Gersha Phillips Interview: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ costume designer
In Season 1, “Star Trek: Discovery” costume designer Gersha Phillips had to craft a distinct look for a prequel series to one of the most iconic shows of all time. In Season 2, she had an even more difficult task: reimagining the Starfleet costumes of “Star Trek: The Original Series” after the “Enterprise” was introduced in the Season 1 finale.
“I was kind of super daunted and excited at the same time,” Phillips told Gold Derby at our Meet the BTL Experts: Costume Design panel, moderated by this author (watch above). “Then we really had to dig into what these iconic costumes were and how they would fit into the story we were starting to tell. I think what we ended up doing was really great because we already had a collar that was already asymmetrical … and it had V in it and it had kind of a nod back to ‘The Original Series’ when you put the new colors in with it. So I think the combination of the two things were really great and worked really well.”
Indeed, the “Enterprise” costumes on the CBS All Access series strike a perfect balance of futuristic with still a hint of what came before it. They look like they took a spin through “Discovery’s” wash cycle of vibrant tones. Phillips, who’s received three Costume Guild Awards nominations for her work on the series and “Star Trek: Short Treks,” reveals that they did test out some darker hues, but ultimately went with the brighter ones, as in the case with Captain Pike’s (Anson Mount) radiant gold uniform.
“Originally because we didn’t know who our Pike was going to be, we did do two golds that we had,” she shares. “We had one that was a little … darker gold and so we tested on Anson when he was cast and we went with the brighter gold, which I love, and he looks great in it. … With our compression panels, we tried the metallics as well first and it just didn’t look very good, so we did the self-color compression panels on the side. Those are the puff lines on the side that we got printed here.”
About 90 to 95 percent of the costumes on the show are custom-made in-house, according to Phillips. She has a handful of companies she turns to for certain materials, including one in San Francisco she affectionately dubs “my Klingon store.” “L’Rell’s costume in episode 2×12, little parts of it are from there. It was a bodysuit and a pair of pants and we took it apart and made it into a dress,” Phillips explains. “And it turned out really good. We did this process called foiling, where we take a metallic foil and put it on top of a leather. It turned out really great.”
Leather is also the designer’s material of choice. “I will say I’m a little partial to leather. I love it. Just because we are dealing with aliens and other species, the leather sort of works a little better than using fabrics,” she says. “And then we can also add really cool textures to it and make it look more interesting than regular fabric, so that’s sort of my go-to.”