Dressed to Kill: A Conversation with the Costume Designer of Catching Fire

Trish Summerville tells TIME how she managed to costume all of Panem — and why it took 3 people to put that dress on Jennifer Lawrence

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Murray Close / Lionsgate

What would the world of The Hunger Games be if not for its clothes? We caught up with Catching Fire costume designer Trish Summerville on what it took to dress all of Panem.

TIME: What kind of look and feel were you going for in Catching Fire?

Summerville: We [her and director Francis Lawrence] discussed what the overall world should look like. And we both wanted to take it up a lot, fashion-wise. We definitely wanted it to be darker. We had discussions about how it has to be much more intense, since there’s this uprising. The stakes are a lot higher and there’s a lot more anger and energy and fear that’s all going on, so this all has to translate.

So it’s this heightened reality that we had to have — in the Capitol was and in the districts. Making them dirtier, making them more lived in, showing their struggles through their clothes. And in the Capitol [it was about] showing this extreme insatiable appetite for change. They’re  hungry for new fashion and change and color and detail — and in the same sense having this dark undertone, this underbelly that there’s something brewing.

Katniss Wedding Dress

Tex Savario

Can you explain the design process behind Katniss’ dress?

With that particular piece — reading the script and reading the book —it was important to figure out the key elements and also what we felt that fans would feel really strongly about. We had to work in a few different ways, through the level of fashion and also through the level of function.

I have been following this Jakartan designer, Tex Savario, for quite some time and really haven’t had a place yet where I could use any of his creations. So when this script came up, I thought this was probably the ideal opportunity to use him. We went back and forth with a lot of Skype sessions — telling him how I really wanted to maintain the essence in this particular dress of the inflection of fire. That [eventually manifested as] the cage that reaches up [to create] that kind of flame feeling from her bodice to her face. And I also wanted to keep in there a feather motif. I didn’t want to literally do feathers, but [we talked] about what we could do as far as laser-cutting fabric.

Wait, so the wedding dress was lasercut?

There are pieces around the waist that are laser-cut. They’re like feathers — almost between a peacock and mockingbird feather. So there’s small laser-cut feathers that go around between the bottom of the metal cage and Katniss’ hip. The rest of the bottom of the skirt is all organza and chiffon ruffles.

How many people does it take to put that dress on Jennifer Lawrence?

It takes about three of us, because it’s pretty weighty. You need two people to lift it up and get it on her. She would then put her hands on her dresser Scotty’s shoulders and he would hold it at the waist so we could go in and lace the back.

Any interesting stories involving the dress?

She fell. As she goes up the ramp to do her interview with Caesar Flickerman [played by Stanley Tucci], she kind of stepped on the front of her dress and fell forward. Luckily, there’s so much dress that her face and her chest never touch the ground. The joke between us when she fell at the Academy Awards, ever so gracefully, [was that] I sent her a text congratulating her on how happy I was for her. I left it at “thank goodness we practiced you falling in such a grand dress, you did such an exquisite job.”

What’s the hardest part of dressing around 6,000 extras?

I had a really great fitting team, I always say it takes a tribe because you can’t do it on your own. I think the hardest part was while we were shooting other scenes, we were fitting about 106 people a day — I think we did that for about 30 days. At some point, you’re just a bit exhausted. We’d start the day with coffee and at the end of the day, me and the last fitter there would end with a drink somewhere. It was just exhausting.

What’s your favorite costume from Catching Fire?

It’s really quite hard, it’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. You have different ones close to your heart for different reasons. There are so many, [but] one of the ones that I wish we saw a bit more of is Johanna’s chariot costume, because it’s just really beautiful. It’s a one-piece bodysuit that’s on this really fine tulle. And it has three-dimensional metallic raised printing on it, with metallic green ink to look like bark. Her bodice is hand-tooled iridescent leather that’s kind of brown, with bronzes and golds in it. It’s just really, really beautiful and you only kind of see it waist up when she strips down.

What is the one trick you’ve learned over your years of experience that you wish someone had told you a lot sooner?

For me it’s picking and choosing your fights and battles and don’t react. I think that would be my number one, it’s just don’t react. The main key with this job is it’s a lot of problem-solving and your approach. It’s just staying really level-headed, figuring out how can we make this happen, is this at all doable and then rationally talking it out. You just can’t react over something because you’re going to lose that battle.