[Editor’s Note: The new movie “Equals” presented an interesting challenge for costume designer Alana Morshead, who alongside co-designer Abby O’Sullivan, had to capture what clothing would look like in a world where humans had freed themselves of emotions. While the movie does take place in the future, director Drake Doremus didn’t want a technology-driven dystopia like we are used to seeing in theaters and was reaching for something quite different. We asked Morshead to take us through her process of creating the characters’ uniforms and what inspired their unique style.]
Before reading the “Equals” script, director Drake Doremus described to me the futuristic love story he was creating with writer Nathan Parker. He described it as an emotionless utopia, where feelings have been eradicated leading to no love, hate or war. There is a disease some have called Switched on Syndrome, or SOS, where you can begin to feel emotions like lovers Nia (Kristen Stewart) and Silas (Nicholas Hoult).
Having only his words to imagine this world, my mind began spinning on who these people were and what they might look like. After reading the script, I was completely drawn to how meticulous and precise the characters are. Everything they do and everything they own has a function, a reason for its existence. The character’s apartments have only what they need. The food they eat is nutritious and they have respect for their fellow humans and environment around them.
Drake asked that I approach “Equals” as a love story set in a futuristic world, not a sci-fi film. There is very little technology in the movie’s depiction of the world. The characters prefer face-to-face communication and do not have cell phones or computers. With this type of environment resonating in my imagination, I stripped away any thoughts of it looking sci-fi and decided to be as minimal as possible; their clothing is influenced by their world. Many of the locations, which were mostly in Japan, are large architectural buildings engulfed in lavish greenery, yet if you get up close to a building you will see the beautiful details in the concrete. I approached the wardrobe like this, you may see a sea of white clothing from afar, but up close there are uniquely different shades of white and intricate stitching details, almost as if the characters themselves are tiny pieces of architecture walking around within the larger scales of things.
The biggest challenge I had, and the first thing I had to think about, was finding something that would be suitably wearable for both men and women. I knew I wanted to keep the costumes androgynous since they were a gender neutral society which is highlighted in the lover’s secret meeting spot: a restroom.
Illustrated By Michael Wilkinson
My boards were influenced by geometric shapes, clean lines and sharp edges. The jacket of the collar slips perfectly around the shirt neck. No buttons, zippers or velcro are visible, everything is tucked away and easy to put on. The character’s shoes are slip-ons, no fuss or distractions with laces. It was a mindless task getting dressed, even with your eyes closed. We had many sketches of the jacket and shirt being much more detailed and intricate, but always ended up going back to the most minimal, simple shirt and jacket option. The classic white, button-up collared shirt has been around for so long, I believe it will be with us forever! And the three-piece white suit is a timeless look too – I didn’t want to watch this film 10 years from now and think it was dated.
The decision to dress everyone in white was built upon what I imagined the leaders/starters of this society would have taken into consideration. I based every decision on who these people were as human beings and how it would be functional in daily life – I even created a check list that I imagined they would make. The “Equals” world is fairly colorless – white represents their fresh start, which is pure and innocent, as they are themselves.
Working with Drake is a designer’s dream, as he allows you to push things creatively. He understands emotional choices and would actually prefer you make choices based on a feeling. At the beginning of pre-production Drake gave the heads of departments a CD of beautiful ambient songs and sounds to help inspire our creative journey, which I thought was fantastic. Having music to move me (not just the script) was a new experience that brought up adjectives, such as soft, fragile, secretive, and passionate to name a few, that were incorporated into the designs.
Stewart and Hoult were also very open and trusting in each creative decision we took, even though I’m sure they grew quite tired of wearing the same thing every day for months. There were multiples made for the both of them, which can be a challenge for a designer when you only have one look to express who the characters are, especially when you are used to an entire film having wardrobe changes and character development. I am so proud of this project, and excited to invite viewers to see this world that I was so fortunate to be a part of.
UPDATE: Costume Designer Abby O’Sullivan has made serious accusations about the validity of this article. IndieWire examined this complicated issue further in this investigative piece.