I Am Henry – Award-Winning Costume Design
Kristen ERNST-BROWN works as a freelance Costume Designer. She began her career in New York’s fashion industry, and soon realized she was always pulling inspiration from historical clothing. While in New York, Kristen began working nights and weekends on opera and burlesque productions, which she loved.
She decided to come to London to pursue her Master’s degree in costume design at the London College of Fashion. Since graduating in 2013, she has trained alongside Michael O’Connor and assisted Oliver Garcia.
One of Kristen’s costumes recently featured in Italian Vogue, and her passion for historic clothing and building a character through costume made her the perfect choice for ‘I Am Henry,’ for which she has won the award for Best Costume Design at the London International Filmmaker Festival 2016.
Q. Why is Costume Design such an important aspect of film-making?
Films are about characters and the obstacles they experience. Costumes aid in making a character believable. They give you clues as to where he or she has come from. You can tell so much about a character before they even speak. The viewer’s first impression relies heavily on what they are wearing.
Q. Describe the creative vision you had for ‘I Am Henry’
When reading the script, I loved that Henry was dead and envisioning himself as he was in his prime. I tend to read scripts and automatically associate colours with characters. I saw Henry in black, as if he was mourning his own death. Anne I pictured in light pastels with a simplistic silhouette. Catherine was older than Henry and although she is typically shown in black, I wanted a contrast between her and Henry. I envisioned her in gold, which was sophisticated and regal and looked great on screen with the Rembrandt-themed candlelight.
Q. What steps did you take to complete the looks for Henry and Anne?
The first thing I did was research the period. I am a fan of Tudor history, which made it a pleasure to work on a project I was familiar with. I then discussed with Jan the director what his vision was for the film. We immediately agreed on slightly modernised silhouettes. The men do not have codpieces and to avoid tights, I put both Henry and the Duke of Cornwall in knee high boots. They did still manage to have tights on underneath though! With Henry, I was very inspired by some of the paintings by Hans Holbein. I loved the mixture of textures, so I recreated that look with the fur and gold collar. Regal accessories were key in creating Henry VIII.
For Anne, I wanted her to contrast with Catherine’s elaborate ensemble and gable-hood. I kept her in a simple dress with fitted sleeves and a low-cut neckline. I wanted her to seem care free and young as she was when she first met Henry.
Q. What are the main challenges working on a period drama like this?
Period dramas must be very organised from the start. You have two options. You can either design and make the costumes or you can hire them. Due to time restraints I hired the costumes. This still takes time to pull together multiple options for each character. I then had to undertake fittings with each actor. It is here that the characters come to life. It is amazing how much Sebastian Street’s (Henry) posture changed as soon as he was in his costume. We tried on other options as well, but we both knew my initial choice was the one! After the fittings I made alterations to fit each actor.
Although it is typically more challenging than a contemporary film, I enjoy the fact that the characters are not wearing clothes bought off the high street. I feel as though it helps to transport the viewer into another world.
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