The Designer Behind the Wild ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Costumes: Trish Summerville

The Designer Behind the Wild 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Costumes: Trish Summerville
The Designer Behind the Wild 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Costumes: Trish Summerville

Who dreamed up and executed all those crazy costumes in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”? Relatively new to moviemaking, American costume designer Trish Summerville is known for music videos (Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake) and creating show-stoppers for music stars such as Adam Lambert, Ricky Martin and Janet Jackson at stadium concerts around the world. That’s why she was asked by director Francis Lawrence to create eye-popping outfits, especially for archer heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Capitol fashion icon Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) on “Catching Fire.”

But Summerville, who worked with Lawrence years back on music videos and assisted costume designer Michael Kaplan on Fincher’s “The Game” before jumpstarting her film career with Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” also knows how to do character work to serve the story. Her biggest challenge on “Catching Fire”: managing the sheer scale of the project. It was all she could do to stay ahead of each shooting day.

While the awards season tends to favor high-brow –often period–movies such as “Saving Mr. Banks” and “American Hustle” from well-established insiders such as Catherine Martin (“The Great Gatsby”) and Patricia Norris (“12 Years a Slave”), craft voters often veer away from critics’ darlings in favor of idiosyncratic work like this. Remember, “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” won the Best Costume Oscar. 

Summerville arrived on the second installment of the franchise; Lawrence brought her in before there was even a final script. For preparation she watched the first movie again and read the second book, “Catching Fire.”

Music videos and concert tours also need a story line and theme, says Summerville. “I did tours for a long time which gave me a hands-on approach to costume designing, I was thinking outside of the box.” 

Early on Summerville tries to figure out what the director wants as she does a script breakdown. “It starts with the director, his vision of what the world is going to look like,” she says. “He knows the environment and the characters’ back story.”

Summerville and Lawrence talked about the color palette and heightening the fashion level in the second film as Panem’s President Snow fights against ensuing rebellion. “We wanted to make everything more dramatic and darker and heightened, throughout the film,” she says. “We didn’t have to stay in one time, as fashion in the Capitol changes constantly. They have an insatiable appetite for clothing, food and entertainment, so we could change the overall feel. With Peta and Katniss, we changed how they live in their district as victors, with access to new clothes, to show their transition to maturity.”

The grey oatmeal nubby wool cowl sweater worn by Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has proved so popular that it was recently named the most sought-after sweater this season, admits Summerville: She went to Maria Dora, a local LA designer she found at the Church Boutique, where fledging designers do one-of-a-kind pieces with yard swatches and blended colors. “It’s a piece that I wanted to show a homespun loved look and rustic appeal,” says Summerville, “something her mom could have knitted for her, with an elegant shape, modern.” 

She had fun collaborating with Lawrence: “She’s great, she has a tiny little waist, she’s curvy and lean. She’s a joy to dress, great in period pieces as well, great strong shoulders. She’s very open to dialogue on the different consumes, open to trying things as you try and cram as many shapes ands silhouettes as you can.”

For the dramatic chariot entrance of the Hunger Games victors in the Capitol, Summerville created companion pieces for Katniss and Peta. When she met Josh Hutcherson, she thought, “he’s a great dude, athletic, comfortable with himself. Let’s man him up. We didn’t get this manliness the first time. He has great arms, muscular, so we gave him a sleeveless laser-cut leather body of fabric lined with bronze and gold metallic fabric that shines through leather pants. Hers is a dress with a long train in back.” Summerville had to work out with the VFX supervisor how to scan the fabric “so that flames would come through holes of the fabric, so that it looks like it comes from within.”

Katniss’s dramatic white wedding dress had a function: to spin and light up. Summerville turned to Jakarta designer Tex Saverio, whose gowns have been worn by Lady Gaga, to create a white dress that bursts into flames as she spins and reveals the dark blue mockingjay dress underneath. Summerville and Saverio worked together during Skype sessions via illustrations and sketches. 

The top bodice is made out of a metal cage to the waist with feathers around the bottom. Katniss is on fire as that dress burns away to ashes and she spins out in the mockingjay dress, made of layers of silk chiffon and printed bird feathers– blue birds, peacocks, bluejays and mockingbirds. Summerville worked with an illustrator as they laid out photos of feathers, compiled then into a print and transferred that onto fabric to assemble the dress. 

The show demanded such a volume of costumes that Summerville worked with several designers, “doing lots of building and designing and loans and borrows,” she says, “buying, repurposing. We had very little prep time, several principle actors and multiple changes on 5800 extras. You do everything you can to get everyone clothed. I was doing 106 fittings a day for 30 days to get all the fittings done while we were shooting. I had complete creative freedom. But it was very labor intensive.”

Other favorite costumes were Joanna’s chariot bodysuit, created with 3-D printing, and Finnick’s chariot interview day skirt, “made out of dried fish pelts.”

Summerville overhauled the look of the peacekeepers because “they looked too friendly as they were threatened by heightened rebellion and uproar in the district,” she says. So she made them more “menacing to remove their humanity, so we would almost question whether they were completely human or structural shells. I wanted them to look like a praying mantis with a skeletal white shape.” 

Movies that do not reference a specific time and place are harder to conjure. “You can do no research for a period,” she says. “You’re trying to see a future where you feel it should land. I used the book’s flamboyant outlandish colorful world, the fantasy of the capital, and all the different characters, appropriately dressing them so they were viable and would play really well on film.” 

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