If someone asked you to describe Into the Badlands, you could probably list off several aspects—its masterfully choreographed fight scenes, its mysteriously dystopian environment set worlds away from our own, and its gorgeously layered, brightly colored costumes. It all combines to serve up one of the most refreshingly original series currently airing on television, where each character is represented as significantly by what they wear as they are by their ability to fight, and survive, in the Badlands itself.
SYFY FANGRRLS had the opportunity to speak with Giovanni Lipari, who has designed the costumes on Into the Badlands since the beginning of Season 2, about representing the show's retro-futuristic aesthetic via its fashion, what has to be taken into consideration when designing clothes to be worn in Badlands' many fights, and whose looks he most enjoys creating.
On the show, certain colors are typically associated with specific characters. The Widow tends to wear all blacks, while Chau, on the other hand, is in white most of the time. How do you decide which kind of signature color belongs to each character, and is that more of a collaboration between the costume department and the writers' room?
Mainly the decision taken last year, on Season 2, was based on whatever Season 1 was. We had, obviously, as a creative department, the costume department, we had something that they called "The Bible" from the showrunners, from Miles Millar and Al Gough, and obviously from the writers. They came with the concept and the color. Usually we listen properly, and the only thing I said at the time was "If this is going to be a long show"—which you never know how long it last, how many seasons it will last—"let's try to plan ahead, something that we might need to do, over the episodes of the season. Let's try to spend carefully our energy, otherwise we're going to run out of ideas soon." In terms of color, I was trying to plan as much as possible, because then every episode and every season, you need to come up with something bigger and stronger.
Miles [Millar] was pretty open. We had a lovely chat. He's always been pretty easy. I remember I suggested to change the colors for Chau from whatever it was at the time into the white because she seemed to be the perfect mirror, the opposite mirror, for the Widow, who [wears] black. White seemed to be a perfect opposite. They're both very feral and very big fighters. That was a small change we had. Mostly we've been trying to define what range of color we like first, and then as a new family of Barons comes along, then we need to define other color palettes for each of them until you run out of colors. [laughs]
Yeah. Another thing I really love about the looks on the show is that there's such a great blend of more historical elements, but also there's a futuristic quality that really comes across. How did you decide on the combination between the two for each of the groups in the Badlands? You see the Clippers versus the dolls or the cogs, and they each have their own very specific look. How did you decide on, or maybe establish, the mix between more of a historic versus a futuristic tone?
Correct. This is very interesting as well. Mainly, all this conversation usually comes from Miles [Millar], who is the connection between the writers' room and the creative departments. All this conversation of concepts comes through Miles. Last season, they were mainly with a lot of images. This year was more in terms of concepts, since we already knew each other in terms of how to visualize. Last year there were a lot more images referenced, which were amazing, actually, very helpful.
Back to the question, we knew then the world of last year was more a Victorian world or steampunk. For example, Chau became... this world is called dystopian, but also once I heard this beautiful adjective of retro-futuristic, you know? It's almost how the future would be imagined in the '60s and the '70s, what the future was many years ago imagined. This kind of combination of back and forth, it gave us a big help. For example, the Chau family, they all became like a movie that I watched many years ago. I think it was called Friday Night Nine Eleven. It was shot in the late '60s, I don't remember, but they were trying to imagine the future.
There's a bit of '60s, but futuristic in there. All these white people with the high neck collar almost have this futuristic uniform, which comes from the fencing thing. As we go along, I show a picture to Miles, and we try to find out if these colors and peoples all come together on the big screen when we see them all together, if we like to see the combination of styles and colors. It's a very challenging show because of that. We need to blend history, future, Asian elements, steampunk, and so we play. We start playing really, literally, like that.
One character in particular on the show that has such a defining look is the Widow. Fans are always excited to see what she's going to wear each week. What I love most about her overall aesthetic is that it's very feminine, but also very commanding. Were there any specific references for her that you drew inspiration from when designing her costumes?
This is the first time we actually established the world. We started with the Victorian influence, in terms of shape, and the color was obviously black. As we go along, we needed to push these into something farther or different, otherwise we make always the same thing, which what we don't want to do. This is for each character, [but] mainly for her. By learning the shape of the actor, the body of the person, the way this person moves and what she can or he can handle physically or not, [and] we start adjusting and moving towards ... not a different direction style-wise, because that would be a mistake, more like trying to understand what the physicality is of the person who wears the thing, what would be the best for this person to wear.
Where we find this direction, staying with this style we've started—because each character has to stay within a range of style—then we'll push in to optimize what the visual of the new look will be. We learn from their body.
You talk about physicality and the movement of the actor and the body of the actor. There's a lot of fight scenes on the show, and—
My god, yeah.
—what's great about the costumes is that they do allow for that kind of movement. What, for you, are the biggest factors that you have to take into account when designing clothes that are going to be worn for those fight scenes?
It's been very difficult, I have to say. I got very big help from Daniel Wu; at the very beginning of last season, he told me two things. He didn't mean to tell me everything, because he knew it was too much for me to digest, but that was a good help. He told me a few things, and later on, months later, a few other things, and then again. I had time to learn what these fights actually mean. I'd never seen anything like this kind [of fight]. You usually work with stunts, but these fights ... it's a proper fight. It's a whole different thing.
Basically, since last season I tried to add elastic fabric or elastic material in certain spots when that was necessary to use, but then, later on, this year, I changed it completely. I used these materials and I incorporated them into the design. The design I slightly changed, because I had to adjust the material used. It became a help in terms of style, because certain material warrants a different style. The amount of movement that you need to allow [for] is something that you've never seen before. So yes, it's been a very big challenge to make something look different using materials they're actually not meant to be. But I'd worked for opera theater in Palais in the past, and I brought in a bit of that experience, which actually helped.
What types of fabric or material do you tend to work with more often? The costumes on the show always have such great texture. It's so visible on screen. I'm curious as to what kinds of fabric that you're working from more often.
Thank you for asking. You're very specific, almost like you're a designer. It's a very interesting question. I mean, you're right, and it is a truth, because using the elastic material usually is one of two kinds, and that's it. This is a show where the textures are important, so what we end up doing was to, with the time allowance we had, made some materials. We made the texture. Like using a slice of fabric material and a slice of texture material and a slice of ... Sometimes we made some materials because they don't exist in elastic materials that match or a different kind of variation of pattern. We actually made pieces of these ones, and that required a lot of time, obviously, but it was the only way we could get away with using materials, as I said, where they had to look a certain way, but the nature of it is different. We needed to basically make them, if you know what I mean. Stitch pieces together.
How many costumes are you typically making per episode? How long is that process, usually?
I think on the private level, this particular show taught me what time means. I needed to learn exactly the amount of time needed to make each thing to be able then to deliver on time for the next episode. It depends how many cast members we have each episode, but if you consider the core group of eight or 10, they all have to change. Not each episode, because of the storyline, [so] it's hard to give you a proper number. But even if I have to make, for example, 15 new looks or 12 new looks, each look needs to have four, five, or six multiples. The Widow has that look, [but] she needs to have at least other four of the exact same, because she'll be stabbed, or this one will go on two different kinds of stunt people. Each look has to have a very big amount of multiples.
Even if you have 15 [looks], basically you need to make 60 costumes. Plus, if there are groups or extras and everything. The amount of work each episode, it's big, because it's based on how many multiples [for] each actor. Bajie and Sunny and each of them, they're going to go through hell. They get wet. There's snow. There's mud. They get slashed and killed. But there's a big number each episode.
If you had to pick a favorite look that you have worked on for this season, which one would it be and why?
Personally, I like them all very much, to be honest. Luckily I do. But the ones I feel most satisfied, that I like it, is the look that I get with the smallest amount of thinking. It's very private. Because, as I said, there's not very much time to think, [so] the ones that I think I nailed it with the smallest amount ... That means there's a big idea behind and I didn't have to correct, you know, on the way of the making.
Certain things come easy. Some things come more difficult. The enthusiasm of the actor who's going to wear [it], that makes everybody's work easier. Some people are particularly into this, and you feel it. It kind of almost frees your ideas, if you know what I mean. It comes and goes, but there's no specific person. Emily [Beecham] is very, very, very easy to work for.
Into the Badlands airs Sundays at 10/9c on AMC.