'The Green Knight' Costume Designer On Crafting Dev Patel's Divine Outfits [Interview]

The Green Knight feels like a film from another time. It's like director David Lowery excavated it from beneath some strange ruins in the Irish moors, and it emerged fully formed as it is — a haunting, breathtaking piece of Arthurian mythology come to life. This is aided, in no small part, by the exquisite outfits and armor designed by Malgosia Turzanska, a costume designer who has worked on Stranger Things, Hell or High Water, and You Were Never Really Here.

Turzanska was inspired by medieval paintings to create the look of The Green Knight costumes, with a little sprinkling of the surreal fantasy that permeates the film.

"It definitely is inspired by early medieval times, but it's absolutely inaccurate," Turzanska told me in a conversation about The Green Knight over Zoom. "So it is definitely a fantasy movie with fantasy costumes."

But Turzanska didn't just craft the kind of fantasy costumes you'd expect from a sword-and-sorcery film about King Arthur. There are no light, sparkling fabrics or shining pieces of armor — everything is frayed and muddy and somber, with perhaps the exception of Gawain's (Dev Patel) bright yellow cloak. This was all intentional — partly to reflect the "mud and the muck" of the Irish countryside where the film was shot, but also to bring to life the religious imagery of the time. The royals wear crowns that look like halos, as inspired by medieval art where all the deific figures have small halos around their heads. There is a lot of metal because the fifth or sixth century clothes that Turzanska researched had "metal threads that were woven through cotton or wool clothing, but the clothes itself just decompose and the only thing that stayed was metal." It's a fitting piece of costuming for a film that explores the unforgiving power of nature, which consumes everything and leaves nothing behind.

I chatted with Turzanska about balancing the religious and pagan imagery of the film, what went into crafting the film's notorious girdle, and why Dev Patel named one of his outfits after Tilda Swinton.

First, can you tell me about the historic and maybe non-historic inspirations you drew from for the costuming of The Green Knight?

So, it definitely is inspired by early medieval times, but it's absolutely inaccurate. So it is definitely a fantasy movie with fantasy costumes. But I did start researching by going to museums and looking at very early medieval pieces. And what was really inspiring was the fact that from the 5th or 6th century, there is nothing that remains except for metal. So, pieces of armor and pieces of jewelry. And also it was fascinating, metal threads that were woven through cotton or wool clothing, but the clothes itself just decompose and the only thing that stayed was metal. So that definitely inspired both the king and queen's outfits. And then of course related to the art, the idea of armor. And the crowns were inspired by the religious paintings of the time, just very, very simple halos. And I wanted to connect the royalty with the idea of divinity and how they are treated by their countrymen, how they are treated with such huge respect and love. And that they are almost divine.

Yeah. I feel like there was a really interesting intersection between the Christian religious imagery that is prevalent in Arthurian literature, and some of the pagan imagery that we get from the more natural organic elements. How did you reflect that in your costumes?

So I think the whole royal court was a little bit more controlled and more elaborate. And then when we see the... First of all, all the peasants and the poor people, there is just more elements on them, so to speak. But then seeing Gawain travel through the... oh, man, I forget the Irish expression. "The mud then the muck?" I don't know. But just through all the mud and the wetness, and just soaking in the Irish rain constantly. And seeing how nature is influencing the look of the fabric and how dirt gets into all these beautiful velvets. That was a very fun part of it.

Dev Patel's yellow cloak is perhaps the only really brightly colored costume. It's all the other more subdued outfits and colors. Can you talk about the significance of making that cloak so brightly colored and what thought went into that particular accessory?

The color of the yellow was within the script. That was there from the beginning. But then we started pulling different tones of yellow. And the one we landed on was the same yellow as the Gorse, which is the invasive plant that grows all over the countryside in Ireland, so that was connected to that. But also the fun thing about the cloak for me is that it is quilted in a shape of a thumbprint of a magnified thumb print. So that speaks to the story of the individual for me. This is his singular story that has so many different layers and goes backwards and forwards multiple times. And yet it is just him.

Oh, I really like that. So you talked, too, about him going through the mud and the muck and the changes that these beautiful velvets go through while on this journey. Was there a specific type of change that this yellow cloak was meant to go through? And did you have a very specific way of making that cloak steadily grimier throughout the film?

Yes, so we had eight multiples I believe, and it was just gradually more and more dirty and soggy. And so the one that he arrives home in is compared to the fresh one that he left his town in is unrecognizable, but still the same thumbprint.

So the girdle, too, plays a significant part of the film. And considering the part it plays and the sexual connotations it holds in both the poem and the film, did you pay particular attention in crafting it because of its importance?

Yes, definitely. So we actually started crafting it in a very different way than what we ended up with. It was woven with many different green threads and included some local and gemstones. And it just seemed like too rich and too... it just wasn't magical enough. And David was like, "Hmm, I don't know, I don't know." We kept redesigning it until we landed on this very, very simple piece that is handmade by his mother and sisters. And we watched them actually make it, and we watched what they put inside. That it is...the magic is truly on the inside of it. And from the outside, it looks just like a piece of fabric with a little bit of gold.

Was there any specific direction that David Lowery gave you for the costumes as well?

So basically I start with the sketches and I would send him sketches and we would go from there. And so, because we were building most of it, he approved the sketches pretty early on. And so we were in agreement on what it's supposed to be. But then of course, during the fittings, there's a lot of tweaking and there's... we're still finding the characters once, because we didn't know it was Dev to begin with. So it was kind of designing it in the darkness. But once you actually can put a face to the character, then there's a lot of shape-shifting takes place. And David was definitely very involved in that.

the green knight trailer newWere there any particular pieces that you were particularly proud of?

I think the crowns. They're definitely a piece that is like standing out and I'm very, very happy that we managed to make it work because I wasn't sure if that was going to fit on anyone's head and actually stay so that was really cool. I also really love the Gawain, King Gawain's outfit. Dev used to call it "The Tilda." He said he felt like Tilda Swinton in it. I also love his wife's wedding gown. That was very fun. It was just like a lot of pleated ruffles. And she literally was wrapped in it like a candy and we could unwrap her whole gown, which was very fun.

What were the pieces that were the most challenging for you?

I'm not sure. I think the girdle was the part that we were working on the longest. But other than that, it was just work. So the tree bark that made up the Green Knight's cloak, for example, I love the fact that it's a material that is literally a tree. But in order to make it work the way we needed to, I rubbed baby lotion into it for many, many hours. So that was like a physically difficult, like gruesome, not gruesome, but just like a tedious task. But I think it was worth it. I think it looks awesome in the end. And then spraying the mother and sisters' fabric, because I couldn't find one that had the right color and was a double-sided fabric that did what we needed it to do. So it was all hand sprayed on the weekends. But again, it was all just so worth. It seemed like the costumes wanted, they wanted to be there. So I just needed to put in the work.

You talked before about the taking historic inspiration as well as going with a more fantasy bent. Was there ever a time that you drew a line between, "This is too modern" and "This will take you people out of the experience"? Or were you just kind of given license to just give your interpretation of this historic meets fantasy world?

So for example, the outfit that Gawain wears at the lord and lady's castle is a raglan sleeve, which is absolutely not period correct, but it was important to me to show that he's not only in a different place, but also kind of in a different time that he moved to this, like almost to the future, so that was that. And I don't know if it, is it bothersome visually? I don't know, it worked for us, but I hope it works for others, too.

But then the king and queen's lords and ladies in waiting, they actually have a set of fake hands attached to their chests that are hollow and they can put their hands in those kind of like weird "glove" hands to... They are in a shape of praying hands, but they can also take their hands out and do other things, drink wine or pick their nose. And yet they still have a set of praying hands on their chests, so that was a thing that was definitely pushed into a completely different place. And it is not very featured, but if you look, you'll see that it's there. And that was just a nod to the holy divine presence and just the idea of like being kind of holier than thou.

Were there any particular medieval paintings that you drew from for that religious inspiration with the halos and the crowns, or was it just kind of looking at art pieces and museums and drawing from a mood and vibe from those?

It was honestly a whole bunch of medieval imagery. I was both researching, for example, at the MET, but also in museums in Poland, and then in London. I was lucky enough that I was traveling a lot while I was researching. And especially in the earlier medieval period, that was just very, very common and the very simple or simplistic, even, representation of the halos was, it was just very charming to me and very, very powerful.