Director Guillermo Del Toro’s spooky, Victorian-era thriller Crimson Peak finally hits theaters today, but while you may expect to be frightened by the ghastly ghost encounters, prepare to also witness a romantic love story unfold. Starring an unmatchable cast that includes Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, and Jessica Chastain, the film follows a wide-eyed, American beauty’s journey to a haunted English mansion where secrets are swept well under the blood-covered rug and no one is on hand for help. And though each portrayal is terrifyingly impressive, it’s the intricately pieced together costumes that we’re unable to get over.
Thanks to the genius of the film’s costume designer, Kate Hawley, the picture is filled with ornate, hand-sewn gothic gowns that depict the dark, mysterious personalities of each character. Hawley, who worked closely with Del Toro and the cast, says the project was a dream come true. “I grew up on the dark fairytales,” she told us, adding, “and [Guillermo] kind of encapsulated everything that I felt I wanted to explore myself and just beautiful work that inspires…he makes it amazing and rewarding and theatrical.”
So how did each dress come together? Hawley explains that each piece is rather heavy, despite the inclusion of light fabrics, and includes a bevy of corsets and underpinnings (up to six layers!) that help capture the movement of Victorian women. “There’s a whole etiquette that decides how you walk and how you stand. The princess corset actually goes over the hips, so it actually controlled [Chastain] right through from her hips down,” she says. “[The] corset starts at the waist and goes up. And it’s all tied but it became part of their character, so she used it with her character.”
For Chastain, wearing the corsets was a test in strength. “After wearing it for a couple of hours I’d go, ‘Kate, you gotta help me out here! This corset is tight. I can’t move my arms. Is this really what women did?’” she said. Hawley added that each star reacted differently to the costumes: “I think the difference is Mia came corset trained from Jane Eyre and it’s a thing that defines the silhouette and that allowed us to play outside of the usual period details once we anchored it in, the silhouette appropriate. But the corsets are all underpinnings and it defines the way you walk and how people move of the time. It was very important because we wear our corset differently now.”
It’s a particular pair of shoes, however, that steals the show. “The 7-inch stripper shoes are probably a little secret,” Hawley says of a pair of platforms that can’t be seen beneath Chastain’s dress. The talent says she found them inside “a porn shop up the road."
“She [Jessica] owned it and made that work and would run around on them—up and down staircases and all over,” Hawley added. “I mean we bought some period boots as well. She was born wearing 7-inch heels.”
—With reporting by Lindsay Dolak