Costume Designer Michele Clapton Talks Hidden Messages in Metal and Outfitting an Army

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With Game of Thrones' Season 5 production well underway, costume designer Michele Clapton took a break from dressing Starks and Lannisters to participate in "Dressed to Kill: Arms and Armor From Medieval Knights to Game of Thrones," part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Spark Conversation Series.

Alongside artist Miya Ando and Pierre Terjanian, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Curator in Charge of the Department of Arms and Armor, Clapton discussed the unique and nuanced process of making armor for GoT. Below, you'll find Clapton's take on the many components she factors into her creative method.

Construction

Clapton's team works in a vast studio space that houses the making and cutting of costumes, the armor department, and breakdown – the process of aging, patterning or making materials look worn. Clapton enjoys the collaborative nature of the space, as "someone dying leather and fabric," while the armor department is "very loud and bashing things away." She calls creating armor her favorite thing to do because it "gives craftspeople a chance to experiment."

Instruction

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan

When creating the armor for the Unsullied, Clapton had specific parameters: a silhouette that communicated strength and a helmet with a point, as specified in George RR Martin's novels. Creating one look for a vast army of extras proved challenging, especially given the physiques specific to different shooting locations: "We filmed in Morocco where extras were narrow-shouldered, and then filmed in Croatia where men were huge," Clapton said with a laugh. The piece that brought the look together was the helmet that obscures the face. "Bending the points on the helmet creates a more elegant look." Clapton explained. On set, the helmets immediately unified the group as a "true army." Clapton recalled there were "all sort of issues when we were filming because they started behaving as a pack." The crew ended up creating a new rule: "You can't put your helmet on until you get to set."

Storytelling

At the end of the day, "It's the process of trying to tell a story," said Clapton. This is especially true for elements that are presented as gifts, since the items reflect the giver more than the receiver. Season 4 saw several gifts, including the golden hand that Cersei gives to Jaime. "She wants to cover something she finds ugly and deformed," Clapton explained. "It was designed to be beautiful and look like it wanted to caress."

"It's a gentle shape, rather than something strong."   Photo Credit: Helen Sloan

"It's a gentle shape, rather than something strong."  
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan

In the case of Jaime's gift to Brienne of Tarth, armor and Oathkeeper, "Jaime wanted to show his regard for Brienne and the best way to do that is to give her something he would like." Clapton continues: "Jaime isn't a particularly creative person, so the armor is quite functional."

"He crafted the armor in the 'Lannister way,' which is to make it in the best way." Photo Credit: Helen Sloan

"He crafted the armor in the 'Lannister way,' which is to make it in the best way."
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan

Production

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan

The filming schedule can prove uniquely challenging. "Sometimes we shoot the after-battle scenes before the battle scenes," Clapton explains. In these instances, the armor goes to breakdown, and gets cleaned up as filming progresses. Of course, some material gets more attention than others: "Joffrey's armor doesn't get aged at all because he doesn't use it," revealed Clapton.

Other times, the department will create multiple sets of armor. With longer scenes, Clapton's team crafts two sets in metal and one plastic set – the metal can be heavy. "Some actors enjoy the weight," Clapton shared, "but you see it on screen briefly and they're wearing it for a day and a half shooting in it." Stunts can also necessitate altercations; such was the case for Brienne's fight with the Hound. Actor Gwendoline Christie's armor could not be shared with her stuntperson because "Brienne's stuntman is a man," Clapton reveals.

Characterization

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan 

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan 

Clapton's team factors in each character's unique background: "You take each family and look at them and where they come from. You try to bring that into how they look." For the Greyjoys, the Iron Islands clan, "We used fish oil and wax on top. We liked the idea that they'd smell." The Lannisters and Baratheons have more ornate armor. "In King's Landing there are streets of armorers, so there's competition," Clapton explained, "whereas in Winterfell there's one armorer whose trade has been passed down father to son."

Host Julie Burstein summarized Clapton's efforts: "The story is being told on so many different levels; not just what they say, but what they wear and give to each other." Clapton concurred: "If you go back and watch it another time, you might see other messages in there. It's not just a one-watch sort of show."