Designing maternity wear for a fake pregnancy is one thing, but it’s a whole different story when said fake pregnancy takes place in 18th-century Russia. That was the challenge costume designer Sharon Long was presented with for Season 2 of “The Great,” in which Catherine (Elle Fanning) is pregnant for eight of the 10 episodes.
“What we did was we we started off with the pregnancy corsets, so we decided to do her realistically,” Long tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Costume Designers panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). “So women at the time would have carried on wearing a corset, and there’s sort of a lace-sided corset so that you can extend them as as as the woman gets more and more pregnant. But the because Elle’s pregnancy wasn’t real, it meant that she was wearing a kind of prosthetic bump. And the only problem was that the corset was making it move around.”
At that point, they ended up putting a corset that would work on top of a prosthetic bump, but that also presented another issue. “For the costumes, it worked better if we put the corset onto the actress, then the bump on top, so that she was supported at the back and had the right framework, but the bump didn’t move around because it was just it was just sort of slipping during the day and causing us a few problems,” she continues. “And we got bigger and bigger bumps, and bigger and bigger corsets until about the nine-month stage where we kind of left the corset behind a bit.”
By the time Catherine goes into labor in the eighth episode, “Five Days,” which is Long’s Emmy-nominated submission, she’s ditched the corsets and structured skirts for free-flowing nightgowns. “It’s a sort of a kind of dress that women would wear around the house, sort of informal, really, because I’m sure you can imagine wearing a corset and very, sort of huge panniers and quite complicated sort of structural dresses all day would have been a bit too much,” Long says. “So sometimes it was more relaxed in the silhouette and things, so we use that, really. So we just developed what was already in existence in history.”
Catherine’s look in that episode is also in contrast to that of her mother Joanna (Gillian Anderson), whose skirts were larger than life. The idea was for Joanna to literally take up space at a time when Catherine was not only more vulnerable but would also revert back to being a child in the presence of her imposing mother.
“Gillian, in actual fact, is very petite. She’s not a sort of looming person. So to give her that kind of presence in the court, we used sort of size and color,” Long explains. “So her panniers go out quite angrily at the sides. And she’s kind of takes up quite a lot room and she has to move through doors sideways and things like that. She’s making an impact, really. And it’s at the time when Catherine is feeling quite sort of vulnerable because of her pregnancy and also excited to see [her mother], and you’re expecting something different kind of something warm and friendly to come in off the carriage when she arrives. It’s not like at all, which is telling.”
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