'Star Trek: Discovery' Costume Designer Gersha Phillips On Creating Starfleet Uniforms For A New Era [Interview]

This year, Star Trek: Discovery has given us a delicious mix of the old Star Trek storytelling traditions combined with a contemporary spin. With the mysterious Red Angel at the center of our characters' past, present and future, everything feels like it's coming around full circle. That circular through-line continues within the show's costumes, which are just as nostalgic as they are futuristic./Film was able to speak with Discovery's costume designer Gersha Phillips about her process, combining the old with the new. Phillips also focused on how the costumes help push characterizations forward, whether that's including Terran influences, pulling from earlier costumes, or drawing from real world influences like Black Ops uniforms.How did you get brought on to Star Trek discovery?I came on to help Suttirat Larlarb, who was the designer at the time. She was working with Bryan Fuller, the first showrunner and I came on actually to help her...It was kind of an interesting start to the journey and then I ended up inheriting the show When the change of showrunners took place.We've seen some of the original TOS design come back in the new Starfleet uniforms introduced in the first episode of Season 2.  What was your process for creating these new Starfleet uniforms that harken back to the 1960s original series?When we started doing the uniforms in the beginning we had the three colors and we played  with several different versions...These colors were in play back then, but we decided to go with the navy for what we ended up doing for season one. Basically my thought was if I took our Discovery uniforms, which we considered to be the new Starfleet uniforms, and apply the Enterprise colors to those uniforms, that is how we [bring] it forward into the Enterprise uniforms.We played with a few different ideas about how to put [the uniforms] together. We have the lines around the shoulders and down the sides of the body that we call our compression panels. We played with different versions of how to do it, whether to bring the color down into the pants or  just even with trying different background colors on the body, the jacket. There were a few different things we tried and we ended up with what we have, which I'm pretty happy with them.The other thing I thought worked pretty well was our collar, which has that shape, the little V that calls back to the original TOS uniforms. It looks like it, but it's an updated version, it feels more real for the world we're in today and ideally the future.How do you think the uniforms will advance into Season 3? Will they get closer to the '60s uniforms and explain how Starfleet went into a mod period?I think that we have to look at it as a separate entity. [W]e can't keep rehashing the '60s version because then it starts to look dated. If you're saying we have to go into the future, we have to go into the future. I've always had that idea about Discovery and Star Trek.I really feel the original Star Trek was so groundbreaking and so many technologies–like the Motorola flip phone–evolved from what they were working with. I feel like if we don't allow us to do that, to take some giant leaps forward as opposed to looking back.I agree that there's a lot of nostalgia and a lot of merit in the first one, but I feel like the time to break it off a little bit and allow us to do something new and different, because otherwise we won't be able to do something different, like the new iPad or other new technologies [like] the fabrics we have today, the tech fabrics and all the ways we dress...The spirit of Star Trek is about going boldly where no one has gone before. So to me, rehashing the same thing over and over for nostalgia's sake doesn't make much sense to me, you know what I mean?...Let's push it forward. Let's come up with the next [thing], something great, something cool, something futuristic.We've been introduced to Section 31 this season. How did you develop their look, which is completely different than Starfleet?We do echo some of Starfleet into it, but they wanted it to feel like a separate division like Black Ops, so we created something different and more individualized. You'll see a lot of guys aren't wearing a uniform, just black pieces of clothing. So it's a little more individualistic which I think is kind of interesting.There are uniformed people on that ship as well, but one of the things that was told to me by my showrunners is that they wanted them to wear black and feel like they weren't from the straight and narrow. Sometimes, they were criminals, they would come from many different parts, like how Voq/Tyler (Shazad Latif) becomes part of Section 31. It could include anybody as long as they have the right abilities and could do things off the radar. They're definitely not the straight and narrow, there's definitely a little color and a little play in there, in terms of their personalities.[Section 31 costumes are] futuristic and it's still evolving...For instance, I brought in some of Georgiou's (Michelle Yeoh) Terran sensibilities into her costume. You'll still see that as the season goes on. there's still a bit of Emperor Georgiou in her Section 31 look. And for Leland (Alan Van Sprang), I wanted it to feel like a uniform, but not be a uniform. So he does have uniform-esque like jackets that he wears, and we did them out of leather, which gave them a really cool look.I do remember looking up some images of Section 31 from the past and taking a little from there as well. It's sort of an evolution of many things. I think I had a lot of references of Black Ops units and things like that, so just pulling from there as well and making it a little different from that, too...so that it had its own feel.Do you have any favorite costumes this season?I think I really liked L'Rell's (Mary Chieffo) dress and the guards. That was a lot of fun, we did some really cool techniques building those. I also like what Amanda (Mia Kirshner) wore as well, and making little Spock's (Liam Hughes) costumes were fun. I feel like we did a lot of really great things this year, so it's hard to pick favorites. Those are some of the ones I feel very proud of.Are there any costuming surprises this season you can reveal?I feel like there's quite a lot, and I know I'm not allowed to talk about those, but the storyline has been really awesome this season. Spock's (Ethan Peck) journey is going to be great, and Spock and Sonequa [Martin-Green]'s journey is going to be awesome and through all of those things, there's been a lot of great opportunities for us to bring some great costumes out. As we go forward, you're going to be really excited, I can say that for sure. You're really going to enjoy it because the story is great. It's a great season.