Costume Designer Giovanni Lipari discusses his original designs for AMC’s Into the Badlands

AMC’s post-apocalyptic drama Into the Badlands is known for many things, one of them being the show’s colorful and evocative costumes. Between the Widow’s ever-changing weekly wardrobe that fans have grown to love to Cressida’s powerful and encompassing garb, the costumes give the character’s life before they even speak. We sat down with the show’s costume designer, Giovanni Lipari, and discussed everything from where he gets his inspiration, the vibrant color palette and how the costumes have adapted throughout the seasons. Read the full interview here.

Where did you get your reference point or inspiration for the character’s wardrobes in Into the Badlands?

The base layers of reference were always Asian fusion and Steampunk. Actually what ended up inspiring me more from the Steampunk world was not the clothing, but the environment. So I was looking at everything that made up the backdrop of that world, especially metal objects, and applying that to the designs. A movie that was a big influence is The House of Flying Daggers, which is a very beautiful movie full of movement and color. I’m also very attached to the retro-futuristic concept, which is the artistic interpretation of the future from earlier eras and is a strange mix of what we now see as old styles but with a futuristic technology that doesn’t fit in with that picture. A movie that depicted this and was another great inspiration is Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451. As well as these points of reference, where I most enjoy drawing inspiration from is from my own memory. That is to say, everything I have seen over the years, from museums, galleries and books, and specifically looking for not how that image may have really looked, but how I remember it. What something is and how your brain processes that can produce two very different images and I enjoy pulling out these memories and applying them to my designs.

The creators of the show say it’s “Very loosely based on the Chinese tale Journey to the West.” Were you familiar with this tale before beginning work on the show?

I was vaguely familiar with this, but it didn’t really play a part in the designing of the show.

Whenever you are first designing something, do you sketch it out at the beginning and work off that, or what is your process like?

Absolutely! The sketches form a very important part of the process. In fact, they are the very first thing once I have conceived a design in my head. The sketching is really like the printing of an idea, its function is to reflect or mirror that idea. Then, if I like what I see, I can ascertain if my original idea works or not; it helps to validate my original thoughts. Sometimes it can also be fabric that gives the first hint of a concept rather than the sketch coming first, but this is more of a tool, an additional help to feed into the sketches and get them as close as possible. I am also very thankful to my creative team, in particular, Tamsin McKiernan (Asst. Cost. Designer) and Gabor Homonnay (Costume Supervisor), who were invaluable throughout the creative process in providing insight and feedback at all times.

Which character has the most difficult costumes to make? Why?

I think the most difficult characters to design for are the ones where you have to say and communicate the most out of the costumes but with the least design elements used. So really simplicity is the hardest concept to achieve; to have streamlined costumes with very subtle, but very precise elements. Usually, my particular process for achieving that simplicity is to express the whole concept through sketches, then to carve and slice from that like a surgeon, until the bones of the idea are exposed and tell you where the core of the idea lies.

The Widow is an example of a challenging character to design for but for different reasons. She has to be warrior-like, powerful, sharp, aggressive and masculine, all while simultaneously looking elegant, feminine, romantic and sometimes fragile. In addition to developing looks that married all these conflicting features, we had just one color to use and had to achieve and maintain a consistent look and style. So this was the greatest challenge, blending all these features but not losing the strength and boldness of her look.

Do you think your costumes have adapted in any way since when you first began working on the show?

Most definitely, yes! As with every show, at the very beginning, I was trying to see what I could get my hands on from the costume houses that could be used. It became clear very quickly that little or no existing costumes were going to obey to the demands of the Badlands world. So adapting to the amount of costume making was a challenge and following that, adapting to the variety of colors used and the extent that aging and breakdown was required. I remember when we first did a lineup with Miles at the beginning of season 2, and I would explain the look to him, based on the concept we had talked about. His response was to age it twice more, three times more, and I could not believe it. But he was right, we needed to go that deep, the depth of the ages and the years and the cultures and the time that had passed, he wanted that to be very prominent. So I had to adapt very quickly last season and even more this season. Once a direction has been agreed upon, then it’s easier to develop and so this season I knew what the results had to be, and so I could easily engage in a way that would take me quickly and faster to that point.

Each season has a few different directors. How much input do the directors have on the costumes?

When each director comes in, they are already aware that the concept and style of the show have already been established by the showrunner, so they are already fully briefed on what world they are dealing with. So every time a new director arrived, we had a meeting straight away to discuss the plan for their episode and to share what looks had already been developed and/or made. Then they were able to put forward their own requests based on their scripts, which I have to say were always very reasonable and in tune with that world we had already created. In fact, I always found their input clever and valuable, coming completely from a directing perspective; a small concept, color, if a costume should pop more in a specific scene, perhaps for something to be a little more romantic, a little more aggressive. In particular, Paco Cabezas played a big part this season in influencing these finer details. This was a great learning experience for me and I found it very valuable to meet the person who will actually direct that episode and already has a visual on the finer details of the scene. For me, running around, prepping two or three episodes together, these conversations helped to regroup my ideas, forcing me to sit down and focus on a scene, which is a very beautiful part of the process.

The use of colors in the show is very interesting. How do you decide who wears what colors?

When I started on season 2, Badlands had just relocated from Lousiana to Ireland, and so I was joining at a time where the shooting environment would have a very real influence on color. Ireland offers so much beautiful and pure color, that one of the very first meetings I had with Miles was to understand which direction to go with the costume colors, to enhance how that would work with the environment. Miles then wanted each group of characters to be recognizable very quickly, which we wanted to achieve through the use of color. It was especially important in the overhead or wide shots, to know who each group is straight away from their colors. And so we had decisions to make about what colors we wanted to see in the distance facing each other and how that would look against the background.

So we had already established the color palettes for the main groups of characters last season. And so this season we had to think of the other tones we hadn’t used. An interesting direction was taken by Miles this season when it came to developing the look and color palette for a new group of characters – the pilgrims. Because they are a group of people with a very ancient and rich culture, it was decided they would not be stuck to one color but be allowed to use the whole color spectrum, so in a way, they represent a unification, a patchwork of all the other looks on the show. So overall, we have definitely used color as a tool to divide characters and grouping colors we wanted to see together on the screen. It felt similar to what a painter would do, looking at the canvass and understanding what the final look is and how that color is dispersed.

Have you learned anything new about costume design since working on this series?

I think the biggest lesson I learned on this show is how to push boundaries farther than I ever had to before in my career over 20 years. Usually, if you work on a fantasy project, you are working within the fantasy boundaries, and in a period project within the boundaries of that part of history, and so on. But Badlands wanted it all and wanted it all together, every style, color and pattern. It often required it all at once on the same character. So every item on the show, every jacket, pair of trousers or shoes, it has to carry all the trademarks of this particular world. It seemed to be an exercise in always going over the line, enlarging every feature, using not just color but the boldest color, shape or pattern. In previous jobs I was used to always restraining ideas, holding back and staying within those walls. So it really pushed my boundaries of creativity over any expectation I had and was very interesting to unlearn the art of restraint and always push myself further.

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