Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Interview: Costume Designer Bernadette Croft Talks About Blending the Past and the Future in ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ [EXCLUSIVE]

James Dimmock/Paramount+

Strange New Worlds is hitting its midseason stride and stunning all of our hearts in the process. I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with costume designer Bernadette Croft about her experience designing for the hit Trek series. We spoke about her transition from Discovery to Strange New Worlds, what it’s like being a new fan and carrying the weight and fan expectations of such a huge franchise, and most importantly, just how they manage to deal with Captain Pike’s epic bouffant hairdo.

Nerds and Beyond: Hi! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. I was wondering, what sort of research did you do to prepare for designing the new Strange New Worlds uniforms, and how much Star Trek have you had to watch now?

Bernadette Croft: Oh, my gosh, well, I’m a new fan. I would say I’ve been a fan for like five years. I didn’t actually grow up on Star Trek, I was kind of more of a fantasy girl. I loved my Princess Bride and Labyrinth and Dark Crystal. But I actually worked on Discovery with Gersha Phillips as her assistant. And since working with her and seeing her attention to detail, she opened my world up to sci-fi. And I’m so hooked. 

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So of course, I watched all of Discovery. I worked on it for some episodes in season one. And then I circled back and co-designed a couple of episodes in season three. So I feel like being in that timeline was really important for our show, to make sure there’s continuity there. And I also touched on TOS, of course, because that’s what we really want to lean into. You really want to lean into that nostalgia and that kind of bright, colorful, joyful, kind of vibe. So yes, I did do my research. I watched some films. But there’s like 55 years of Trek, like, I can’t get through it all. So I’ve still got more to see. But I love that. Myself and my team, we are a part of this iconic legacy. It’s really exciting. 

Nerds and Beyond: Which of the episodes or movies that you have seen were your favorite?

Bernadette Croft: So, in TOS, “Amok Time” would really be a favorite of mine. I love T’Pring, I love T’Pau. I love the Vulcan, regal kind of statuesque vibes that they give out – especially T’Pring’s silver gown and her hair and ring. And I definitely did touch on that in episode one of Strange New Worlds. We put Gia (Sandhu) in a silver gown. We did an updated version of the ring. Yasmine Crosdale, the hair designer at the time, she did this amazing updo. And in the dialogue, it was referenced that she was wearing ritual mating colors. So I was like, okay, “Amok Time” is kind of like their wedding right? 

And also in “Amok Time” there were a lot of purple sashes. So that’s why we had a bit of purple in her gown to kind of have a little shout-out to that episode. So I love “Amok Time”. And the original designer William Ware Theiss was given free rein to create crazy designs so there’s like muzzle mask things that the guards wore, they’re like crazy but I love it. It’s such an iconic episode, with that crazy fight where Kirk gets slashed across the nipples.

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Nerds and Beyond: Oh yeah, definitely.

Bernadette Croft: So it’s a very memorable episode for me. And for the movies, I really love Wrath of Khan actually. Again, because of the costumes, I thought those jackets were so dignified and beautiful and everyone just looks so handsome. 

Robert Fletcher was the original designer of the Wrath of Khan. And I just think he did such a wonderful job with the civilian looks and that big bulky EV suit which was kind of retro and cool. And Khan’s actual character reveal, he was wearing like these crazy scarves that he just tore away, and they had crystals and glitter on them like… what is happening? I’m here for it and I love it. I love a tearaway moment. I love a character reveal. I feel like there’s a joy there that I want to introduce into our show as well. So yeah, I would say Wrath of Khan is my favorite film.

Nerds and Beyond: Yeah, Wrath of Khan is my favorite film too. I think it’s hands down the best of the Star Trek films for exactly some of the reasons that you’re talking about. And Khan’s look throughout the whole thing was –

Bernadette Croft: – Was that chest prosthetic?

Nerds and Beyond: There’s a big debate about it actually! It was like a “known” thing for a while that it was a prosthetic chest, but then some crew who worked on the film claim that it was Ricardo Montalban’s actual real chest. So I don’t know, but I do think it was… enhanced in some ways.

Bernadette Croft: I just watched it again recently and was like “how is that even real?” But it was a good prosthetic if that is what it was. I bought into the drama. And that prosthetic was crazy. Recently this year, we went to Star Trek: Mission Chicago and I was lucky enough to judge the cosplay contest and one of the contestants did the full Wrath of Khan, Khan, and used recycled materials. And he had the chest out and it was so insanely good. We gave him first place. 

Nerds and Beyond: Amazing. I love it. So what was your specific approach and thought for blending the retro aesthetic with the more modern updated materials? And also what did you want to shift from how they looked in season two of Star Trek: Discovery to how they look now?

Bernadette Croft: So in Discovery season two, we see Pike and some of his crew members. And the look was very structured and very formal. The uniform had the high neck. It had the great colors. So we definitely wanted to keep that continuity from Discovery. But in Strange New Worlds we see Pike now a couple of years after Discovery, and a few things have happened. And he’s been doing his own thing for a bit. And we’re less than 10 years before Captain Kirk becomes captain on Enterprise. So we’re in the middle of two very different shows. 

Style-wise, you couldn’t get more different shows. Discovery is cool, sleek, edgy, dark, the details are second to none. And TOS is bright, flamboyant, casual, and just colorful – so we have to meet somewhere in the middle. I definitely think it’s very important to lean into the nostalgia of TOS. But you’re right, bringing some of the elements from Discovery really helps keep that canon continuity. So for us, we kept the silhouette of Discovery. So it’s more of a structured shoulder so that it’s a bit stronger in terms of the silhouette. And we’ve kept the colors, so that’s a big thing. We did take away the neckline because it was a little bit too rigid and formal. We wanted to give it more of a casual vibe like TOS. 

And I feel like construction techniques have definitely changed since the 60s for fabric. In the original series, they use this stretch velour because it has a bit of body under the studio lights. And the reason why they had department colors was because people watched it on their black and white TVs and they needed to see a bit of difference between the departments. 

What we’re using is a polytech knit fabric, and it’s been bonded with a bit of microfleece. So what it does, it gives it body and also helps with moisture wicking so sweat isn’t kept inside on the body. Which helps them not be so wrinkly. We want to have uniforms that last a long time, we want to have them look really smooth. Like in the future. Technically, clothes are meant to be printed, especially for you. So we have to make everything look like it fits exactly right. And, yeah, we definitely wanted to lean into the nostalgia of TOS

I think another thing we took from Discovery was the idea of microprint. So on Discovery, they use the microprint on their sleeves, they just use little deltas, right, and add texture and visual interest. And we wanted to kind of do the same thing. And in the design process right from the start, our digital costumer Jen Bowen was given the task of creating a new microprint. And she came up with doing the department symbols as microprint. 

Being on a team with such creative people is incredible. And we all collaborate. We’re all given a chance to give our ideas. And I think Jen did such a great job of that. And I think fans are loving that little detail. So yeah, each department icon is a little microprint on our uniforms, which is really rad.

Nerds and Beyond: Speaking of uniforms, everyone has been loving Pike’s green wrap uniform, which of course is a nod to Kirk’s iconic look from the original series. Did the showrunners have a clear vision of when they wanted certain callbacks or easter eggs? Or were you given the opportunity to find your own surprises to put in for the diehard Star Trek fans?

Bernadette Croft: Yes, it’s been a mix of both. It has been such a joy and a privilege and an honor honestly, working with our showrunners, Henry Meyers and Akiva Goldsman. They’re collaborative. And they really let you bring your best A-game to the table. And honestly, not every idea is approved. But we just love giving them options. So definitely, there’s some more easter eggs to look forward to. 

There was one request Akiva put forward, which will be in an upcoming episode. And I remember the reference from the original series. And he’s like, “we’ve got to do that.” And I’m like, “No, we can’t, it’s so crazy. This person looks insane.” But the design challenge is to give it a bit more maturity, change the fabric choice, maybe the construction tech technique. So there’s definitely ways to enhance what I think was a crazy idea or concept. But yeah, it’s definitely a design challenge. We love doing it. One thing I can talk about actually is the field jackets. 

Nerds and Beyond: Yes!

Bernadette Croft: Yeah. So in the TOS original pilot “The Cage,” they had these like, big, bulky, grey jackets that they just threw on when they landed on a planet. And I thought they were great. And I asked myself “how can we kind of make it our own?” So I referenced a 1960s bomber jacket. There’s a timeless quality about a bomber jacket, and they just look so cool. 

So for Strange New Worlds, we did a cool leather field jacket that is trimmed in neoprene and has the delta microprint. So it just looks really cool. It protects the Starfleet officers from the elements if they go to a new planet. And if they’re going into a bar, they just look really cool when they order a drink.

Nerds and Beyond: And amping up Captain Pike’s daddy vibes even more.

Bernadette Croft: Ugh and he totally has that hair. And that beard. My god. Just really great hair.

Nerds and Beyond: I was going to ask about his hair, because it’s so large and epic, like Tan France from Queer Eye levels of volume. It’s really fantastic.

Bernadette Croft: I’m here for the hair. I love it. Anson has incredible hair. But it’s crazy. So it’s quite a lot of work to get it looking right. When we first fit Anson, when he came in he looked like this grizzly man. Like his hair was crazy. He had this big bushy beard, like Santa vibes for sure. But he scrubs up so well. And he’s such an amazing captain. And he’s doing an incredible job. They’re all doing an incredible job.

​Nerds and Beyond: In the first five or six episodes we get some familiar alien races but also some new ones that have never been seen before. Were you excited to get the chance to create full alien races from scratch? And what were some of your inspirations? I know you mentioned loving fantasy, were you able to incorporate any of that into their looks as well?

Bernadette Croft: Designing a new race is such a joy. So in episode two, we did a new alien race called the “Deleb.” They’re a desert-dwelling alien race, and nomadic, so they live off the land. We wanted to give them a really earthy and organic quality. Some of our team members are textile artists, like Anna Pantcheva. She had all of these great ideas about how to treat the fabrics to make them look like they haven’t been touched by human hands.

So we use boiled wool. We covered embroidery with silicone. We used an ice dye technique. We wove raffia, we did rough dyeing, we did all of these unusual processes to treat the fabric to make it look alien and unusual. And then our key effects builder Jennifer Johnson, she created these beautiful pleated hats. They were kind of inspired by a designer that I love, Iris van Herpen. So we look at all these different references and think how can we make this truly unique?

Nerds and Beyond: So Star Trek fans are known for being… And I say this as a Star Trek fan… we can maybe be a little intense sometimes. We have a deep knowledge of the canon. Were you nervous at all to tackle some of these new looks especially for the more legendary and iconic characters? And what has the fan response been like so far?

Bernadette Croft: Yeah, it’s so daunting. And because I’m a new fan, I don’t have that deep knowledge that some of the fans do. But the great thing is, I love costumes. And I’ve been doing it for years. And I invest in characters and story. And so I knew that I could do it. And what’s great about our show is that we rely on our writers and our producers to give us the particular details. So if they want to reference something, they’ll be like, “Look at this episode.” Which is great because now we have the reference and can make sure we hit those points.

We always want to push the boundaries, and we want to make Strange New Worlds have its own vibe and its own identity – but within the parameters of canon as well. But yeah, the fans have been amazing. The feedback has been incredible. I’m so happy that they like what we’re doing. Because I feel like this is our love letter to the fans. 

Like, if it wasn’t for the fans, we wouldn’t be in this dream job. Like this literally is the best job that you can have. Each episode is a new planet. It’s a new alien race. The creativity that we all get to use every day on this show is just an incredible experience. So I feel like the fans are kind of my boss. I gotta make sure they like what they see.

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