on the boys please!
We put a lot of work into that too because we wanted to have them display a special, made-to-order feel. We didn’t want people to feel like you could just go out and buy them.
Well, there’s nothing off-the-rack about any of this.
[Laughs] No off-the-rack! Never. I drew up my ideal ideas for all the tuxedos. We wanted them to have a vintage feel, that sort of Edwardian turn-of-the-century vibe. Edward says, “I’ve been waiting a hundred years to marry you,” so we thought Alice would have fun riffing off of that.
But at the same time we didn’t want it to look theatrical, we wanted contemporary, young, and fresh. I drew up something that combined the lines of Edwardian formalwear and we made it up in beautiful contemporary Italian wools and gorgeous shirting materials. We had a fantastic collaboration with Brioni. Do you know Brioni, the wonderful Italian tailors?
Uh, seriously? Do I know Brioni? Obvi. Come on Michael…
[Laughs] I’m sorry, of course you do. So I sent my drawings over to the incredible tailors at Brioni in Italy and they sent back these beautiful suits. That was a really fun.
Good god, some of the labels you worked with. It’s like, “Were I to have my DRUTHERS in a wedding scene I would…”
Yeah absolutely, it was amazing. There’s something about people in the fashion industry, they seem to invariably love these books. All the contact I’ve had with journalists and people in fashion, they care about what everybody’s going to wear. It’s been exciting for me to be swept up into it all. No matter who I spoke to, they really cared so it’s a testament to the books’ strength.
Any other notable companies?
We worked with a number of high-end companies, Belstaff helped us with some of the jackets.
Belstaff? I can’t imagine any of the Cullens wearing Belstaff…
Right! There are two jackets that Jacob wears.
Oh, of course that makes sense.
And the jacket that Kristen wears in the wedding rehearsal scene where she’s wearing street clothes and that’s Belstaff.