‘Dune’ Costume Designers Were Inspired by Everything From Balenciaga to Tarot Cards to Insects

TheWrap magazine: “It was clear that Denis wanted this psychological, multilayered political drama,” Jacqueline West and Bob Morgan say

This story about the costumes of “Dune” first appeared in the Below-the-Line Issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Denis Villeneueve was very clear with costume designers Jacqueline West and Bob Morgan about what “Dune” was and what it wasn’t. He wasn’t looking for sci-fi or steampunk, and that’s exactly why he wanted West and Morgan in the first place.

“It was clear that Denis wanted this psychological, multilayered, political drama peppered with mysticism that was right up my alley,” said West, who had initially been reluctant to take on the sci-fi classic. “Immediately I read the book, and I was hooked.”

West, a three-time Oscar nominee most recently for “The Revenant,” had never done a futuristic film, let alone worked in close collaboration with a partner the way she did with Morgan, whose resume includes “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” But together they created the unified look that served Frank Herbert’s universe. Villeneuve “gave us a lot of freedom to create,” Morgan added, “and also was just so collaborative.”

“Dune” Concept costume artwork (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Everything had its own inspiration. For House Atreides, Timothée Chalamet was outfitted in what they called “Mod-eval,” Medieval-rooted costumes drawn from Romanov paintings, tying in with the idea of the end of a dynasty. The desert tribe of the Fremens had wraps that resembled ancient nomads and pictures from Tuareg salt caravans, as well as the films of David Lean. The elegant yet simple silk gowns worn by Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) were modeled off paintings by Goya and Giotto, plus the work of another Spanish icon, Cristóbal Balenciaga. You might find the look of the Bene Gesserit sorceresses in tarot cards and chess pieces. The evil Harkonnens were like insects, with the leather textured to resemble a bug’s shell. And if hulking armor was good enough for the Knights Templar, it surely would be good enough for the Atreides army.

“You have to start somewhere,” West explained. “It was so big and it was so much work,” Morgan added, “we leap-frogged a lot.”

“Dune’s” stillsuits worn in the harsh desert are a prime example, with each needing to be a “bespoke” outfit that could stretch, move and be molded to fit every body type, whether it’s Chalamet, Ferguson or Jason Momoa. To construct each one, nearly 150 individual pattern pieces had to be crafted separately by artisans Morgan hired from across Europe. They worked tirelessly on prototypes and comprehensive designs before showing Villeneuve a single outfit. 

House Atreides concept artwork (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

They had virtually no rules, except one: no zippers or buttons, which “seemed archaic,” West said. A shirt design worn by Chalamet and Momoa was inspired by a famous Omar Sharif shirt from “Doctor Zhivago”—but rather than buttons, it laced up with rare earth magnets lined within the shirt, which caused problems because Momoa’s character was supposed to wear his shirt open most of the time.

“(Chalamet’s) shirt would just flip up and close, and it would go (click, click, click, click),” West said, making popping noises. “When Duncan Idaho (Momoa) is wearing the same shirt, we had to take all the metals out and put pennies in, because every time he would move the shirt, it would close automatically.”

Dune - Denis Villeneuve and collaborators
Left to right: sound editor Theo Green, cinematographer Greig Fraser, editor Joe Walker, sound editor Mark Mangini, visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert, composer Hans Zimmer, director Denis Villeneuve, costume designer Jacqueline West, production designer Patrice Vermette, costume designer Bob Morgan

Read more from TheWrap’s “Dune” package here:

Making ‘Dune’ – Here’s How Denis Villeneuve and His Team Pulled Off Sci-Fi Epic (Video)

Why ‘Dune’ Production Designers Built a ‘Visual Bible’ Before Day One of Shooting

‘Dune’ Cinematographer Still Finds Sand in His Luggage 2 Years After the Shoot

The Sound of ‘Dune’: The Giant Worm Was Hard, but the Magical Voice Was Harder

Why ‘Dune’ Editor Traveled to Budapest But Wouldn’t Go on the Set

Why ‘Dune’s’ Biggest Visual Effects Challenge Wasn’t the Worms But the Sand

‘Dune’ Composer Hans Zimmer Reveals the Note That ‘Tore the Enamel Off My Teeth’

Read more from the Below-the-Line Issue here.

Wrap Below-the-Line issue - Dune