Award winning costume designer Michael Kaplan spoke with Vanity Fair about his work on The Force Awakens, including the influence of Apple on the new Stormtroopers and also briefly touched on Princess Leia’s and Han Solo’s costumes.
Michael Kaplan has been working in the Hollywood film industry since 1981. He won accolades for Best Costume Design by the 1983 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards for his costume design work in Blade Runner, the first theatrically-released film he worked on as costume designer. Other film projects that Kaplan has worked on are: Flashdance, Fight Club, Seven, The Game, Panic Room, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Miami Vice, I Am Legend, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Excerpts from Vanity Fair:
Did you draw much on your Blade Runner experience for The Force Awakens?
We re-used many things, like taking old military gas masks and tubes and hoses and kind of applying them, which we did on Blade Runner, which I’ve always liked to do when I can.
Did you actually re-use any old Star Wars costumes? Are there like racks and racks of old stormtrooper uniforms in some warehouse up at Lucas Ranch?
We didn’t use anything, but I went up to George Lucas’s archives—huge building—and just spent a day going through sketches and looking just to get the tone of the movie, you know, in my guts and veins so that when I went to London I felt equipped and inspired, which I certainly did.
But the old stormtroopers uniforms would not be usable. Audiences of today have become so sophisticated that a lot of things you could get away with in the past, you can’t anymore. So the new uniforms are much heavier. Also, the action in the film required them to not be “VacuFormed” [like the old uniforms] as those all broke and cracked. These new ones are much more heavy-duty, but they are redesigned, too, they’re not the same stormtroopers.
Did you invent some kind of fashion back-story in your head to explain how the look of this galaxy might have evolved?
Maybe subconsciously, but with the stormtroopers it was more of a simplification, almost like, “What would Apple do?” J.J. wanted them to look like stormtroopers at a glance but also be different enough to kind of wow people and get them excited about the new design.
What other old looks did you update?
I remembered when I saw the original movie I was a little bit confused by the warring factions, because the uniform colors kind of overlapped—both [the rebels and the Empire] had some khakis and olive, and I kind of thought, Now I’m in a position to do something about this. So I made two very, very clean-cut palettes. The Empire is in very cold blacks and grays and metallics and teal blues. The Rebels are in khakis and olives and some oranges—warmer colors. So there are very clear separations and you know who you’re looking at when you see them. Also, the lines of the costumes. The Rebels are kind of wools and natural fibers, cottons, and the Empire is very hard-lined, almost like Thierry Mugler. Very kind of edgy. The haircuts are these three-quarter parts, which were big in the 1930s, so that’s kind of recalling something from the past.
Tell me about designing for Leia and Han and Luke. They’re such iconic characters and they had such iconic looks. Do you reference what we’ve seen in the past, or not at all?
A lot of it had to do with what was right for the story and the action, but a lot of it was also, you know, people have a way of dressing. I wouldn’t really be doing my job if I thought, Hey, let’s redesign this character totally and put them in colors they’ve never worn. It just wouldn’t make any sense. But you also want new, interesting things to look at. You want enough change to be there.
For the full interview visit Vanity Fair