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The wonderfully whimsical Australian short film "The Hoarders" is making the film festival rounds and gaining much deserved attention, winning an award for Best Production Design at the St Kilda Film Festival in Melbourne. Costume Designer Sarah Spackman, an object and textile artist for The Fortynine Studio which she runs with a group of other designers, also served as assistant costume illustrator for Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. I had the wonderful opportunity to ask Sarah Spackman a little bit about her design process for this film.
Tell me a little about your latest project.
The Hoarders is a narrative short film starring Steve Rodgers, James Buckingham and Madeleine Madden. It is a playful story about two inseparable friends who lose the key to a box containing a gift for their friend. In the frantic search that ensues they come to realise that the act of giving is more important than the gift itself.
The story features three characters - the Hoarders Bogart and Griffin, creatures who live underground in a giant cavern filled with things they have collected over the centuries, and Lily, a young girl who is their friend.
The film references the nature of giving and the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This was a significant point that we wanted to explore in making the film and one that guided a number of decisions during the design process.
Tell me a little about your research and inspiration for the costumes.
My process is really hands on and whilst I do a lot of research and collect huge amounts of imagery and material swatches for inspiration, I tend to make a lot of the design decisions as I work on the actual pieces. Bogart and Griffin’s costumes were designed to reflect Australia’s British colonial past, with references to period garments from a number of different era, ranging from the 1890s through to the 1940s, adding to the effect of the characters being timeless and disorderly. I wanted to characterise the two of them through the fit of their costumes. Bogart took great pride in having his clothing tailored especially for him, but has now worn through it and his upper garments have become a bit tight around the middle as a result of his expanding girth. Griffin is the younger of the two and wears clothes he grew out of long ago, a fact he isn’t the least bothered by. In fact, he doesn’t even notice. Both costumes needed to look as though they were once tailored and structured but were now worn and tired, as if they have been wearing them for many decades.
I originally pictured the character of ‘Lily’ as somewhat of a contemporary Alice (in Wonderland) but wanted to move away from the aristocratic feminine stereotype towards a more self-determined, vibrant and tomboyish young girl with a style all her own. I also wanted to explore something uniquely Australian in her costume and was inspired by fashion icons RM Williams for his classic country style and Jenny Kee, for her unapologetically bright and colourful oversized knitwear.
What was your process for pulling, renting, and building costumes/specialty pieces?
Because of the intensive ageing and finishing required to achieve the look we were after the costumes had to be purchased or custom made. I sourced second hand items locally where possible, through op-shops and second hand stores in Sydney and Armidale (where we shot the film). These were complemented with new or custom pieces specific to the characters.
The Hoarders’ suits are second hand pieces customized for the film - I reshaped the lapels on both jackets and reshaped the waist on Griffin’s to make it appear tighter.
I needed shirt multiples as it was a week long shoot between two different locations and a set so rather than custom making them I sourced new white shirts made of 100% cotton so that I could dye and age them.
I custom made their vests from beautiful heavy wool fabric to get the wonderful creases you see spreading out from the buttons and across the chest in men’s’ three piece suits in the early 1900’s. And the buttons on everything were replaced with new ones (aged of course!) from a fantastic button store in Sydney.
Griffin’s pants and socks were designed as a naive take on plus fours and were bought new from American Apparel (of all places!).
Their shoes were the most challenging item to source. Our budget didn’t allow for new or custom shoes and interesting second hand men’s shoes were difficult to come across. We were fortunate though to find two great pairs that fitted and suited the style and palette of both characters. Once all the elements came together they were heavily aged and finished to make them look decades old and lived in, and details such as the keys hidden on the inside of Griffin’s jacket were sewn in place.
While Lily’s costume involved the most research out of the three, it came together remarkably quickly. Colour was the most important aspect of her outfit and whilst her jumper wasn’t quite as vivid as a Jenny Kee, the rust coloured patterned knit I found set off her yellow dress wonderfully. Her socks were custom made by a knitwear label in Bondi called Purl Harbour and her riding boots were borrowed from a horse-riding friend. Her outfit only required minimal wear-and-tear ageing and so compared to the Hoarders’ costumes, finishing it was a breeze!
Tell me a little about the working relationship with your collaborators.
I honestly can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the process of working with all the cast and crew on The Hoarders. We were so fortunate to have such a talented team who worked tirelessly, some of us for many months or even years, to realise our vision for the story. Production Designer Jessica Meyer and I worked closely with one another, sharing and exchanging ideas to design and create each element of The Hoarders’ world. Alongside Director Keaton Stewart, Set Builder Taphyl Stewart and Creature Designer Brylan Stewart (they’re three of the four brothers who founded Stewart Brothers together!) we built the entire set, as well as much of what you see in it including many of the hero props.
Keaton, had a strong vision for the film and was keen to be involved throughout the design process. His passion for creating everything for real – rather than using CGI - was infectious and was a wonderful challenge for us as the designers, pushing us further than we would ever have dreamed possible at the beginning. As Costume Designer, I was rather fortunate in that both Madeleine (Madden) who played Lily and James (Buckingham) who played Griffin were both a similar clothing size to me, and Steve (Rodgers) who played Bogart was a similar size to the Keaton, so the two of us would go around to op-shops and second-hand clothing stores and try on different outfits together. It was pretty funny!
Jess and I worked to ensure that the colour palette continued seamlessly across both set and costumes and that the palette of the costumes also complemented the forest locations. Similarly, Brylan and I discussed how the particulars of the costume - neckline and sleeves - would sit in relation to the prosthetics and how the palette and textures would work with one another.
Check out the film's website to find a film-festival where it is showing near you:
Upcoming film-festival date in the United States:
Friday 16th August 2013
Director: Keaton Stewart
Produced By: Stewart Brothers
Director of Photography: Michael Steel
Production Design: Jessica Meyer
Costume Designer & Art Director: Sarah Spackman
Lead Make-Up & Creature Design: Brylan Stewart