Interview: Dracula's Costume Designer

Interview: Dracula's Costume Designer

24 September 2018

 Cleo Pettitt, costume designer for Bram Stoker’s Dracula talks about her inspirations for designing the costumes in the show. 

Cleo's sketches for Count Dracula  show three different attires - dressing gown, long black cape and top hat, and a similar suited version without cape and hatCleo's sketches for Count Dracula

What has been your main source of inspiration for designing the costumes for this production of Dracula?

I went back and read Bram Stoker’s book initially, to get the feel of how it was originally conceived. Then I found amazing source material in the work of Frank Meadows Sutcliffe, a pioneering Victorian photographer who captured the working classes of Whitby. They are great references for the ordinary clothes of the exact time and place we are representing. The Middle to Upper Classes are much better documented so this helped cover all bases. 

Are the costumes of the period or will they be contemporary?

They are essentially period but with a nod to today. We are trying to tell a timeless story and it’s important to not alienate the audience by making it into a historic drama. Tastes have changed so much that what might once have been a sexy nightdress now looks very frumpy. The same goes for hairstyles and this would hamper the story we are trying to tell so we have made some adjustments. 

Can you tell us anything about Count Dracula’s costume?

We see him both at his castle where he has been for a very long time as well as rejuvenated and making a fresh start in London. So we have two very different looks for him. I can also tell you that the actor is very handsome and a striking 6’4. 

Has designing costumes for this production presented you with any difficulties or obstacles to overcome?

Myself, the director and the team spent a long time trying to work out how the ensemble should be costumed. In a way they represent the outside world, while slowly becoming affected by the dark force of Dracula. We wanted to avoid a costume parade of characters and try to tie them all together with a palate; let them just emerge from the crowd and filter back in. 

Which costume has been the most challenging to create?

Lady Renfield’s but I can’t tell you why as I can’t give anything away!

Could you tell us a bit about the costume design process?

As I said above, it’s firstly reading the script and any background material, then researching the period thoroughly. After that it’s about getting to the core of the character and talking this through with the director so you have a clear picture of every aspect, from personal qualities to social standing. And
after that it’s making sure it works as a picture with everyone on the stage together. 

Do you have any special pieces of costume?

We found a waistcoat at Angels Costume Hire in London previously worn by Christopher Lee; his name is sewn into it. We will be getting that in somewhere.