Before there were The Children, before The First Men, there was a scrappy team of costume designers using anything they could get their hands on to bring the fantasy world of Westeros to life. Including resources from one Scandi retailer we all know and love…to hack.
In a surprising connection made by BuzzFeed before last night’s latest installment of Game of Thrones on HBO, it turns out that all those swoon-worthy fur capes styled for Jon Snow and other hardy residents of The North are actually made from RENS sheepskin throw rugs from IKEA. Because, you know, they need as much of that budget as they can get for CGI dragons and epic battle scenes.
Buzzfeed writer Shyla Watson did some digging around the interwebs after stumbling upon this Getty Museum lecture given last year by Michele Clapton, who was the lead costume designer for Game of Thrones for the show’s first five seasons, at the tail end of their showcase of the series’ Medieval Art (which we covered in 2015).
Clapton joined Deborah Landis, director of the Copley Center for Costume Design at UCLA, and Bryan C. Keene, assistant curator of manuscripts at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, to discuss the series’ medieval aesthetic and the visual sources for her designs (aka #DesigningGoT).
Just before the 25 minute mark, Clapton shares her design process from start to finish, how she begins by “collecting like a magpie” and the shocking costuming secret for the look of the Night’s Watch in particular — which, in hindsight given the show’s (and the North’s) very Viking-esque feel, actually makes a ton of sense.
“These capes are actually IKEA rugs,” Clapton says, among giggles. “Bit of a trick, really. We take anything we can. We cut, and we shaved them, and then we added strong leather straps, and breakdown which is like a religion on Game of Thrones… I wanted the audience to almost be able to smell the garments.”
Clapton talked about all the ways in which her team of costume designers dyed and aged and distressed the rugs and other pieces of clothing to give them that now-classic GoT look — the process known in show business as “the breakdown.” The IKEA capes/rugs are dyed, waxed and frosted to best pair with the scene’s landscape, then aged or worn by sandpapering or even grating the fabric. Working with Game of Thrones producer David Benioff, they envisioned how there would be a big cauldron at the Wall, where donated clothing would be dyed black and distributed for layering by Night’s Watch members, making the costumes even more realistic to the narrative and lending actual character development to the actors.
Considering Clapton returned to design the costumes for Season 7, it’s fair enough to say that she’s also the mastermind behind Jon’s epic fur cape look at Dragonstone and other fashion awesomeness this year.
If you’re interested in learning more about the art history of the Middle Ages and the visual references and inspiration taken from its existing works for Game of Thrones, check out the Getty Museum’s amazing blog at Getty.edu.