Slideshow: The Costumes of Indian Summers
From the sketches to the set, by way of the wardrobe department, here's everything you need to know about the utterly dazzling 1930s costumes of
Indian Summers! See the sketches that inspired the looks and get insider insights in an exclusive MASTERPIECE interview with Indian Summers' costume designer, Nic Ede!
Made in Malaysia
We made everything there, everything. I tell the story that I flew out to Penang with seamed stockings, stiff collars for shirts, cufflinks, and corsets for the women (except we never used them). Everything else we made in Penang, which was a wonderfully exciting experience. As a designer you very seldom get the chance to do that. All the extra stuff, all the crowd stuff is [typically] hauled in from a costume house, but in this case we made to measure for all the extras, which was just unheard of, and fabulous.
Finding the people to create various aspects of it--from the uniforms through to the evening dress through to the men's evening dress--was an adventure. I was so impressed with how the local tailors picked up on what I was trying to achieve. Their ability to cut in a period style was fantastic, particularly the women who made the crowd's female clothes. I mean cutting on the bias, all that 1930s stuff. And they did it with great aplomb and no mistakes. We even found a guy, a Malaysian-Chinese guy, who made shoes. And his father had taught the shoe designer Jimmy Choo--he had his first lesson in this shop in Penang. And this guy made all the women's shoes. I gave him drawings of 1930s shoes and he copied them. It was fantastic, like going back to a time before the world became a mass market.
From Mumbai to Malaysia: Sourcing Fabrics
There's a very large Indian population in Penang, a Little India--it's like you might as well be in Delhi or Mumbai. You can find jolly nearly anything there! So there was an abundance of saris that I could convert to make them traditional. The traditional men's Indian items, the kurta pajamas and dhotis, I bought in Mumbai, and all of that came from the Kadai Bundi, in Mumbai, which are government shops that sell hand-loomed textiles to this day--they did them in the 1930s, and they still do it in 2015. Extraordinary, beautiful stuff, hand-woven cottons that are a little coarse, but beautiful, and wash well and fade well. It does all of the things I wanted it to do.
On the whole I kept [fashions] up to date, because you must remember that everybody got periodicals and magazines. The women would study the fashion with great, great care and then get a local seamstress to make it up. The one person that I did set at an earlier time was Julie Walters' character. Because she is playing a woman in her early 60s, we decided that the time that she felt most comfortable was about 1924, when she was in her early 50s, with the loose, low waistlines and the longer hems.
I just wanted to make her look as though she had given up on fashion to a certain extent because she had found a period that suited her and stayed with it, which of course a lot of women in that period did, particularly older women. They stuck with that, with a period that suited them and they were probably at their happiest.
I used saris to make at least three or four of her outfits. So you buy a seven or nine-meter sari and then you cut it up to try and make it work into a dress. And that's... the Sipi fair dress was exactly one of those. [The Silpi Fair dress] was a really pretty hand-blocked silk sari that I found, and we chopped it up and made her dress out of it, which of course people would have done anyway, making the pattern fit the contemporary style. It wasn't easy, but I think it works.
Here we have your archetypal middle England young woman, albeit born and bred in India, but then sent to England. So I wanted to reflect her class and her background, making her look elegant, but not in any way flashy. I wanted her to fit in, but for people to notice her because she's a pretty girl, and because she dresses with style.
I wanted the English rose in colors that reflected not India, but where she had just spent the last few years and got married and had her baby. So besides her travel dress in the beginning, everything is sort of pastels, an English country garden look.
But a lot of that drops away as the show goes on. Over the progression of the season, I did actually make her become a little more sophisticated as she became more embroiled in the social scene in India. Simpler, a little less twee, really.
Sarah. Dear Sarah. I always refer to Sarah as the girl who dressed from catalogues. I mean she is the epitome of your Midwest farmer's wife in the '30s. There were many catalogues in India at that time, and you could pick up a dress as you could in America for a few cents, basically, or a dollar or two. So her clothes look great on the page, but by the time you've washed them once, they do look a bit…tragic.
She tries all the time to make herself look like everybody else, like the people she admires and aspires to be. You see her effort, exactly. But it doesn't really work; you know, the quality isn't there, without the financial means to do it properly. And of course because they have no money, we see repetition of her clothes all the way through.
It was great doing her. It was wonderful doing her clothes, and [actress Fiona Glascott] so got into it when we produced one. You know, well, they're very sweet and rather pretty little dresses. But then they're nothing to write home about. But [Glascott] always said it helped her so much to portray this rather downtrodden and tragic woman.
Poor Aafrin. Well, Nikesh [Patel] is such a lovely man, I adored him, and he got to the stage where he was really pissed off because basically he has two suits! He has the suit he gets shot in, which then gets stitched up and repaired, and then when he gets elevated at work, he gets a new suit. These guys didn't earn a lot of money. He's also supporting his parents and his sisters, so most of the money would have gone into the family coffers to keep them all alive. They lived pretty well considering the state of poverty in India at that time. But I didn't want anybody to think that he really had anything more than what was on his back.
[His new suit] is not quite so chic. His is done by a corner tailor, as opposed to a master tailor. And of course he uses Indian cloth, whereas Ralph's fabrics probably would have been imported from the UK, which is a big difference. It's all in the cut and the styling, basically.
Ralph, the enigmatic Ralph, is a man who is so suave and sophisticated. I wanted him to portray the English ruling class without any sort of flamboyancy. So basically, his clothes are absolutely correct in every respect. He wears no color except for a little bit of blue in his shirts occasionally and his ties, but basically he dresses in off-white, black and gray. And you really won't see him in much else.
And I wanted him to hide. I wanted his clothes to give nothing away about him. Then, when you first see him in native dress, it's probably a bit of a shock. Because what one then realizes is that this is a man who's totally at ease and in comfort…and basically, India is home for him. It certainly isn't Britain.
Costumes: The Dalals
The Parsis were renowned for being very close to the British. They were hugely respected by the British because they were very bright, well-educated people and held great government jobs. They were immensely sophisticated, so therefore they took on a slightly different take of the traditional Indian dress. Parsis would emulate a little bit of European fashion by having puffed sleeves on their sari blouses or different shaped necklines…When you look at [Roshana], she's always made a little bit of an effort to be a bit more like the British. And as for [Darius], we hardly ever see him in anything except his Parsi hat, which is absolutely traditional, and his cord around his neck, which is a religious piece.
Costumes: Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI
It was getting quite late on the shoot and money was getting a bit tight, so I went out and bought quite a lot of old gold-colored satin and a duck-egg blue satin. The lace came from a Malaysian shop, gold lace still worn today, but it's on her dress and on his cuffs. And I just put it on the stand and played with it until I got something together. We literally put it together by hand, which was great fun to do, because of course it
would have been made by local tailors. So we wanted it to have that slightly homemade look, of [1930s Asia] trying to copy something that's been made in the 18th century in Europe.