Costume Secrets From ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’

Posted May 30, 2018 9:47 p.m. EDT

Traveling in a horse-drawn buggy, a group of schoolgirls dressed in white pass through a small Australian town and pull off their gloves, their expressions giddy and relieved. They are headed to a picnic — and a tragedy — in the Australian countryside, and their headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard, had instructed them to wear their gloves until they escape the townspeople’s watchful glares.

The scene is part of Amazon’s six-episode remake of “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” the story of the disappearance of three girls and a teacher during a school outing. It was famous first as a novel by Joan Lindsay and then as a 1975 film by Peter Weir that was so moody that it has served as inspiration for designers as diverse as Alexander McQueen, Erdem Moralioglu and Raf Simons.

They were all taken by the dark-edged innocence of the original designs, and now the remake is set to do the same for a new generation.

Starring Natalie Dormer as Mrs. Appleyard, a headmistress hiding a secret about her past, “the whole thing is about repression,” said Larysa Kondracki, one of the show’s directors. The costumes are not decoration, Kondracki said, but an extended symbol of the societal oppression women faced during the Victorian era.

“These girls have to dress themselves up to constrain themselves into a form that was expected of them,” Kondracki said.

Here, Edie Kurzer, the show’s costume designer, describes the genesis of what may be the most influential looks in the series.

Dark Secrets

The series opens with Mrs. Appleyard, dressed as a widow, surveying the house that she will purchase and turn into a school for girls.

“We always knew that opening shot had to have an impact to immediately establish what the Appleyard character was about. It’s often quite difficult wearing black in film or TV. I don’t usually use a lot of black because it disappears. So we did a lot of beadwork. It was about finding things that would reflect the light. Our costume attachment spent two weeks sewing all of those beads onto the back and the front. The beading shows her wealth, all that detail, but from a practical point of view, it gives a lot more definition to the outfit. I bought the bones of that coat that she’s wearing as a starting point. Then we completely pulled it apart.”

Layers of Innocence

When the four girls break off from the rest of their schoolmates during a picnic, they’re wearing summery white dresses.

“The white dresses are very much a look from Victorian times. We asked ourselves, ‘Are we going to take any artistic license or are we going to stick with the iconic picnic dresses?’ It seemed obvious that we had to stick with what was of the time, of the period. Though it’s a lighter fabric, it still had all the layers underneath. That would apply to fairly young women all the way up to the older ladies. We were very true to the layering, of having a liner underneath the corset, and the corset, and the corset cover, and the chemise, and then the outfit.”

Character Details

Before the girls leave for the Valentine’s Day picnic, they take a group photo with Mrs. Appleyard, whose red dress stands out against their all-white palette.

“That braid that goes around the edge of that dress around the bodice for me was a key to her character. It was quite bold and strong, but it wasn’t busy in the way a lace or something floral would be.

“I bought the braid in Sydney from a woman who had the most incredible shop when I was a teenager. In Australia there isn’t a lot of stuff as old as the 1900s. She had undergarments and bloomers and bits of lace. One of the things she was also selling was vintage sari trim, for Indian saris. I bought a number of them from this woman without knowing necessarily what I was going to do with them. You stockpile stuff that feels right and start putting those things together. I built the costume around that trim. It was a real eureka moment.”

The Favorite Accessory

Mrs. Appleyard is shown several times wearing a pair of small sunglasses that look similar to ones recently worn by Kendall Jenner, Rihanna and Bella Hadid.

“The glasses came into play as a bit of a mask. Having such small ones, you’re still aware of her eyes and the person behind the glasses. That was the shape that was quite common from the late 1800s into the 1900s. They kind of became everybody’s favorite. They snuck into a few more scenes than was the idea initially.”

Mixing and Not Matching

The most religious of the teachers working at Appleyard College for Young Ladies is Dora Lumley, played by Yael Stone of “Orange Is the New Black.”

“Lumley was very much a religious person, a simple kind of woman from a quite lowly background. Her outfits weren’t matched very well and were quite busy in that Victorian way, in exact opposition to what we were trying to do with Appleyard. For Lumley, it was cotton and it was dark colors, and it wasn’t particularly flattering in any way.”

Degrees of Revelation

Samara Weaving of “SMILF” plays Irma Leopold, a student at Appleyard College for Young Ladies who disappears.

“Irma was an international traveler and had to be distinctively different. She goes through the development of becoming a young woman. We were trying to reflect that in the costume. When she goes to the fete, her outfit has a lot more netting and lace and things you can see through. There’s a lot more skin revealed than on anybody else. By the end, when she’s leaving to go back to England, she wears a mushroom-y kind of silk, and has quite dark red gloves on and a hat and a gold sort of cape. She’s still very expensive in what she’s wearing, but it’s a little more demure in how much skin gets revealed.”