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With the rise of Bridgerton, historical fashion in TV has been brought into the spotlight. Bridgerton’s costumes are well-designed, beautiful, and evocative of the characters that wear them, but rarely are they truly accurate representations of what may have been worn in the Regency period. What people wear has always been an indicator of their personal traits, like wealth, social status, personality and culture. It presents a unique challenge for a costume designer to depict a character a certain way through their dress when the majority of the audience may not understand the fashion norms of the contemporary period. Some TV shows, like Bridgerton, and 2013’s Reign (which costumed the 16th century court of Mary Stuart in outfits you’d be more likely to see on a red carpet or at a high school prom) do this by breaking those rules entirely and leaning into anachronism. Others adhere more carefully to the fashion of the time period, and instead use more subtle colour and styling changes that are more recognisable to a modern viewer to convey those key details about the characters. One brilliant example is AMC’s Interview With The Vampire (IWTV). 

IWTV presents a serious challenge for the costume designer. It takes place in a range of locations, and the story spans over 100 years. The leading characters possess complex backstories – as the title suggests, they are all vampires. In the show, modern-day vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac recounts his life story, from his beginnings as a brothel owner in 1910s Storyville, New Orleans, to being turned into a vampire by Lestat de Lioncourt, their life together with their ‘daughter’ (the teenage vampire Claudia), and their relationship’s tragic end. Costumes not only have to convey the time period, but must also reflect how a vampire might take on the trends of the time (or not), and the decades, even centuries-long journeys of the immortal characters over the course of the series. Carol Cutshall, the show’s costume designer, undoubtedly rose to this challenge. 

Part 1 – Louis

Louis exists in all of the time periods the TV show covers, from 1910’s New Orleans, to the 1970s, through to present day Dubai. Not only this, his character’s personal journey is perhaps the most extensive – starting out as a human brothel owner and ending up as a mysterious vampire locked inside the metaphorical and literal coffin of his high rise Dubai apartment. This presents a dual challenge for the costume designer in conveying both the marked change in Louis’ circumstances and the time period he lives in. Louis is always fashionable – whether in tailored suits of the early 20th century,  or the sleek, more casual all-black outfits he wears in the modern day. Nonetheless, it remains evident that Louis’ fashion choices are part of a performance. As a Black business owner in the 1910s American South, his business and his identity are constantly threatened by powerful, white, racist men who run the city. His social circle overlaps with them, but it is clear with every interaction that they do not see him as an equal, and resent his success. In the public sphere, Louis is dressed impeccably well, but as much as this is evidence of his fashion sense, it is also a visual display of the constant pressure to perform to white people’s expectations in fear of losing his fragile position in society. When we see Louis in the safer environment of his home, whether that is with his family or later with Lestat and Claudia, he is dressed down in more muted colours, utilitarian jackets and comfortable knitwear. After he becomes a vampire, this comfort is revoked; he must now perform as his old self around his family, lest they find out his secret.His sense of dress becomes formal around them too, complete with a pair of red-tinted sunglasses that serve to cover his eyes (which changed colour as part of his transformation) and to ultimately construct an emotional barrier between himself and the family he was once so close with. 

Louis’ fortunes reach their greatest heights in the latter half of the 1910s, as the owner of the Azalea Hall, a highly successful brothel. This is when we see his clothing at its brightest and most daring, in an array of red suits, some of my favourite costumes from the series. But it does not last – his relationship with his family crumbles, and the passing of an ordinance to segregate New Orleans ends his business success with the Azalea. Louis’ life changes – in the fallout of his rather public murder of the alderman responsible for the ordinance. Louis arrives to kill the man dressed in a sleek, dark red-purple suit. It’s a rare moment of violence for Louis, who for most of his vampiric life refused to drink the blood of humans. Until now, the audience has seen Louis cling to his former human self. For the first time, dressed in one of his finest, darkest suits and with a demeanour of cool fury, we see Louis the dangerous, powerful, supernatural vampire for the first time. 

Louis’ actions do not come without repercussions, however. Black people in New Orleans are subject to the wrath of the white populace in response, and their residential districts are burned. Louis’ guilt drives him to save the life of Claudia, a teenage girl trapped in her burning home, by turning her into a vampire. Claudia is soon like a daughter to him, and Louis’ dress sense becomes muted and more domestic to reflect the familial direction his life has taken. We never see him in the bright, triumphant suits of the previous era again. 

In the present day, he and all the staff in his Dubai apartment wear only black. It’s a purposeful choice. In the Season Two trailer it is revealed that another non-staff member of his household is wearing white – the contrast reflects the sense of loss that hangs over present day Louis. His apartment is grey and minimalist, and his clothes are similar. Gone are the vibrant colours and his lavish styles of life with Lestat and Claudia in New Orleans. While still decidedly stylish, his clothing now reflects the lonely, depressed state he has sunk into. 

Part 2 – Lestat

When we first meet Lestat, he instantly sticks out from the people of New Orleans. While everyone else is in modern 1910s tailoring, he appears in a top hat, frock coat and cravat, his long hair defying the trend for neat, short haircuts cuts of the time. You don’t need to be a historical fashion expert to spot that he’s dressed decades behind the times, and the other characters notice this too, singling him out as someone mysterious. The explanation, of course, is that he’s a 150-year-old vampire, newly arrived from France, and rather stuck in his ways. At the start of their friendship, Louis is the one who brings Lestat into the present day – by taking him clothes shopping. Lestat is, from that point, dressed according to the fashions of the time. His clothes are a visual reflection of the influence Louis had and continues to have on his life.  

His clothing, however, always retains a uniquely ‘Lestat’ flair. Costume designer Carol Cutshall mentioned in an interview how Lestat’s suits were designed to fit him ‘like corsetry’, in reference to the more restrictive silhouettes of the late 18th century, when he was born and lived as a human. 

Lestat (and Louis)’s fashion also takes inspiration from the drawings of J.C. Leyendecker, an artist who, among many other works, made illustrations for menswear adverts in the early 20th century. Many of Leyendecker’s fashion illustrations featured a man called Charles A. Beach, whom Leyendecker lived with, and is widely regarded as having been Leyendecker’s life partner and lover. Lestat and Louis’ costuming is not just historical, but intentionally pays tribute to gay fashion history.

Lestat’s most iconic fashion moment comes at the end of the series, when he hosts the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations. He designs intricate costumes for himself, Louis and Claudia based on 18th century French court fashion. His first costume is the most outrageous – it’s a camp,, almost drag-like outfit, that calls to mind stays and panniers, complete with fur, jewels, feathers, a towering wig, and a neck ruff similar to Lucy Westenra’s vampire-wedding dress in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It isn’t really a historical garment, but the historical inspiration is clear; it is almost a parody of the ostentatious fashion of 18th century French nobility. The rest of the outfits worn by the vampires at this event are closer to their historical inspiration, but still remain eye-catching as they are made from fine, all white fabrics, which makes it all the more dramatic when blood is spilled at the end of the episode.

Part 3 – Claudia

Claudia is perhaps the greatest challenge of all to style. Not only does she exist across the decades, developing as a character,  but she also ages from 14 to 36 as a vampire trapped in her teenage body. The costumes, alongside a fantastic performance, work beautifully together to convey Claudia’s age, in spite of her appearance. 

In the novel, Claudia is five-years-old, and often likened to a doll. Despite being aged-up to 14 in the show, this doll-like quality is nevertheless retained, especially during her younger years. From sailor dresses to frilly nightgowns, it’s made clear that Louis is in charge of selecting her wardrobe. The younger Claudia lacks agency – she did not choose to become a vampire, but was made to assuage Louis’ guilt. This lack of agency extends to what she wears, dressed to children’s clothing catalogue perfection. As she gets older, she begins to choose for herself, dressing like a stylish young lady of the time; however she is judged by others who perceive her as a child playing dress-up. She eventually decides to go away to college – a rite of passage for many young people, although for Claudia it is more about breaking into libraries and eating the students… In this phase of her life she eschews the pretty, put together outfits that Louis chose for her in favour of relaxed, casual silhouettes and mismatched, often masculine clothes. 

Claudia grows angrier at her permanent teenage state the older she gets, She develops somewhat of a sadistic streak too, writing down her victim’s last words as she kills them and keeping body parts as trophies hidden in her room. As she gets older, red and other warm tones feature more heavily in what she wears, which usually contrasts Louis and Lestat, who are more often seen in neutrals and cooler colours. The red clearly reflects her violent and ruthless nature, but by setting her apart from Louis and Lestat, it also highlights her isolation, which leads to a drastic plan. 

The historical component of Season One of Interview with the Vampire ends with Louis’ memory of leaving New Orleans for Europe. Season Two is currently in production (having received a waiver from the current SAG-AFTRA strike), and sees Louis and Claudia in post-war Paris, meeting a coven of vampires who put on strange, deadly performances as the Théâtre des Vampires. It has also been hinted that the series will explore Lestat’s own time with the Théâtre des Vampires in the late 18th century. I’m excited to see how these two very different eras are represented through fashion, especially given the opportunity for style boundaries to be pushed using theatrical costumes. And, in the meantime, I will continue to seethe about the fact that IWTV was not nominated for a single Emmy, in costume design, acting or production, and hope that this beautiful, strange show one day gets the recognition it deserves.