The Reign Costume Designer Shopped for 16th Century Costumes on Net-a-Porter

The new CW period drama, which looks to be a mash-up of Gossip Girl, Game of Thrones, and The History Channel, is definitely taking some liberties when it comes to the fashion.
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The new CW period drama, which looks to be a mash-up of Gossip Girl, Game of Thrones, and The History Channel, is definitely taking some liberties when it comes to the fashion.
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Here in the Fashionista offices, I'd say half of us grown, adult women are at least intrigued by tonight's premiere of Reign on the CW. The show looks to be a mash-up of Gossip Girl, Game of Thrones, and The History Channel, as it follows a teenage Mary Stuart, who later becomes Mary Queen of Scots. (And is then imprisoned for 18 and a half years and finally beheaded at the request of cousin Queen Elizabeth, but that's another show.)

We're very interested in 15-year-old Mary, whatever liberties the producers took in making a Chuck-Blair-Prince Louis love triangle out of history facts, and the costumes. Definitely the costumes.

From what we've see so far, the clothes and accessories are clearly period-inspired, but not over the top or distractingly Renaissance Faire-ish, and maybe even something we could wear out to a music festival or something suitably boho. Curiosity warranted an email to the costume designer, Meredith Markwork-Pollack (who also worked on another fashion-y CW show, the Rachel Bilson-starring Hart of Dixie), for a clearer explanation on her inspiration for dressing 15 year-old 16th century girls with a modern twist, 21st century actresses wearing binding corsets, and who's the Spencer of the ladies in waiting (yes, that was a Pretty Little Liars reference, and yes, we watch that, too).

Fashionista: What were your inspirations for the Reign costumes? Meredith Markworth-Pollack: My inspirations for Reign come mostly from history and fashion. Since Mary was a real queen there's an abundance of material for research. Not to mention the documentations on 16th century dress. I've been inspired by quite a few films as well that have depicted the time. La Reine Margot is my favorite, it's a french film that follows Queen Margot, Catherine de Medici's daughter. It's dark and sexy and the costumes are stunning. I'm also loving the Byzantine and Baroque trends of the runway currently—Dolce & Gabbana, Naeem Khan, and Oscar de la Renta, specifically. And there's always [Alexander] McQueen.

Which current labels are your go-tos for working into the costuming? I knew from the beginning that I'd have an easy time weaving in contemporary accessories. It's funny how tiaras and hair pieces are everywhere right now, and it's incredibly helpful. We've also used quite a bit of Free People for the girls' everyday looks. They have such a strong and cohesive story with their bohemian romantic look, it's really worked in our favor. On the pilot we used an incredible Basil Soda gown and we've continued using a couple gowns of theirs on Mary. I've rented a couple McQueen gowns as well. We shop quite a bit of vintage here in Toronto, but I'm also constantly scouring the web. Net-a-Porter, The Outnet, and BHLDN are my go-tos.

Costume designer Eric Daman once used the term "aspirational authenticity" in describing his choices to dress '80s-era Carrie Bradshaw on The Carrie Diaries. Meaning, he updated retro looks with millennial fashion details. Do you feel like your approach was similar and how did you update looks from the Elizabethan era for a teen drama? From the beginning the creators, the director, and the studio said they wanted to incorporate a contemporary feel in the costumes. The vision was there even before I signed on; I just helped execute it. But knowing the network and the show's demographic I felt it made complete sense. I also wanted each look to have a nod to the proper period costume, whether it was achieved through a similar shape or detailed embroidery. The girls almost always wear a corset unless there's just no need. They love how it helps with their posture.

Wait, corsets—did you use authentic ones? If not, how did you update one to modern day to serve its function, but maybe (hopefully) not be as uncomfortable to wear?

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Wait, corsets—did you use authentic ones? If not, how did you update one to modern day to serve its function, but maybe (hopefully) not be as uncomfortable to wear? All of the corsets for Mary and her Ladies are custom-made to each girls' measurements. We've made them slightly longer than the traditional corsets of the period to help with some of the non-traditional silhouettes we're using. We usually decide for every new look they wear if we need the corset or not. We've also been making embroidered and jeweled corsets to be worn on camera as day looks and formal looks for the girls.

Could you tell me a bit more how you differentiated the future queen and her ladies in waiting through the costumes? I wanted Mary's ladies in waiting to complement her style yet all have their own individual identity. They aren't as tied to the formalities that Mary has to abide by but they should never "out do" her so to speak. When I saw the casting for Kenna (Caitlin Stacey) I knew she was the bohemian type, so I gravitated towards beaded headpieces, wristlets, and a softer palette of laces, beading, and embroidery. Lola (Anna Popplewell) is the romantic. She's my Ophelia and I pictured her as a Pre-Raphaelite painting. Lots of velvets and bias cuts in blush, wine, and burgundy. Greer (Celina Sniden) isn't titled, but she comes from wealth and she's constantly trying to establish herself through her wardrobe and jewels. I loved the gem tones for her especially emerald green. We keep her layered up in pearls, precious stones, and furs. And Aylee (Janessa Grant) is sweet and slightly naive. In modern times she would be our preppy one. I've kept her in creams, pinks, and nudes.

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How do you see the costumes evolving as Mary Stuart's character moves toward her destiny? I think Mary's style will evolve as her role in French Court becomes more viable. We've already seen her mature since her arrival. She's no longer in the safety of her schooling at the convent. She's a woman now and she has to present herself as a queen. She's a queen warrior, but she's also a lover. I play around with this quite a bit. She may have a sharp silhouette but then I'll pair it with a soft fabric or detail. I like the idea of her wearing her fabrics and jewels as her armor. She always has a slight roughness to her look no matter how feminine it is.

How are you hoping that the viewers will react to the costumes as part of the show? I think it will be quite obvious to our viewers that we're not out to replicate historical costumes. We've created our own distinct look and I think viewers will respond to it positively. I'm hoping it's an inspiration for our female viewers to creatively add to their wardrobe. It's such a do-it-yourself kind of look. We're constantly taking vintage pieces and dying them, altering them, beading them—all to make them our own. That's what it's about. It's not for everyone though. If you're hoping for hip rolls and men in tights it's not your show.

You also worked the first season of Hart of Dixie, which features tons of designer clothing and shoes, really good shoes. How is working on a period piece different from dressing Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson), who wears current designers like Alexander Wang and Rag & Bone? I designed the first two seasons of Hart of Dixie. The shows are quite different but the process can be familiar at times. It's always about establishing characters. I had such a great time shopping for [Zoe]; I was constantly on the hunt for designer pieces. On Reign I'm also costuming a strong female lead with an impeccable sense of style. But this time I get to build her costume head to toe. I guess that's the biggest difference.

Reign airs on the CW tonight, Thursday, October 17 at 9/8c

Click through the gallery to see more shots of the show and the costumes.

Photos: Courtesy/The CW Network, LLC