Anna Robbins, costume designer of Downton Abbey: interview

Image source: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

Back on the big screen since its first cinematic installment in 2019, before the world was turned upside down, the Crawleys of “Downton Abbey” and their in-house team once again deliver elegance, intrigue and fashion in their second film, “Downton Abbey: A New time.” The new film picks up where the last one left off, set at the end of the Roaring Twenties in 1928 before the world slipped into a global economic depression.

Much needed in a world currently struggling with despair and grief, the film feels decidedly more joyful and humorous than the last film and far more so than the series that brought the denizens of the English domain into our homes and hearts. There are also quite a few adventures to be had, from a wedding to a holiday in the south of France to the entrance of Hollywood movie stars making a movie in the movie.

An epic undertaking like this during a global pandemic required the expertise of a costume designer who already knew the Crawleys and their company quite well. Thus, costume designer Anna Robbins was back at the helm of the dressing room after having costumed the last two seasons of the series and the first film.

“The cast and crew are like family, and it’s been a wonderful experience working with them again,” Robbins told POPSUGAR of working on the second film. “We were all excited and grateful to have this opportunity anyway, but the fact that it was during a pandemic made it special in a different way because we got to see each other and work. The pandemic definitely made things more difficult because we had to operate in a very different way. There were a lot of impacts on the costume department, but we were able to overcome all of these challenges.

Photo: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

Image source: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

None of these challenges are read on screen from the start, when audiences join in the joy of Lucy and Tom’s wedding to launch the film. “It was amazing and a privilege to have the chance to design a bridal look at Downton,” Robbins said. “It definitely comes with some pressure because you want to make it perfect and do the character justice with that very special dress. Knowing that was the opening scene of the movie, we knew we wanted to have an impactful look for the Lucy’s dress, but also for the congregation that we were seeing in the church that was both upstairs and downstairs and everyone was in their finery so we were able to look at the color and really compose the scene to let all the colors work together. There were so many people on screen at the ceremony that Robbins certainly had his work cut out for him.

For Lucy’s stunning dress, Robbins was inspired by a photograph of a 1928 Chanel dress and another fashion illustration from the time. “What really appealed to me was an asymmetrical hemline and fluffy layers of tulle,” Robbins said of the piece. “I wanted to make it feel like it was really fresh and contemporary and cutting edge for its time. I wanted Lucy to be able to really pull up her skirt and have a good dance at the reception, so there was kind of an A From there it was all about creating drama with a low back, a beautiful bateau neckline with chiffon and silver embroidery laid over the satin, so you have lots of pretty textural play.

Lucy also wears some incredible authentic period jewelry, including a diamond and pearl tiara and a beautiful Van Cleef & Arpels diamond brooch that she wears on her bodice. “It was a great costume to design and a great way to introduce Lucy to this new world that she’s publicly a part of,” Robbins said. “We were really able to express her personality through her clothes in a way that we couldn’t do as much in her wardrobe as a maid in the first film.”

Although the film only moves forward a year after the first film, there are noticeable changes as we all know the style can change drastically within a year. And there were definite shifts between 1920s and 1930s fashions that were already showing in the looks of wealthy women like Lady Mary. “She was always very edgy and ahead of her style,” Robbins said of the character of Michelle Dockery, who is working with director Jack Barber to turn her silent movie set on the estate into a talkie. . “We were looking at 1930s silhouettes with her, and it was really exciting.”

Robbins also dressed Lady Edith in trousers for the first time as she turns her holiday in the South of France into a work trip where she covers the lavish new home bequeathed to one of Downton’s youngest. She plays on the rise of real-life pajama sets at the time, popularized by fashion designers like Paul Poiret and Callot Soeurs in the region.

“In Downton, this period and in the upper grades, there was a tremendous amount of etiquette when it came to what you should wear and when,” Robbins says. “Travelling is no exception to this, so you would be traveling in a traveling suit and you would have your hat and gloves in your bag. We started in Yorkshire, so we had English-style traveling suits made The weight of the men’s suits were tweed and the hats were felt.”

Then, when the Crawleys and crew arrive at the villa, you see them switch to their southern French wardrobe – a really exciting and surprising turn as we’ve yet to see the family quite so relaxed and sun-kissed. This shines through with lighter fabrics and a softer color palette, with the women in pink and yellow and the men in cream linen. “We presented Robert in separate pieces, which is a really lovely look that I’ve been waiting to do,” Robbins said of the Downton patriarch. “He was wearing a Grenadier Guards blazer with separate trousers, including gray trousers to leave and then pale tawny trousers when he arrived at the villa. Little things like that show they would have had an outfit for every occasion and situation.. He always happens like this typically English gentleman meeting this typically French gentleman.

Photo: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

Image source: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

And in case you were wondering, there were real similarities in dress between the aristocratic classes of different countries at the time, especially between London and Paris. “The rules in the south of France are much looser because it’s a place where people start going on holiday at the height of summer at the time and the pajama brigade is made up of women who wear pants,” says Robbins. “Men’s fashion becomes more casual with the double-breasted suit jacket replacing the waistcoat, which would have made them much cooler. The Crawleys who show up with a small portion of their staff are much more stripped down and relaxed. l environment of the villa, which contrasts pleasantly with Downton.”

But the Crawleys and their beloved staff aren’t the only characters making waves this time around, as two Hollywood movie stars are thrown into the mix: Myrna Dalgleish and Guy Dexter. “It was a great opportunity to design for these really interesting new characters who came from completely different backgrounds and have exciting potential to push the boundaries of storylines and the way they dress,” Robbins said of of the duo who transformed Downton Abbey into a Hollywood movie set. “I had a very good coder on this movie called Maja Meschede, and we worked quite closely on Myrna’s look. Maja came up with this beautiful costume for her arrival which sums up who the character is and what we wanted do with her. She’s dressed in very icy colors, although she warms up a bit throughout the movie.” Myrna is completely glamorous in Tinseltown, with headlines, exaggerated necklines and a definite “more is more” energy. Meschede and Robbins looked to Hollywood stars of the day, including Clara Bow, Louise Brooks and Marlene Dietrich, to create her jaw-dropping ensembles.

Photo: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

Image source: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC

The film also takes a dark turn, with the passing of Downton matriarch Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. The moment unfolds over a few scenes, with the family gathering in their bedroom for their last breaths and farewells, and then their funeral, which is a moving and royal affair. “I had to design the looks knowing that they would work together in a lot of different setups and in a lot of different scenes, coming together in this very intimate space,” Robbins said of the first scene with the family. “The palette had to be harmonious, without anything sticking out inside.”

For the funeral, almost everyone is in black, but some staff are in soft colors of gray and brown as they may not have had black attire for the occasion. “It was about what these characters would have had, so some of them would have been wearing their Sunday outfits,” she says. “Some of the characters wore the same look at the wedding at the start as they did at the funeral at the end. We wanted to represent their characters through costumes, but we wanted different textures, fabrics, details and accessories, so we might add interest.”

Overall, this second “Downton Abbey” movie feels more open and joyful than any previous chapter in the saga. “We need fun times, laughs and upliftment more than ever,” Robbins said. And this movie delivers all of the above in spades.

Image source: Ben Blackall / © 2022 Focus Features LLC