How 'Harry Potter' Costume Designer Jany Temime Created a World of Magic Through Clothing

When the industry ace came on board for "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," she gave the costumes an elegant facelift, all starting with the iconic black wizard's robe.
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Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images for Way to Blue

Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images for Way to Blue

In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.

It would be impossible for me to quantify my attachment to the world of "Harry Potter," just as I recognize is the case for a great number of you reading this. It's been six years since the final film came out and 10 since the last book was released; come June 26, "Harry Potter" officially turns 20, a fact that ages me more than any number of birthday candles ever could.

When I meet Jany Temime, the costume designer who came on board for "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and stayed for the remaining six movies, I lose any cool I normally inhabit during interviews. I partially expect for her to deliver a response bordering on ambivalence — can you imagine how many times a day she hears the same fan-backed fervor? — but instead, she smiles. "At the time, I didn't realize how important it was," she says. "Thank God, because if [I had] I would have been completely paralyzed and incapable of doing anything. It's now that I realize what a nerve it [hit]."

Temime grew up in Paris in the 1960s and 1970s and spent her Saturdays at the studio of her parents' ready-to-wear company, designing sweaters on the side for pocket cash. She never had an inclination to go into the family business, at least directly; costume design was the only profession she ever entertained and now has the award-laden resume to show for it. While "Harry Potter" — or simply "Potter," a very Malfoyian way of speaking — remains her calling card, she's headed up costumes for such Bond films as "Spectre" and "Skyfall," as well as "Gravity," where she reunited with Alfonso Cuarón, who brought her into the "Harry Potter" universe back in 2004. She's also an ambassador for professional art and drawing supplier Prismacolor, which she regularly uses to sketch her work, relying on the soft-core colored pencils and the bold color selection to bring her visions to life on paper.

I spoke to Temime about all of that, from her early career in Paris, where she first started working on short films, to what it was like working alongside J.K. Rowling. If she's jaded by overzealous "Harry Potter" fans, present company included, you certainly can't tell — she's in on the magic with us.

Jany Temime at the 15th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards in February 2013 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images for CDG

Jany Temime at the 15th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards in February 2013 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images for CDG

When did your interest in costume design begin?

I started in fashion, but I went into film very quickly. I grew up in Paris the '60s and '70s. It was fantastic; it was a completely different ambiance. I was crazy about film. I loved it, and just wanted to live in it and create characters. I never wanted to do anything else. I'm really lucky to have known what I wanted to do, because I do believe that you save a lot of time when you're very determined about doing something that you really want to do.

At what point did you realize that costume design was a viable career option for you?

When I was four years old — I was designing for dolls all the time. That's all I wanted to do. My parents were designers and had a ready-to-wear company in Paris, so I grew up in the studio. The idea of working for films was difficult, so I really had to fight for it, but I did what I wanted. You always do what you want, when you want, if you're determined enough to achieve it.

How did the "Harry Potter" opportunity come about, already two films into the series?

Alfonso Cuarón had seen my work, and he wanted to work with me, so he asked me [to do] "Harry Potter." It's really funny, actually: I had done an English film with the producer's mother, but it was Alfonso who wanted me and took me on. It was, for me, really a dream come true. I was a fan. I had read the books, and I loved them. I remember having to defend them when I was on the BAFTA jury and, you know, I loved "Harry Potter."

How did you differentiate the costumes you designed from what had been done in the previous two movies?

"The Prisoner of Azkaban" has something very special. [It's] the first dark one. I wanted to change things, because I knew that sort of "A Christmas Carol" [aesthetic] was not at all the style. It was good for little kids, but a teenager would never go and watch that film, so we wanted to make it cooler. We needed to make the kids look like real "next-door" kids.

I changed the uniform. I started doing colors, then I wanted to [use] a [wizard's robe], which was really glamorous — something they would put on and feel immediately special. So, we designed the [robe], and I put a hood on the back of it. I put a collar inside [so] that you could see the houses and the diversification of the kids in a big crowd. Then there's the ties. I made them silk because I thought they made a better knot.

Then I used huge, real wool for the sweater, which was a terrible idea. [Laughs] I thought the sweater looked more luxurious, you know? [Hogwarts is] an incredible school, and they have Galleons of money, anyway, coming from the bank. But it was a problem for the wash. I insisted on wool for ["The Prisoner of Azkaban"] and then the year after, we added a little bit of [polyester]. I did a different model of trousers, because the kids were starting to [develop] and you couldn't have just one shape for everybody. I had two shapes of trousers and two shapes of skirts because they were starting to become little ladies.

Then I did the Quidditch uniforms, which were [a lot of] work. I wanted to use nylon; I wanted to use much more of a rugby or American football element. The Quidditch [robes] were amazing — very, very, very beautiful, but very light. It was four months of work... on top of designing the rest of the characters, it was very intensive.

How many of the physical costumes were designed and made in-house by your team and how many were sourced elsewhere?

All of the samples were made in the studio, and then when we had multiples we would send them away. We had a factory in Scotland doing the [robes]. We had some vendors outside doing the ties, but all the samples were always made in our studio.

It was a little bit of a factory. We had a huge work crew. We started with one work crew, but when we were doing the Yule Ball [in "The Goblet of Fire"], I had met the cutter for Vivienne Westwood on "Bridget Jones's Diary" so I asked her, "Do you want to work on 'Harry Potter?' You will earn much more." [Laughs] She took three cutters with her and we had a mini-team for all the dresses for the Yule Ball, for the girls. We also had a different workroom for the Death Eaters; there were, like, 500 Death Eaters. I was doing six kilometers a day just going from one side of the studio to the other because the studio was so big.

To what extent was J.K. Rowling involved in the costuming process?

In the beginning, I met her once and I had no idea who she was — honestly — and I thought, "This woman is really intelligent."

She was interested; she gave us information when we asked for it, but always with lots of discretion. She was there when we needed her. She respected our work very much, and she liked it very much. But don't forget that the books were being written as we went, so I don't think she herself knew what was going to happen.

What was an example of a time you went to her and asked for her guidance?

There were times when I was asking what was going to happen with a character, if a character was coming back, and sometimes she would give us the answer. But she told me about Dumbledore being gay at the fifth film. I had already designed for Dumbledore [for two movies] so I said, "What?! Now you say that?" I don't think that she knew. I think it's a creative process, being a writer, which lets you roll with your characters.

I always believed in her. She was much more interested in the kids. She had a relationship with every single kid, through her writing. I think she's the sort of woman who just says something when she's unhappy or when you really need it.

You know, Michelle Obama came to see the studio with [her children]. It was one of the daughter's birthdays and they wanted to see it, and J.K. Rowling was with them. We were making the wedding dress for Fleur Delacour and the dress was on a stand. J.K. said, "This is so beautiful. I wish I would've gotten married in that dress." She was always on our side; she was nice, so nice. The [Obama] girls were wonderful. I showed them all the designs, and they were asking very intelligent questions. They were real fans.

You mentioned the child actors, many of whom quite literally grew up on set. What was it like to work with the same actors over the span of seven years?

Fantastic. We were really, really close because we were together 24 hours a day. The kids were practically living there. They were there really early in the morning. They were studying there. They had their classes there. They had their exams there.

Each movie has a very different theme and aesthetic, just as every book reads very differently. How did you go about capturing those nuances in each film?

[From the actors' first "Harry Potter" movie,] I kept their style. I knew every kid had a personality, but they were still the same kid and they were still wearing the same things.

Sometimes they changed their shoes, like Daniel [Radcliffe], from sport shoes to Converses. Every time, for every new film, we had new characters, and we talked about how we were going to do those characters. It was quite natural; we were working as a really strong team together.

The fact that we had a new director of photography every time was fantastic because the colors were different every time, so we had to adapt. I remember that in ["The Order of the Phoenix"], I thought, "Oooh, we're finally see the embroidery of Dumbledore's robes!" That was the thing that was keeping us on our toes all the time.

As a Prismacolor partner, what did the sketching and storyboarding process look like for "Harry Potter?"

I'm always sketching first because I need the fabric buyers to immediately bring me the color that I want. After that, the costume gets made. I need [sketching] to be able to have people who buy the fabrics know how it's going to look and to have the pattern-cutters start thinking about the shape. And that's why pencils are necessary.

What lessons did you learn while working on "Harry Potter" that you've carried through your more recent projects like "Skyfall" and "Gravity?"

The amount. The speed. The quickness. It's like the difference between doing a sprint and a marathon. With "Potter," it was a year, and then I was always doing another film to forget about "Potter," and then going back to it, taking it fresh again. I think that what I learned from "Potter" was the quality — working on a very long run, which was with the most talented people, the most incredible script and the best actors of England. The films are good because of that; it was not only because we were great technicians, because I know lots of films with great technicians that are absolutely terrible. But with "Potter," the scripts were great. The producers were great. The stories were extremely strong. Everybody really cared about the project.

To say that the "Harry Potter" universe is treasured would be a massive understatement. What has it been like to be such an integral part of something that means so much to so much of the world?

I feel very special. At the time, I didn't realize how important it was. Thank God, because if [I had] I would have been completely paralyzed and incapable of doing anything. It's now that I realize what a nerve it [hit]. In the moment, it was just one film and we had a good time, but now it's almost 10 years after and it was — it is — incredible. I'm so proud to have been part of it. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

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