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?