From hackers to Hollywood, Trish Summerville is one of the edgiest, most ambitious costume designers in the industry.
Having made a name for herself as a celebrity stylist for artists like Christina Aguilera and Pink, Summerville transitioned in costume design in 1996, working as an assistant on films like The Long Kiss Goodnight and the David Fincher thriller The Game. In 2011 Summerville got her big break when Fincher chose her to head up the wardrobe department on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — a job that led to a deal with Swedish retailer H&M for a clothing collection based on the look of female protagonist Lisbeth Salander.
Most recently, Summerville created the wardrobe for Showtime’s Ray Donovan and took on the task of pulling together the couture-inspired costumes for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. EW sat down with the designer to ask her about what’s on her inspiration board, her favorite Catching Fire costume, and the look that launched her career.
Entertainment Weekly: How have the past 18 months or so been for you?
Trish Summerville: [It’s] been a little hectic. I guess I kind of went from Dragon, which I was on from start to finish — including the H&M line — almost 18 months, and from that right into doing the pilot for the Showtime show Ray Donovan, which I just got to see. They had a screening and a premiere, and it was a great time. It looks really good. I’m really excited. And I kind of went from that into Catching Fire. It’s been great, it’s been a lot of work but I like to work a lot, so it’s been really nice. It’s been a really great whirlwind and I feel really, really fortunate because the last few projects that I’ve been on, even though they’ve been a bit challenging at times, I feel really fulfilled, and I’ve gotten to work with such a great group of people. Especially when you look at all of the directors and actors involved.
Was there a person or a designer or a look that really got you interested in design?
Oh, well, I don’t know. That’s so long ago! I think from junior high up I knew I wanted to do something kind of in fashion, but I wasn’t really sure what it would be. I think then, it’s like, I really followed, if I was thinking like clothing lines, it would have been a lot like Blondie. I was really into Blondie, and Billy Idol, and I think it was a lot of being creatively driven by a lot of musicians. At that time I didn’t even know I would work with musicians, like I didn’t even know if [people] really did that. I thought, “Oh, you know, they probably just get a lot of their own clothes.”
Between Blondie and just looking at anything that Jean Paul Gaultier did, that’s when I realized, “Oh my God, there’s such a big world out there of so many creative looks, and opinions, and what is considered fashion.” Because, you know, I’m from New Orleans, so it’s like, we have our own kind of crazy characters that live there, but there was nothing like that. And I was in the punk scene when I was young. I kind of went from mod to a bit punk. I think it was just part of the trends, of Blondie and Gaultier, seeing those people and what they did made me realize. And Vivienne Westwood, because at that time I didn’t know Vivienne Westwood, who was responsible for a lot of the Sex Pistols’ fashion. I think that just kind of prompted me into thinking outside of the box, what was considered the norm and what was considered fashion, what was more like street fashion. I was into it, and musicians.
Who are your inspirations these days?
There are some designers that I really, really love and am inspired by, and aren’t always applicable for things. For the last, I guess it’s almost two years, I’ve been really obsessed with Iris van Herpen. The stuff she does is so groundbreaking and technical, and architectural, that she really just blows my mind. And she’s so young. The techniques she comes up with and all this 3-D fabrication she’s doing, and holograms, and just the materials that she’s using, and the structure that she does, the applications, and the shoes. I just think she’s really phenomenal. She did a pair of shoes she called the Fang Shoe, which I was obsessed with. I know she just did a water dress, but there was quite a bit before that.
Was there one look you created that you would say changed everything for you?
One of the funny ones, I guess, that got talked about was the David LaChapelle video for Christina Aguilera’s “Dirty.” [The chaps] got a lot of attention. And it was just so funny because everyone kept calling them “ass-less chaps,” but in general, chaps don’t have a bum. Good or for bad, that definitely got a lot of attention. When I look at what I think was kind of pivotal, it’s Lisbeth Salander’s look from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I wanted it to be really authentic and it was very genuine, as opposed to when you do a lot of music stuff it has a lot of flash, it has to make a statement and be bold. Whereas what I really enjoy about film is that you have this character development. It’s about those authenticities of what that character would really do and how they function every day in life. It’s not just about fashion. Like with Lisbeth, we went fully for function, the function of her clothes and what she could find, and how she would really wear it in her life. You know, the drop-crotch pants with the tight-fitted leather jacket, the fingerless gloves, and the taped-up combat boots. I think was a really iconic look.
What was the last look that you designed?
The last thing I designed would have been, I guess in Catching Fire, some of the looks in that are pretty intense, very colorful, so that was great fun because it took me completely into another world that’s not particularly my aesthetic. I like a lot of muted tones and unsaturated, washed out… and that was great because it propelled my mind to think in a really different manner because it is quite over the top. It’s kind of futuristic, but it’s not sci-fi on any level. It’s really bold and really colorful and quite campy at times, then it gets really serious. I tried to bring a little bit of darkness to it, you’re seeing a world that was already created in a book. You want to try to be really respectful to the writers, and you want to be respectful to the fan base, but then you also have to figure out what works visually and what you can bring to it as well. [And] I did the second installation so there’s certain things you want to be respectful about for the characters from the first one, but then also show a period of growth and transition.
I love the Peacekeepers that I did. I wanted to make them look a little more menacing, kind of insect-like. I draw a lot in my inspiration boards from different projects, a lot from nature, and animals, and insects. I just think that there’s so much there, in silhouettes and colors. The colors, they’re amazing, when you look in the insect world, and at in animals and nature. I wanted to make these Peacekeepers… after the first film, I felt like they needed to be bumped up a bit, because of what was going on in the second film with the rebellion that’s starting. I felt that we needed to show a transition, that the Capitol is stepping up its forces and making it much more intimidating and fearsome. So I went for this sort of spiny, praying mantis sort of look for them.
About your inspiration board, can you tell me what kinds of things are on it and how they inspire you?
For each project I do a new inspiration board. For Catching Fire I think we had probably 30, 40, 60 inspiration boards, because I did them for every district and every kind of character we had. On my personal board I have some photographs of native Americans, the Maasai tribe up, which I love, the east Indian painted elephants used for weddings and ceremonies.
Whether it’s for my designs or for my own aesthetic pleasure I’m really drawn to, tribal, native, cultural ways of dress. They’re so interesting and intricate, and generally have beadwork and metalwork. I also like the ideas that there’s this traditional, ceremonial fashion, but also this function. Like, I just recently purchased an image from a water.org benefit and they do this hike up Kilimanjaro to raise consciousness about clean water. There was this image that I just loved, and it was probably 20 Maasai women, in white beading and accessories, and I just loved that they all have on contemporary shoes. People go there and trade things for their jewelry and their cloth and things like that, and so this image is just all these beautiful Maasai women in traditional garb, but then they’re all wearing sneakers and flip flops. I like that. I like that they’ll make bracelets out of Coca-Cola cans. They take what they have and then make it functional and use very interesting forms of adornment.
What else is on your personal board right now?
I have an image of an Iris van Herpen dress.
How does that inspire you?
That one inspires me just because, it looks very insect-like. It’s so modern but it’s really structural, and I love the silhouette of it. It’s very extreme. I have some [pictures of] Haider Ackermann designs. I think he’s really genius and really chic, and his clothes are quite beautiful and really sexy. I have pictures of rocks and stones because I’m interested in doing a jewelry line. I’ve been doing some sketches, and on my table I have a lot of loose stones and rocks. There’s a piece of barbed wire from a bracelet I made. And then, on the funny side of me, there are some inspirational quotes that I put up from time to time. I have a picture of Obama and the Dalai Lama, some family photos.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a movie, hopefully next year. It’s under wraps still. I’m crossing my fingers it’s shooting in [Los Angeles], which would be amazing. I live in Los Angeles. I hear the talk of Old Hollywood and how everything was shot here, but now so much stuff is shot outside of town.
For more on costume designer Trish Summerville, pick up the New Hollywood Issue, on stands now.