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'Outlander' Costume Designer Looked to Dior and Balenciaga For Season 2

And spoiler: Jamie ditches his kilts for culottes in Paris.
Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in 21st century outfits. Photo: Desiree Navarro/Getty

Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in 21st century outfits. Photo: Desiree Navarro/Getty

An extremely anxious crowd comprised of mostly women were gathered outside the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship Thursday afternoon and it wasn’t to pounce on the latest Gucci shipment or arrival of It Bags. The legendary department store was about to unveil its latest hit television show-themed windows featuring costumes from the second season of the Starz time-travel drama "Outlander." (Cue the hysterical screams similar to the ones that rang out behind me as I waited on the red carpet.) 

The fans anxiously awaited the arrival of the show’s two leads, Caitriona Balfe and the second-hottest ginger after Prince Harry, Sam Heughan, both of whom also grace the cover of Saks’s Spring 2016 Magalog. The show's fans are so dedicated that they were just as excited to see executive producer Ronald D. Moore and award-winning costume designer Terry Dresbach (Moore's wife who also designed six pre-revolutionary Paris-themed Saks window displays) — and tried in vain to glean some insider-y info on the upcoming season, which premieres on Saturday, April 9. (Props to the one intrepid fan who finagled her way into the press line and booted me out of my spot for a moment to have a personal chat with Heughan, who was just lovely about it. I get it now.)

In season two, time-traveling World War II nurse Claire (Balfe) and her warrior husband (from the past) Jamie (Heughan) head to Paris to assimilate themselves into late 18th-century high society. So that means switching out rugged and functionally beautiful Highlands gear for beautiful, rarified pre-revolutionary French fashion — all of which Dresbach and her team build from scratch.

"We had two very distinct looks that we were going for," the costume designer explained at the unveiling. "One was as period-correct of a look as we could get [for] all of our 18th-century cast from Paris — and then you study paintings and books and every possible detail. But for Claire, we looked to Paris in 1945 and 1946, because she is from the '40s. At that period of time, we had Christian Dior who created the New Look and so that was our jumping-off point. The first time we see Claire in season two, in her Paris finery, she’s wearing our recreation of the Bar Suit. And then from there, we just kept moving through Balmain, Balenciaga, Charles James... and her clothes always have a feeling of those fantastic, fantastic gowns. So for people who love fashion, there are clues all over the place."

Dresbach took a similar approach for the much-anticipated red dress, part of a pivotal plot point in the Parisian season. "Red is a terrifying color because if you put too much on, it just looks like a brothel dress — something out of the wild wild west," laughed Dresbach as she pointed to the structured, cleavage-baring ball gown in the Saks window. "So again turning back to the 1940s, you start seeing the dresses that Dior or Balenciaga did and then moving forward even to what Valentino and Givenchy were doing. Really simple, elegant, red dresses of that period and Caitriona is so amazing. Just so gorgeous that all we had to do was put her in that red dress and let her really be the center of attraction. But it's 15 yards of red silk, the cartridge pleating alone is just a work of art. It's quite remarkable."

Balfe, a former model who holds the distinction of being the only Irishwoman to ever walk the Victoria's Secret Show runway, had to treat the gown as a work of art, too. "The red dress is four-foot-two wide, so you have to walk sideways and you can't really travel in cars," she said. 

Of course, as fans of the show and Diana Gabaldon's book series know, Claire and Jamie are bringing a little extra guest along with them to Paris. "Terry did a lot of research and she discovered that the women would still wear corsets up until five months of being pregnant," explained the actress, as I grimaced.

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"There were no maternity clothes [back in 18th century France]. We didn’t have the Spandex baby bump back then," Dresbach said. "What women did was they just unlaced their corsets. They just laced them as loose as possible and then tightened them up again." Apparently, the 18th century dresses were so voluminous that no one would even notice a woman was pregnant until about eight months in. "So you could hide about five babies under those costumes, but it was interesting because we had the dilemma that everybody wanted to know that Claire was pregnant and they kept saying to me, 'but you have to see it somehow... ' I’m like, I don’t have Spandex in the 18th century!"

Claire isn't the only one making a big costume change during the transition to upper class Paris. Jamie (Heughan) — who suffered a major trauma at the end of season one — had to give his fighter Highland kilts a rest and wear gentlemanly culottes instead. "Sam was worried I was going to put him in lavender silk or something equally frightening and I didn't want to do that because he's our hero and he's our guy and we didn't want to suddenly change him from the man that he was," Dresbach said, reassuring all Heughligans everywhere. "I looked to the most iconic of men's fashion throughout history, which is a beautiful black suit and a white shirt. So he is wearing versions of that. Very elegant, very simple." 

"It was important for me to retain Jamie's character and who he is and he's a Scotsman and we do see the kilt in France," explained Heughan. "But he's also trying to be someone else. He's trying to infiltrate the French court and infiltrate this high society, so he's got some great costumes."

The actor did, however, find that donning and maneuvering around in pants, as opposed to a kilt, was more of a straightforward task. "[Wearing the culottes] is really simple to be honest," he added. "It actually takes less time because you don't have to lie down on the ground and fold your kilt up. It's more restrained. It's more reserved." 

Balfe, Dresbach and Heughan. Photo: Desiree Navarro/Getty

Balfe, Dresbach and Heughan. Photo: Desiree Navarro/Getty

Follow Terry Dresbach on Twitter @draiochta14. "Outlander" season two premieres at 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 9 on Starz.

Homepage image: Instagram/outlander_starz 

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