Costume Designer Sarah Voon on creating the nostalgic looks for Daffodils

Daffodils movie costume designer Sarah Voon

Sarah Voon, costume designer for Daffodils. Image supplied.

Daffodils is a new Kiwi film that tells a bittersweet love story with re-imaginings of iconic New Zealand songs. It opens on March 21st here in NZ and and is a highly anticipated release that follows the successful play version of the story. The film tells the the love story of  husband and wife, Eric and Rose, through their daughter Maisie’s eyes and follows their relationship from their first meeting in the 1960s through to the 1980s in true kiwi style. Maisie relives the couple’s story through song after leaving her dying father’s bedside in present day to perform at an indie music gig.

It’s a heartfelt story of a bittersweet relationship, family and what it means to grow up and find yourself in Aotearoa. The beautiful interpretations of songs from the likes of Crowded House, Bic Runga and Dave Dobbyn add to the wonderfully nostalgic and truly New Zealand feel of the film.

Costumer designer Sarah Voon had the challenge of bringing the Daffodils costumes to life for each character over an extended period of time, with looks from several different decades and changing ages of the characters to take into consideration. It’s a big job to create looks that are appropriate for the situation, each actor and feel authentic for the era they’re in while working to a budget and delivering it all on time.

We caught up with Sarah to find out how she went about creating each character’s look, what her favourite outfits were and how long it all took to put together for the film?

Congratulations on Daffodils, it’s a beautiful film and the costumes are sublime and do such a wonderful job at helping tell the story and get across the different time periods. The film originally began as a play, had you seen the play version before you began work on the film version?
Thank you, I’m super proud of Daffodils and the intense amount of work put into showcasing each era in a way unique to New Zealand.

I saw the Daffodils play at the Auckland Town Hall a couple of years ago, and loved the energy and simple structure of the stage version (performed by the talented Todd Emerson and Colleen Davis), incorporating some beloved New Zealand songs. An accomplished theatre piece it had the power to connect with and uplift you, before dashing you devastatingly to earth with the story of this NZ couple who couldn’t find the words. Naturally I was intrigued about the screenplay adaption, and excited when contacted about costuming the film version.

Were there any looks or particular costume pieces that were carried over from the play or did you start fresh with the costumes for the film?
With any project, my starting point is the script, and discussion with the Director, so a couple of costume elements have carried through from the play, as necessary parts of the story – for example red as the colour of a dress that Rose wears in early scenes, and Eric’s white shirt and skinny tie. My motivation and inspirations for how these looks actualised on the film’s actors and developed throughout the movie however, were entirely conceived from the script and my research around the different decades, as there was so much more to convey and weave together within the filmic format.

Daffodils movie interview with costume designer Sarah Voon

Rose McIver as Rose and George Mason as Eric in Daffodils. Image by Matt Klitscher.

Recreating a different time period is a lot of research and work, in this case you were creating looks from the 60’s – 80’s as well as present day. Where did you start your research and where did you source the vintage and vintage-inspired costumes from?
A huge amount of personal time and effort went into this one as the massive swathe of content demanded it. We were offered access to writer Rochelle Bright’s (whose parents inspired this story) family albums and home movies, which provided some great foundations upon which to build, expand and enhance character design. From there followed books, films, NZ archival footage, internet and my own family’s photo albums and movies for a slightly different – but still very New Zealand – perspective.

Apart from the design and in house manufacture of some important pieces, sourcing the costumes started from within my own vast collection, some of which belonged to my parents when they were young. A couple of my amazing costume team contributed key items from their personal collections and closets, Avalon Studio’s small but perfectly formed costume stock, and of course there were rentals from our wonderful, underrated Costume Houses up and down the country (First Scene and Across The Board in Auckland, AmDram in Whanganui, and the Costume Cave, Totally Frocked and Creative Show Off in Wellington).

Then there was the shopping, we opshopped like there was no tomorrow, driving from Auckland to Hamilton, Whanganui, Wellington to Masterton and back – shopping all the way – sometimes fitting people in clothes we had bought in the morning for shooting in the evening.

The two lead characters, Rose and Eric, have a huge number of costume changes from the start to the finish of the film. Where did you draw inspiration from for the costuming and styling for them and did you have a mood board for each of them?
Mood boards are an important tool in costume design, and there were several made up for the different decades for each Rose and Eric. As I read the script multiple times and was breaking it down into story days and eras, I would jot down any little notes about a character’s personality that came into my head, and funny little clothing quirks they may have – jewellery that may have been handed down or gifted that they always wear, a favourite colour of a specific time period, a homemade accessory or the preferred cut of a collar or length of trouser. There was also constant communication and collaborating with the incredible talents Frankie Karena (Makeup and Hair designer) and Brendan Heffernan (Production Designer) for natural and effortless feeling visual cohesion.

How long did the fittings take with the two lead actors and how much influence did they have in the process?
Lovely George Mason (Eric) was my first victim, and endured with incredible grace and good humour an epic five hour long first fitting, during which we managed to nail most of his 37 different looks for the 60s, 70s and 80s. After that he had several smaller fittings for certain costumes that required makes or alterations. Saint Rose McIver (Rose) had the most costumes of anyone (58), and her fittings were necessarily spread throughout the shoot, with approximately three 2-3 hour long stints to start and a few shorter ones as we laboured on the making of some of the more intricate designs for her. Both actors were collaborative whilst being trusting of my process, offering little suggestions now and then which I was very happy to accommodate, such as George wanting to wear the same ring the original “Eric” had worn.

Daffodils movie interview with costume designer Sarah Voon

Rose McIver as Rose and George Mason as Eric in their wedding outfits. Images by Matt Klitscher.

What was your day like when Daffodils was filming and how many people in your costume department work on the set each day dressing the actors and extras?
My days during filming were varied, but usually involved fittings, preparing for fittings, shopping, sourcing and going to set to establish important scenes, then returning for yet more fittings. We were always trying to find enough vintage material or trims to construct repeats of things, or suitably replicate something. As the costuming required specific silhouettes for different decades, there was a ton of vintage bras, waist trainers and knickers in the correct shapes required, not to mention pantyhose, petticoats, gloves, hats and handbags.

As our extras all required head to toe costuming, and there were quite a few crowd scenes, we were still fitting people up to the second to last day of shooting where we did a solid day and into the night of around 30 people. Just myself and Supervisor/Coordinator Alice Baker would handle every fitting, on set there was a small expert core team of three, with up to six casual assistants for large days such as Queen Street in the 1980’s with over 80 extras plus core cast.

Speaking of numbers, do you know how many costumes there were in total for the film?
I went back to my original spreadsheets and it turned out there were over a thousand costumes required. Approximately 1025 including repeats, extras and stunts.

What are some of your favourite pieces or looks from the film and why?
I guess my sentimental favourites are the costumes I designed and we made specially for Rose (and by proxy Maisie, her daughter, played by Kimbra) such as the red dress with hand painted gold pattern Rose wears in early scenes, and has been appropriated by Maisie who wears it in her own way to perform in years later. Rose’s elegant 60’s wedding dress, her two bridesmaids and flower girls, the floral cotton shirred bikini, her first date dress, and many more! I also loved Eric and his mate’s original sixties suits, ties and shoes – there are very few shirts with the rounded collar tips, so we had to alter a few to get the real feel of this decade.

What is your favourite part of your job?
The early character development, research and design of a project is my absolute favourite part, and where you can strive for authenticity while still aiming to bring something a little elevated in colour, texture and unexpected details.

What advice would you give for anyone who wants to be a costume designer in New Zealand?
Watch a lot of films, learn what works, and get yourself a job on set or assisting in the Costume workroom and learn from the ground up. I believe it helps to be a curious person with a passion for storytelling.

Daffodils movie interview with costume designer Sarah Voon

Kimbra as Maisie. Image by Matt Klitscher.

Daffodils movie interview with costume designer Sarah Voon

Rose McIver as Rose in the 1980s. Image by Matt Klitscher.

Daffodils movie interview with costume designer Sarah Voon

George Mason as Eric in the 1960s. Image by Matt Klitscher.

Watch the Daffodils trailer below:

Daffodils opens nationwide on March 21st.

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