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The '80s influences and costume design clues in The Haunting of Bly Manor
Living on a fancy English estate might conjure images of tweed and black-tie suppers, but The Haunting of Bly Manor breaks that sartorial myth with its various inhabitants, both living and dead. The second part of Mike Flanagan's Netflix anthology series is even more ambitious with the number of intersecting periods, covering all the way from the 17th century to the mid-'00s. Most of the action takes place in 1987, and while this is a fashion decade some people are terrified of revisiting, there are far scarier costumes lurking in the Bly shadows.
The Hill House reunion goes beyond the returning actors, which sees designer Lynn Falconer back to serve narrative-enhancing costumes that might leave you hankering for an '80s upgrade of your own. SYFY FANGRRLS spoke recently to Falconer over Zoom about Dani's (Victoria Pedretti) look as "the American in the room," the inspiration behind the costumes, creating couture gowns, and a hidden Hill House link.
Spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor ahead.
"I said many times after, I would never do that one again because it was so difficult. And I just folded like a cheap suit, I was like, 'Of course, I'll do it,'" Falconer said when asked about her decision to sign up to Bly Manor. Other than pilots that didn't go to series, Hill House was Falconer's first TV series and it was a fruitful but tough experience, "It was a rough job for me, personally and workwise," she said. "I'm so gratified that all that pain became something beautiful because this time around it was a gift and it was with a lot of the same people."
Flanagan has previously detailed the beast that was shooting the now-infamous Episode 6, in which he expressed "Production was murder and almost killed us all." But when executive producer Trevor Macy called offering Falconer the Bly Manor job, she jumped at the chance.
Lessons learned from the Hill House production meant, according to Falconer, that "it came together for me much better. I had the scripts way ahead of time. I was able to figure out what I needed to build way ahead of time." Labor laws dictate child actors are only available for a certain length of time — so doubles are required — and rather than having to rush out and grab something last minute, Falconer "started Flora before she was even cast."
Most of the costumes you see are either vintage, builds, or rentals to keep with the '80s period. "I didn't have to go to a store and semi-fake it,"
The "intricate timeline" required lots of research, which Falconer undertook at Western Costume Library in Los Angeles. "I use the internet. However, I find sitting there with catalogs, fashion magazines, and, newspapers is faster for me." A moment of discovery for Dani's costume direction occurred with a photo of a woman wearing a dirndl skirt and denim jacket. "That image was huge for me." The costume line between one of the Dani character boards that Falconer shared with SYFY FANGRRLS and the image of Dani in the dirndl skirt when she arrives at Bly is clear to see.
Meanwhile, Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has quite literally been Rickrolled — his trench and mock turtleneck are inspired by the "Never Gonna Give You Up" video. "Those boards are everything to me. It's a macro way of handling it so you know how to shop it and build it," Falconer said. The pop music spectrum is covered, as David Bowie is another Quint suit influence (see below for one of the Peter Quint character boards).
"We pulled all these amazing suits from Palace [Costume] that had the shoulder pads, and when [Jackson-Cohen] first put it on, he was like, 'Whoa! Is this too costumey?'" the designer recalled regarding the infamous '80s power shoulder trend. "When I approached the '80s, one thing I have to figure out between Mike and Trevor is how far can I go with this? And I still think we didn't go too far into the shoulder pads," she laughed. "I mean, in the middle of the '80s we were all ready for flight." It is a fine line to walk, but none of the Bly characters are caricatures of this extreme fashion decade.
While some have been comparing Peter's knit to the very popular Knives Out sweater, Falconer drew on her time working on 7th Avenue in New York. "I worked for a knitwear company. And that particular shaker knit was everywhere." Rather than using a contemporary piece doubling for vintage, Falconer rented this slouchy garment, as "there's something about the most minute styling in a new garment that just gives it away."
Dani is the character who leans into the decade's bolder trends, and her flashback episode "goes the most '80s because it takes place mostly in America." Her pink taffeta engagement dress reflects this, and while Dani would've picked it up in a formal store, Falconer found it in Vancouver. "It blew me away because it was so my junior prom in 1984 or somewhere around then." A minor mishap occurred with this choice, as she was unaware the set walls were a similar shade. "But somehow they lit it and were able to figure it out."
On the night of Edmund's accident, Dani is wearing a bold floral jumpsuit Falconer found at A Current Affair in San Francisco. Falconer is a participating vendor at the high-end flea market, selling vintage jewelry when she isn't on a job. "I found that there and it's so perfect."
"Color-wise it's always going to be raspberries, pinks, and the blues," Falconer pointed out regarding Dani's signature palette — and she also confirmed the sweater is lavender. It provides a link with Miles and Flora. "I felt like was going to blend in a little bit more with the kids." Other factors include the au pair's teaching role, her budget, and what she brought with her. "We were very particular. The only amount of clothes she had was what could fit in her backpack."
This shifts to darker tones in the final episode, "Even though she's had tragedy, she is an uplifting type of character. She's always looking on the brighter side to things until the Lady of the Lake takes over." The latter informed Dani's final costume, which is different from the vintage T-shirt she is last seen wearing. Falconer gives all credit to Pedretti for the direction she took. "If the Lady of the Lake is part of me, I need to die in something elegant" was the star's reasoning. "I give that to Victoria. She's such a smart girl, she's a very old soul," Falconer added. This garment also provides a link to Hill House, because it was made out of the same velvet as Olivia Crain's luxurious robe. And Miles' storytime bow tie is also made from the same fabric!
"Bly had such big shoes to fill," Falconer mentioned when discussing its predecessor and she chose to refrain from using too many beautiful robes. However, there are a couple of exceptions — including Charlotte Wingrave in the kitchen wearing a robe built from a '30s garment because she "was a very elegant woman, so she needed an elegant robe." Miss Jessel's floral nightgown is a rare contemporary piece that mirrored the '80s printed rayon silk sets. "I saw that and loved it. [Sharif] loved it too." And while Dani is sans robe, Falconer said if she had one "it probably would've been a chunky terry anti-Hill House robe."
Everything is vintage and authentically '80s (except one pair of jeans and Miss Jessel's robe) and the designer is bringing her own experience into the design. "I'm just reliving my teen years with some of this stuff." This period is close to Falconer's heart, so she isn't down with all the mom jean grumbles, "We did not call them mom jeans. They were what we wore," she laughed. "They were high waisted and some of them were pleated denim." It isn't only Dani who gets to wear the denim trends of the era. Jamie also embraced the style of the time. "[Amelia Eve] had her own pair of Chic jeans that were very high-waisted, a roomy baggy pair of jeans we used a lot," Falconer described. "And she wore a lot of those high waisted pleated pants."
Similar to the band shirts on Julie and the Phantoms, clearance was required for Jamie's band shirt. "I honestly would have loved to use Siouxsie and the Banshees. But we couldn't get it cleared. So we went with Blondie, who's just as great." While Falconer was restricted by the gardener role, she could lean into some specific brands of the decade, including Aca Joe.
Acid wash was limited because executive producer Trevor Macy is "allergic to the bad bad '80s" but Falconer managed to get a pair on Rahul Kohli — who also "definitely got a few pairs of bad light denim." Rather than traditional chef whites, Falconer wanted to emphasize Owen as "a warm hug of the series." Because the Lord and Lady aren't alive, it does away with the need for a formal work uniform.
Probably the best-dressed resident is housekeeper Hannah Grose, who also doesn't play by the Bly Manor ghost sartorial rules. In Episode 5, Hannah finds out she is dead — Falconer accidentally let it slip to actress T'Nia Miller before she had read the script — and her initial reaction to this episode was, "I thought we were going to stay free from these time mazes." Originally, the way "The Altar of the Dead" was written made it seem like it was going to be similar to Hill House's single-shot Episode 6 illusion. "Visually, I didn't know how they were going to do it so and I was sticking to the rules in my head."
Those rules being that a Bly ghost will spend eternity in the same outfit as they died in. At first, Falconer was going "to do a turtleneck, gold earrings, and the plaid skirt, but maybe it could be a slightly different colored turtleneck and a slightly different plaid." Flanagan then gave her the green light to do away with this restriction to reflect that "she was in so much denial and still refused to look at the fact that she was dead," Falconer said. "She is a pretty special ghost."
Every other spirit is stuck for in one garment, although this is subject to "a loss of detail, which is equivalent to a loss of memory." For the Lady in the Lake's nightgown, Falconer explained "we eroded a lot of the lace." Hiding in plain sight, the Bly Manor ghosts are similar in that respect to the Hill House spectral occupants.
Making sure the actors were comfortable was important, but the plague doctor mask presented a challenge for Liam Raymond Dib — his sister Daniela Dib played the Lady in the Lake. There are two different plague doctors (the one that diagnoses Viola with "the lung" and the one she kills) and one major consideration was that it needed to read on-screen, but not too much. "This is what the costume designer in a Mike Flanagan job has to do," Falconer laughed. "You have to macro design this thing so it works wherever."
"The Romance of Certain Old Clothes" details the Bly backstory, and this episode was a huge undertaking for the costume team. "We used the best of the best of the best [fabric] and these were all couture gowns. We had 25 tailors at one point, hand-stitching French gold lace on the thickest silk satin."
The rich color fabrics can now be seen on Falconer's Instagram, but to see how they would read in black and white "we used the filter on our phone. I'd take a picture of the fabric, and believe it or not, some of the most beautiful red silk I saw turned into nothing in black and white."
Director Axelle Carolyn suggested the Catherine Deneuve film Peau D'Ane, in which "the character wears a Sun, Moon, and Air dress." When Viola (Kate Siegel) entertains potential suitors she wears the Air dress, which Falconer described the iridescent silk chiffon as "the most stunning fabric you've ever seen." Time constraints prevented her from constructing a "layer of air over all the jewels," she said. Resorting to layering it in the typical way, "it still turned out really beautiful."
The Sun frock is in gold and worn as Viola begins to suffer from illness. And while the Moon dress was featured in a cut dinner scene, you can view the French gold lace and beautiful deep dark midnight silk satin creation below.
"The trimmings were mostly from the 1920s," Falconer described. "I had a great vendor who provided me with a ton of pictures, and we used that for all of the 1600s." It was necessary to build the garments as the rental houses were lacking this time period — even for background, it was difficult to source.
"That time period is not popular in a costume house, it looked like it had died in this costume house so we had to start fresh and then we had the black and white element," she said. "So it had to be either velvet, a brocade — something that bounced light. And then the vintage trimmings to bring it up." Viola placed a great sense of self and value on these garments, and it is easy to see why she was bewitched by their beauty.
Narrowly beating the shutdown, Falconer returned home to California from Vancouver at the end of February and has only worked on a couple of commercials since. Because of quarantine restrictions due to the pandemic, she recently turned down a job in Vancouver as it would've meant being away from her teenage son for up to seven months. "My last big memory was that job, and now to see it on the screen is kind of crazy," she remarked. When discussing the experience, she said, "I learned a lot about myself through these two shows. And I was so worried that it wasn't going to be a Hill House, and it turned out that it stands on its own."
For Bly, she spent a lot more time socializing with the cast. "We've been through Hill House together, but then the new Brits that came on board. They're so professional and they're so lovely. It's probably one of my happiest jobs." Another thing she took away from this job is, "I know now how to walk into the room and let people help me." So if Flanagan was to do another Haunting series, would Falconer jump on board for more ghostly creations? "Absolutely. I would love to do another one of these."