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Look of the Week: Carnival Row's steampunk chic
Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
Faes, fauns, and humans all inhabit Carnival Row, a steampunk fantasy noir combining elements of Sherlock Holmes and Lord of the Rings. There is a lot of worldbuilding occurring in the first few episodes, which isn't a surprise given that this is an original genre series that can’t rely on source material to fill in the gaps. Costumes are a big part of the visual language, informing the audience about social status, species, and employment of this extensive array of new faces and the many background actors filling out this city — not to mention there are a lot of wild names (some of which are not the easiest to remember), so luckily, the clothing acts as a way to differentiate between the sprawling ensemble.
Leaning into a Victorian aesthetic — but with wings, horns, hooves, and candy-colored wigs alongside the usual corsets, leg-of-mutton sleeves, and exquisite fabrics — gives Carnival Row a memorable look.
Spoilers for Carnival Row ahead.
Cara Delevingne is no stranger to wearing eye-catching garments as she juggles an acting career with an extensive modeling resumé. As a fae, Vignette Stonemoss doesn’t get to indulge in the decadent attire, as this is typically reserved for the human characters. First, she has to switch out of the incredibly warm-looking shearling-lined jacket for a ladies' maid uniform. Her wings are clipped in the most Victorian fashion: strapped down by a corset. She does get to sport a cute black hat, but it isn’t long before Vignette flies free.
For the majority of Season 1, she alternates between the aforementioned embroidered sherpa jacket, tunic, pants, and knee-high boots with a stunning quilted floral burgundy hooded and belted ensemble. If the fabric of the latter looks familiar, that’s because Claire wore a shirt made from this material in Season 4 of Outlander. Costume designer Terry Dresbach confirmed this on Twitter, noting a London-based company specializing in period fabrics is the common source. Costume overlap of this kind is not surprising when dealing with period-specific attire. As it is winter in the Burgue, layers and thick fabrics are utilized by every character, from the shadowy Black Raven organization to the affluent humans.Carnival Row has got you set for cold weather attire inspiration, but if there is one part of Vignette’s look that will be hard to pull off, it is her stunning wings (a mix of CGI and prosthetics). Just when you think this is a regular Victorian-set mystery, Vignette spreads her wings wide. A sex scene that takes place later in the season reminds audiences that period clothes are also pretty cumbersome in the number of undergarments that are required to complete a look. In some scenes, the accuracy of the Victorian period they are emulating is important, but the fantasy details remind audiences this is the seventh century of another world and not 19th-century England.
Prosthetics and fashion are having a moment, particularly on Instagram, but one of the easiest looks to recreate is Vignette’s pixie cut. The headband braids enrich the fae backstory, but thankfully she loses the rattail braid of broken hearts early on.
One place where color explodes on screen is the Tetterly Hotel, aka the brothel on The Row. Candy-color wigs, bold orange bathrobes, slinky satin underwear, and mustard stockings ensure this is the most vivid location, particularly against the drab streets of the Burgue.
Vignette's best friend Tourmaline (Karla Crome) is a sex worker (with a heart of gold) who pulls focus whenever she is on screen. Even her outerwear is eye-catching and vibrant. Vignette takes refuge with her friend and gets in on the fancy robe situation in a deep green. This is the only time we see her in a garment of this kind.Orlando Bloom is obviously used to fantasy garb, but everything he wears is far removed from his Legolas days. Costume designer Joanna Eatwell has worked on several period shows, including Taboo, The Miniaturist, and Wolf Hall, and her expertise is visible in the details of each outfit. As Detective Rycroft Philostrate — "Philo" for short — Bloom spends the entire time sporting the same long overcoat/vest look (in flashbacks he wears a military uniform). He’s got the pocket watch and bowler hat to show his authority, and as a man consumed by his job, there is no time for a social life. Bloom also refers to the bowler as a calling card of sorts; he is instantly recognizable even by just his shadow.
It will be interesting to see how his identity will shift in the already-confirmed Season 2 as a result of finding out his heritage, but for now, Philo is not one for making a sartorial statement.
Those reveling in ornate and expensive-looking garments include Jared Harris as Chancellor Absalom Breakspear (seriously, these names are wild), who wears robes to work and spends his time at home dripping in gold, bronze, and floral embroidered fabrics. His wife Piety (Indira Varma) has a penchant for high-necked, puffed-sleeves dresses that hint at a dark side; black florals coupled with wine color material is a recipe for betrayal. Her all-too-loud heels are a giveaway at her identity.For the most extensive wardrobe, look no further than Imogen Spurnrose (Tamzin Merchant), the spoiled sibling of Ezra (Outlander's Andrew Gower). He blames her for frittering away their inheritance on fresh flowers and the latest fashion. The latter is apparent in her seemingly endless supply of pastel and delicate floral leg-of-mutton-sleeve dresses, complete with matching parasols. After she realizes they are in a precarious situation, she turns to rich neighbor Agreus (David Gyasi) for assistance.
At the start of the season, she blithers on about finding a husband, but little did she know she would fall for a faun. Ah yes, there are a lot of on-the-nose analogies in Carnival Row that are as subtle as Imogen's frocks. Imogen is an early representative of a prejudiced human, but the snazzily dressed Agreus goes from someone she sneers at to the person she falls for (because of course).Agreus wears a pinstripe jacket with a rose in his buttonhole, refusing to hide in the shadows. The dresses and matching accessories he gifts Imogen are deep crimson velvet and burgundy wine color, which are the opposite of her ultra-feminine frocks. No wonder she takes to both these gifts and Agreus himself.
The costume design of Carnival Row is as rich as the world these characters inhabit, and while the first season is on the clunky side at times in terms of dialogue and real-world parallels, the Amazon Prime series is a striking sartorial shot of fantasy noir that is currently missing.