The Great Emancipator didn't really free us from vampires, but costume designer Varvara Avdyushko still insisted on creating a historically accurate wardrobe. ''Even though we were making a fantasy, everything had to look very real,'' she says. ''He's a national hero, so it was a big responsibility''
Even the most eagle-eyed moviegoer will likely miss some of the finer points of the film’s costumes, but Avdyushko says it’s all in a day’s work. ”I love to use details like special buttons or a ring or certain tie, but in the end the audience usually doesn’t see [those things],” she says. ”I try to tell [my husband, Vampire Hunter director Timur Bekmambetov] to put them in the shot, but it doesn’t work!”
The Custom Coat
Creating a coat that was both believable and wearable during fight scenes became one of Avdyushko’s biggest challenges. ”We put the fabric through a process of waxing, dyeing, and aging until we got something that looked like leather but wasn’t, looked old even though it was new, and looked heavy but was still comfortable enough to do stunts in,” she says of her pain-staking technique.
”All of the boots for Ben and the other main characters were custom-made in Italy,” says Avdyushko, who supplemented the original clothing made for the film (out June 22) with period pieces sourced from costume houses in England, Hungary, and Los Angeles. ”We were lucky that Benjamin is very tall, because we didn’t have to use any tricks [like lifts] to make him appear larger.”
The movie takes place over a period of 40 to 50 years, so this hat ”actually looks different than the iconic hat, the one we know,” says Avdyushko of Abe’s vampire-fighting topper, one of about 15 versions of the signature stovepipe used during filming. ”The transition was amazing. How Ben behaved in the different costumes, how he was wearing them — it was like seeing him become president.”
Tools of the Trade
”In one of the coats we made, there was a special kind of harnesslike pocket where Lincoln could hide his ax,” says Avdyushko, who helped create a substance that looked like blood but didn’t stain the clothes. Still, ”sometimes they got a little crazy [with the gore]. That’s why the most important trick was to have doubles of the costumes.”