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'Vikings' costume designer on dressing pillagers and plunderers for the History Channel series

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Vikings 03
Jonathan Hession/History

In the nine-part mini-series Vikings, Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his band of horn-helmeted brutes pillage and plunder wearing togs by Emmy award-winning costume designer Joan Bergin (The Tudors and Camelot).

“I started researching mainly at Scandinavian museums, which are exemplary in the way they show all the great findings, and although a lot of the fabrics have rotted, there are a lot of artifacts and jewelry,” said Bergin, who also took a little creative license on the costumes. “I built up a very general picture of how they looked, but I discovered that perhaps there wasn’t enough there to sustain visual interest for nine episodes. I had to take a leap of faith. Overall, I think you just try to be as true and as original as you can and take some liberties to make it interesting.”

With a reported budget of $40 million, Vikings, is the biggest production ever commissioned by the History channel, which meant Bergin had the resources she needed to create luxe period costumes with intricate details.

Click on to see the stories behind the characters’ fierce looks.

Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and Ragner (Travis Fimmell)

“Ragner was very different, with those wolf blue eyes of his,” Bergin says of the Viking commander. “Charlemagne once said he dressed the way he did so people would recognize him and the power he held, and I’m always aware of that. The audience shouldn’t sit there and go ‘Oh my god look what Joan Bergin has sewn.”

The costume designer says the warriors’ wives also have a style that’s all their own. “Katheryn [Winnick], who plays Ragner’s wife Lagertha, and the actress who plays Earl Haraldson’s [Gabriel Byrne] wife, Siggy [Jessalyn Gilsig], I think they grew into their stature. “[As the] series continues, they get better and better.”

Male or female, the clothes say a lot about the Viking. “If you were a Viking, you murdered people who were your enemies for the greater good of something else. Paganism… is a culture, it’s a different way of looking at the world, and I think that even in a little way I managed to convey that through the clothes. That would be my slogan for the T-shirt: These people were different. That’s the excitement of the series, through the acting and the writing and production design, which I think is very strong, and the set dressing, all those details.”

Next:  Siggy and Thyri