This story about “Wednesday” costume designer Colleen Atwood first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Comedy issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
When Colleen Atwood was a child, her parents had a Charles Addams sketch hanging on a wall in their home. So when the four-time Oscar winner was hired to design the costumes for Netflix’s “Wednesday,” she was well acquainted with the world of the amusingly macabre clan that Addams first created in comic strip form in 1938.
For Atwood, the challenge was to honor that legacy while bringing Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday and Pugsley Addams (plus Thing!) into the 21st century.
“My vision for the costumes was a contemporary connectivity feeling, for young people to see the Addams family as people, as opposed to cartoonish,” she said.
“Wednesday” is Atwood’s fifteenth collaboration with Tim Burton, who exec-produced the series and directed four of the eight episodes — including the very first one, which earned Atwood her second Emmy nomination. (Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are the show’s creators.)
“I work very quickly in general, and I know how Tim likes to work,” she said. “He’s a reactive director, so I show him a lot of things in the beginning and then we whittle it down to what we like together.”
The starting point was defining the opposing styles of Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday and her bubbly werewolf roommate Enid (Emma Myers). In Episode 1, “Wednesday’s Child Is Full of Woe,” the two teens face off in their shared quarters at the Nevermore Academy for outcasts: the heroine in an oversized black hoodie and a black-and-white striped T-shirt and knee socks, Enid in a crocheted orange-and-pink flowered miniskirt and a fuzzy wool sweater with orange and pink stripes — one of many pullovers Enid wears to evoke her wolfdom.
“We were going for fur textures, and sweaters lend themselves to that,” Atwood said. “Her first sweater, I didn’t want her to be a pastel bunny, so I used intense, bright colors with a graphic sensibility.”
For the Nevermore school uniforms, Atwood had the black-and-purple striped wool custom-made to get just the right shade of purple. Creating these outfits, she said, was especially fun because she could tweak them according to the different characters and social groups:
“It was not only what they wore, but how they wore it, which is an important thing within the uniform world. You go outside private schools that are uniform schools and you see everybody’s interpretation of the same thing.” At Nevermore, she said, “the slackers — all their stuff was baggier and looser. And the hot girls, it was tighter and shorter. Wednesday was just kind of a cocoon.”
Her uniform was double custom: Atwood’s team painted the purple-striped wool black, then screen-printed a new fabric from that.
Atwood modeled headmistress Larissa Weems’ (Gwendoline Christie) prim, 1960s-style wool tweed ensembles and head scarves after Tippi Hedren’s look in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
“I felt like her character was a romantic and she followed fashion in a way that was more couture than High Street,” the costume designer said. Her sophisticated chic stands in stark contrast to the funeral-home finest sported by Gomez and Morticia when they drop their daughter off at Nevermore.
His pinstripe suit and her skin-tight gown, along with Wednesday’s black flowered dress with a gigantic, pointy white collar, were the most direct callbacks to the classic Addams style. The parents who Wednesday barely tolerates “weren’t in this first outing that much,” Atwood said. “But it’ll be fun to expand upon their wardrobes in another season.”
Read more from the Comedy/Variety/Reality/Nonfiction issue here.