The Shape of Water: Costume Design

‘The Shape of Water’ from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is a total success and it shows: 13 Oscar Awards nominations, its Golden Lion from Venice Film Festival, two Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Original Score, three BAFTA Awards to Best Direction, Best Music Film and Best Production Design.

From the long list of nominations and awards, I will focus on Costume Designers Guild Award for Excellence in Period Film to Luis Sequeira whose hands were responsible for the costume design of ‘The Shape of Water’.

Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017). Photo: IMDb

It is ironic to think Guillermo del Toro wanted the movie to be black and white and due to budget issues, as he mentioned in many interviews, it was filmed in full color. If it wasn’t to that «impasse» we wouldn’t have seen such visual richness and that ‘second language’ -as I call it- which helped communicate the movie premise through the color palette: love.

Indie Wire’s editor, Chris O’Falt, also explains it when he mentions that red was employed to increase love note and scenes where Elisa Esposito, the main character, reaches her romance climax. You can notice it through the red velvet headband, red coat and red shoes she wears over the general blue atmosphere shown in the movie.

Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017). Photo: IMDb

While the blue range is the tool for the creation of the film’s universe as the apartment where Elisa lives and the amphibian man with whom she blends, starting from her pajamas to her cleaning uniform. Green is important too, chosen to depict the laboratory’s ambiance as the symbol for dangerous, harmful and poisonous.

Michael Shannon in The Shape of Water (2017). Photo: IMDb

Photography and Art Direction in the movie are so homogeneous and harmonious that characters often blend with scenography, and the costumes are the vehicle to this purpose. According to an interview Luis Sequeira gave to BAFTA Guru, he made research on documents and photographies from the early ’60s where he took inspiration from to then look for fabrics and accessories from that decade in varied United States cities.

There’s no doubt one of the main challenges were the crafting of the amphibian man suit which cost was ten thousand Canadian dollars, countless hours of work and six hands that resulted in a four-layer costume composed of crystals and other materials valued about 450 dollars per meter.

Photo: HBO First Look

Sequeira took into account the dramatic arc of every character, if you take a closer look, Elisa starts with a green fashion styling and through it she stands out in the work entrance queue (the scientific-military laboratory), later she appears in her blue cleaning uniform by which she falls in love with her beloved monster. The darkest moments are shown in gray or green outfits and at the climax she wears red.

Photos: IMDb

In the supporting cast, Zelda -Elisa’s partner in crime, interpreted by Octavia Spencer- wears dresses on the brown range and always stays in color harmonies. The same goes to the neighbor Giles, interpreted by Richard Jenkins, who wears beiges and browns. On the other hand, Colonel Richard Strickland, the antagonist played by the actor Michael Shannon, stands in an elegant black suit -as dark as his intentions- and a white shirt that covers his only bright side: the family man that takes us to the typical picture of the ’50s and ’60s perfect families when the wives waited for her husband at home with the dinner served and the kids watching tv.

Martin Roach, Michael Shannon, and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water (2017). Photo: IMDb
Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water (2017). Photo: IMDb
Michael Shannon, Lauren Lee Smith, Jayden Greig, and Madison Ferguson in The Shape of Water (2017). Photo: IMDb
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