Wednesday, October 18

‘Game of Thrones’ lead costume designer to bring talent to UCLA


Michele Clapton, the former lead costume designer for "Game of Thrones," will teach a class called "Costume Design for Film and Television" in which students will redesign her costumes from the pilot episode of the show. Some members of the class have already completed preliminary sketches. (Diana Luna/Daily Bruin)

Michele Clapton, the former lead costume designer for "Game of Thrones," will teach a class called "Costume Design for Film and Television" in which students will redesign her costumes from the pilot episode of the show. Some members of the class have already completed preliminary sketches. (Diana Luna/Daily Bruin)


Michele Clapton looked at everything for inspiration when creating costumes for “Game of Thrones,” including plants, basket weaving and medieval architecture.

She wanted to expose herself to as many different influences as possible.

In May, Clapton will help guide UCLA students through their own ideas and interests when she comes to teach a “Game of Thrones” themed costume class called “Costume Design for Film and Television,” which began this quarter.

Clapton, the show’s lead costume designer, was announced as the 2016 Swarovski Designer in Residence on April 11. As part of the program, Clapton will work with graduate students from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design.

Since the beginning of spring quarter, each student in the class has been redesigning the costumes of 15 characters from the pilot of “Game of Thrones.” The students are aiming to provide distinct looks for characters like Dothraki horse lord Khal Drogo, Lady Catelyn Stark and exiled princess Daenerys Targaryen.

By the time Clapton arrives, the class will have their preliminary sketches and illustrations completed. Then, Clapton will critique and help refine each of the students’ designs. The goal for the students is that, by the end of the quarter, their drawings would be good enough to hand over to an actual seamstress.

Deborah Landis, a costume design professor and chair of the David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design, said the program gives students the invaluable experience of working alongside a master in their field.

“Many professionals are natural teachers,” Landis said. “We were all, including Michele, design students or young designers at one point and we know the value of mentorship.”

Clapton said one of the challenges of making costumes for the “Game of Thrones” pilot was creating looks for each of the show’s fictional kingdoms.

“We had the (“A Song of Ice and Fire”) novels, they came with the maps and climates, which were extraordinarily useful, of course,” Clapton said. “But then within that we had to create societies … which you don’t have to do on really any other historical or contemporary piece.”

Designing costumes for Daenerys Targaryen was especially difficult and could pose a challenge for the UCLA students, Clapton said. Unlike other houses on the show, the white-haired, dragon-riding Targaryen family is not rooted in any specific country or time period. She said it’s dangerously easy to give the character a fantastical look that could come across as ridiculous to viewers.

However, MFA student Chanele Casaubon said recreating a perfect look without mimicking Clapton’s work has been the biggest challenge for her and her fellow classmates.

“Michele did beautiful work and all of it makes perfect sense and that’s the problem in watching the show,” Casaubon said. “You look at a costume and you say, ‘Of course, she chose that (costume) for this character, because it’s perfect,’ and so we don’t want to just redo what she did.”

Casaubon said the key to achieve a unique look is good research. The students have gone to libraries to immerse themselves in books on medieval designs and histories of different cultures on which to base their characters.

Clapton made each realm and character distinct through her choices of color, shape and texture, Casaubon said.

“With ‘Game of Thrones,’ I looked at absolutely everything without actually giving anything a title,” Clapton said. “It’s a magpie approach of taking something from everywhere, eventually forgetting where you took it from, and actually creating your own.”

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