Breaking Down the Costumes of Lesbian Drama ‘Ammonite’

Jazz Tangcay
·4-min read

Costume designer Michael O’Connor worked closely with director Francis Lee to create the period look of “Ammonite,” the new drama starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan.

In conversations, Lee wanted O’Connor to stay away from red, keeping it for scenes of romance and passion between the two lovers.

Set in the mid-19th century, O’Connor used a sea color palette for both women. When it came to Mary Anning, the real-life person paleontologist who Winslet plays, she was dressed practically instead of in classic Victorian-era dresses.

For Ronan’s Charlotte, a wealthy London woman, O’Connor added small details into her capes and dresses to represent a modern person.

Below O’Connor breaks down the looks of “Ammonite,” now playing in theaters.

WORKING WITH FRANCIS

Francis was very much in control of what the film was going to look like. There was no red and no yellow, red would only be used for moments of passion. I’d show him colors that I thought were brown and he’d say, ‘That’s red.’

We were quite restricted in a way, but he had an intention to keep it quite pared down, and that’s why there’s a lot of green.

I was interested in prints of the time. There are beautiful prints from the Smithsonian. I wanted designs with sea elements so there’s a coral design. You don’t see it, but Francis and I had secret details.

Saoirse has this cape the first time she goes to the beach and she doesn’t want to do fossilizing. It has sea colors, it’s wavy looking and there are coral designs within it.

DRESSING KATE WINSLET’S MARY ANNING

With Kate, Francis didn’t want the very feminine Victorian image for her. He wanted it to be practical.

A lot of her costumes came about by thinking about each piece and saying, ‘That shirt belonged to her father and that was from one of the fishermen.’

We specifically designed knitwear for her to wear on the beach. We researched local fishermen and what they wore. They used to make their jumpers (sweaters).

The jacket that she wears for the beach is an old naval jacket with its back tails cut off.

She also had to wear a skirt because it wasn’t feasible for her to wear just trousers under her gingham skirt which was typical of the time. It was very Mary Anning from the references I had of her, and I was always trying to bring the real Mary into the design.

The shape of her dresses was slightly old-fashioned. There’s a dress she wears with the little checks. The idea was that since her character was in front of shop, we had this very simple, very rural country dress. It was in the style of 10 years previous. It was a working-class dress with full sleeves.

She’s quite miserable when people come into the shop, and she’s not too keen on dealing with people, but it was all about being presentable for the shop.

DRESSING CHARLOTTE

“She’s very fashionable. She is rich and from London. Back in those days, they had dresses with detachable sleeves, believe it or not.

“You’d have a short-sleeved evening dress. She’s in mourning and I thought it would be great to start with a black dress and it could be her evening dress. Later we re-attached the sleeves to the very same dress and add a little cape and then it becomes a day dress. So, for two outfits, it’s one dress with a few extra bits.

“We do it again when she’s in the shop trying to persuade someone to pay quite handsomely for Mary’s fossils. It’s a short-sleeved green dress with little lace frills.

“Again, it has little coral decoration on it in a very soft green. She wears the same dress when she leaves to go to London.

“We dressed her in green and blue. Her day dresses were like the sea – sea greens and greens, but her dresses were reflecting the beautiful side of the sea.

“Mary has a red dress in one scene when she goes to London. It’s a maroon shade and going back to Francis wanting red when we have passion. Her bonnet is trimmed with red. And when Charlotte meets her, her dress has a big red bow in the London room, there’s a tiny braiding with red down her arms, and that was to relate the two girls together and you see the red picking up.”

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