As Vita & Virginia hits cinemas this weekend, Irish costume designer Lorna Mugan explains the process and inspiration behind creating the perfect outfits for the Virginia Woolf/Vita Sackville-West bio-pic …
The literary work both Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West produced gave me so much insight into their personal style. Both were prominent and influential women and were photographed and painted often so I had lots of material to refer to.
The two women were controversial figures; they challenged the conventional roles of women in society in 1920s England. Vita was an aristocrat who had an open marriage with her Diplomat husband, Harold Nicholson. She traveled widely and had affairs with both men and women – often tiring of them very quickly. I ensured that her costumes had an experimental, playful and androgynous style and I was often influenced by her travels to exotic lands. Virginia was so fascinated and inspired by this chameleon character, that she wrote Orlando, a novel published in 1928.
By contrast, Virginia’s style reflects her fragility and introspection. I used lighter weight fabrics in multiple layers. She was also a bohemian of the Bloomsbury circle, who would occasionally wear a bold pattern in a dress and she was more careful and attentive to every fine detail. She was comfortable in a certain style and silhouette and she stuck with it.
My favourite design for Vita is the black and white silk shirt with ruffle collar and cream palazzo pants. This is her interpretation of a tuxedo: elegant, sensuous and quirkily androgynous.
All of the costumes were tailored in our workroom by my fantastic team led by chief cutter, Gill Howard. I usually sketch and play with colour and tone whilst choosing fabrics. I also created some bold print fabrics for Vita. Most of the accessories and trimmings were original vintage that we sourced for the project.
We filmed in quite a few amazing stately home locations around Dublin, which not too many film crews would get the chance to, as well as on the grounds of Trinity College. Dublin has so much to offer period filming in terms of authenticity and accessibility, which many other capital cities often struggle to combine.
Vita & Virginia is out in Irish cinemas now
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