Quick links: Breaking Election Invest Bitcoin Syria North Korea Hot clicks Scandal Topless
www.paywallnews.com Only News Behind Paywalls
Telegraph / Life - Entertain

Little Women: the story behind the 'homemade' costumes- and why Maya Hawke still wears her Victorian coat out and about in New York 

Gentle Meg, headstrong Jo, delicate Beth, pretty Amy- the March sisters of Little Women are as clearly drawn and ripe for ‘Which one are you?


Gentle Meg, headstrong Jo, delicate Beth, pretty Amy- the March sisters of Little Women are as clearly drawn and ripe for ‘Which one are you?’ quizzes as the characters of Sex and the City. Which must make adapting Louisa May Alcott’s classic coming-of-age story for a new audience somewhat intimidating.

“It has a resurgence every 10 or 20 years. Something like that can make it a bit nerve-wracking -- you think everybody’s going to compare it to what came before,” says Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, the costume designer behind the new miniseries based on the book.

A wedding scene from Little WomenCredit:Patrick Redmond

Having read the book to her daughter when she designed the costumes for a stage production at Dublin’s Gate Theatre in 2011, Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh came to the BBC project “very familiar” with the story. “These four girls and their mother loved each other so much and yet were real individuals,” she says. “It’s really just a matter of trying to bring the character out in the costumes.”

She did that by using the costumes to amplify each girl’s character traits. Meg, the eldest, is the most proper of the sisters. “She’s very doll-like in her silhouette- she would have lots of petticoats under her skirts.” Scarlet fever-stricken Beth “is somebody who doesn’t go in for any kind of ostentation,” and Amy, the spoiled baby of the family, “is the girl who is so feminine and so pretty all the time, and happy to get to wear the really fancy silk dresses after she gets married.”

Jo, the character based on Alcott herself and played by Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, was “the easiest one”: “There always is that kind of tomboyish quality. She doesn’t wear trousers- that would just be silly- but her dresses can look slightly… limp. It just enables her to be able to run around and climb trees.” That shifts when she goes to work as a governess in New York and her costumes take on a more mature tone. “I wanted to convey the sense of somebody who’s becoming aware of a more literary and artistic milieu.”

Maya Hawke as Jo March in Little WomenCredit:Patrick Redmond

The greatest challenge in the project was the characters’ growth. “From a costume point of view, there is huge development within the characters… We see the girls go from being young teenagers who are still at school to young women trying to make their way in life.”

Many of the outfits or accessories - like Jo's lemonade-stained gloves and Meg's pinching high heels - were designed based on direct, detailed descriptions in Alcott’s text. “The story just gives and gives and gives. From a costume point of view, it’s a bit of a dream job,” Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh says. “Sometimes you’re hitting your head against a wall, thinking, ‘My god, who is this person and what are we going to do with them?’, whereas with Little Women, it’s telling you all the time who they are and where they're going, and you just need to try to respect that.”

Jo, Beth and Meg March in a scene from Little WomenCredit:Patrick Redmond

Before Little Women, Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh costumed Gillian Anderson’s DSI Stella Gibson in The Fall and worked on the 2008 adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, among other projects. Most of her period-drama work has focussed on the more recent past than Little Women, which is set in the 1860s, during the American Civil War. She and her team made 90% of the costumes for the main cast and found an unlikely resource for the remainder in Italian costume houses. “The Italians have done a lot of films set in the 1860s, thankfully. We were able to find costumes that would work for Concord, Massachusetts, which is quite amazing.”

The fashions of the era are surprisingly well-documented in books and magazines that chronicled women’s wartime spirit- “a bit like reading accounts of British women in the Second World War, as the make do and mend mentality is very much there,” Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh says. Crinolines were very popular, but she mostly eschewed these “cumbersome” layers because the March girls worked and had chores.

Reading a letter with Marmee March, their motherCredit:Patrick Redmond

“The girls had a small wardrobe. They wore the same dresses a lot and made their own clothes, that idea of things being homemade was very important to me.”

At least some of the designs still seem relevant today. Hawke kept two of the Victorian-inspired coats she wore as Jo, including a waxed-cotton design the costume team made for her time in New York. “I can just imagine her wandering around New York on a day like today with her jeans and one of these Victorian coats, looking amazing,” she says. “I loved Maya’s reaction to it.”

ADS