‘Shadow and Bone’: Behind All That Era-Skewing, Embroidery-Centric Attire

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Netflix’s “Shadow and Bone” arrived on TV this spring just in time to fill the “Game of Thrones”-sized void in the fantasy adventure series genre of late and nabbed the numbers to prove it.

Adapted from Leigh Bandugo’s novel series, the first of which shares the same title, the series is a timely, apt parable of the Grisha, a blessed people afforded special powers, as they assert themselves into a warring society that often has designs on harming or destroying them, particularly in the case of Alina (Jessie Mei Li), a mapmaker who discovers she is a Sun Summoner, with the rare ability to control light.

So how do you create costumes for a show with no set parameters on history’s timeline, as seen in the convention-bending series? “The main body of the show has an 1870s, Russian-Prussian influence, but we didn’t want to make it a period show,” costume designer Wendy Partridge says. “The warring factions in this show are an Asian, Nordic, Celtic and Black America kind of feeling. It means the clothing can be really interesting and all the other accoutrements can be diverse. It’s quite a fine envelope that you squeeze into and it’s nice to be able to stretch that envelope and manipulate it out into more facets. It’s definitely a multicultural show, and that will be in evidence even more in Season 2.”

The color palette, as depicted in Bandugo’s prose, possesses a red and blue scheme to determine their rank, and one of the key distinctions of the Grisha is their long robes and intricate embroidery, something Partridge sees as highly distinctive in the series’ overall look. “The embroidery took on an almost graffiti-esque quality, very gnarly and pointy and modern, and that was very intentional,” Partridge says. “Even the insignias were given this slightly modern feeling, so it didn’t feel like we were trying to do a William Morris lookalike. I don’t know that we’ve ever seen a show with quite so much embroidery in it.”

Partridge, a veteran of fantasy entertainment ranging from TV’s “Van Helsing” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with “Thor: The Dark World,” created 2,000 costumes for the first season of “Shadow and Bone,” which ranged in use from the Army factions to the various Grisha to all the Summoners and bounty hunters.

SHADOW AND BONE (L to R) JESSIE MEI LI as ALINA STARKOV in SHADOW AND BONE Cr. DAVID APPLEBY/NETFLIX © 2021

“It was a very large undertaking, in that there was a lot to manufacture, and we wanted the Army to feel like a very intentional mish-mash,” she says. “We also wanted to make [the Army] feel like it had been around for a long time, with uniforms being passed down from generation to generation. And so rather than just ordering up 500 Army uniforms from some factory, I went about the task of finding every kind of drab color, shade, texture, and weight of material — sometimes it would just be enough material to make one pair of pants or one jacket.”

Fantasy and science fiction is not the genre that Partridge necessarily sought out, but it has proved to envelop her innate creativity. “I don’t have a preference of what I like to work with,” she says. “I think my only criteria for designing is something where I can build, so I try to avoid contemporary shows because my forte is building and designing from scratch. That’s where my love and talents lie. I’m not great at going to the mall [laughs].”

“Shadow and Bone” is now available to stream on Netflix

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