John Dunn Interview: ‘Dickinson’ and ‘Hunters’ costume designer
“Success is if the costume designer is supporting the story being told,” declares John Dunn when asked what great costume designing is to him. Dunn’s work features in two distinctly different projects this season, the Apple TV+ gothic dramedy “Dickinson” and Amazon Prime’s drama “Hunters.” In both series, his goal was to help tell the story visually. “Sometimes that does involve very theatrical or very audacious or very lavish costumes, but sometimes its the really quiet costumes that are telling the story,” he says. Watch our exclusive video interview with Dunn above.
“Dickinson” stars Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld as literary icon Emily Dickinson in the coming-of-age dramedy set in the 1850s with a contemporary edge. The series explores the early life of famous poet, with many of the hallmarks of a lavish period piece – the stylized lensing, the intricate costumes, the ornate sets – but told in a more modernized way, with modern music and sensibilities that speaks to a younger, more hip audience. Dunn also designed the costumes on Amazon Prime’s “Hunters,” the provocative speculative fiction drama starring Oscar and Emmy-winner Al Pacino as the leader of a group of vigilantes hunting Nazis plotting to create a “Fourth Reich” in 1970s New York alongside Logan Lerman, Lena Olin, Saul Rubinek, Dylan Baker and Carol Kane.
“I look for projects that may have been covered once or twice before, but covering it in a whole new way that has never been seen before,” Dunn explains. “It just so happened that in this one season, both ‘Dickinson’ and ‘Hunters’ reared their heads and I was able to work on both of them.”
Both series share a sensibility where they are set in a recognizable period, but are done in a unique way that sets them apart as something new. “Why I was drawn to them was that they were both really taking on a new look,” Dunn says. For example, in “Dickinson,” Dunn decided to go for a more vibrant and fresh color palette than what we have come to expect from the mid-nineteenth century. “I realized when researching the show, which involved a great deal of artwork and photography and reading a great deal,” he explains, “that the photography has come to us primarily in black and white and sepia tones so there’s this sense of this period being very muted, with blacks and browns. But because we were going to do a fresh take on it, I stumbled on the fact that in the 1850s they were using insane colors and they were mixing incredible patterns and paisleys, stripes and florals all in the same outfit and that was very much the mode of that time.”