Tim Burton’s long-time costume designer Colleen Atwood tells IndieWire about finding the perfect dresses for Wednesday Addams.
Wednesday Addams is many things, but you wouldn’t think of her as a dancer. (Actually, if you’ve seen the original “Addams Family” series, you’ve probably seen the famous Wednesday dance.) But in the premiere season of Netflix’s “Wednesday,” we see the titular character, expertly played by Jenna Ortega, navigate the world of high school dances in Episode 4, “Woe Is the Night.” The Rave’N dance sees Wednesday strut her stuff and showcase a beautiful dress designed by series director Tim Burton’s long-time costume designer, Colleen Atwood.
Wednesday’s dress had to fulfill several requirements, according to Atwood, who talked to IndieWire via Zoom. Since Wednesday was going to dance in it it had to have a flow that wouldn’t impede Ortega’s movements while looking “sort of otherwordly.” Initially conceived as something similar to a 1950s prom dress, Atwood assumed she’d end up making the dress from scratch, especially since Wednesday buys it from a vintage store in the series. “Cut to I’m in a store [on Bond Street in London] and I see it on a mannequin, and I go, ‘Oh my God, this dress is the perfect dress. My assistant was shopping with me and she’s super petite [so] I made her put it on and dance.” she said.
The dress (pictured above) itself came with its own pedigree, designed by the legendary Alaïa (yes, like the dress Cher wore in “Clueless”) and what stuck out to Atwood initially was the nylon fabric which was so sharp and clean as to almost be like something from space. “The fabric was [one] I was familiar with because I’ve used it in dance costumes,” she said. And while the dress itself looks black, Atwood noticed the way it had different colors, charting the character’s growth throughout the series. “You don’t see it that well on camera, but it’s tie dyed. It wasn’t just solid black [but] was black with kind of an earth brown color in it so it caught light in a really nice way for a black item,” Atwood said.
The dress is certainly beautiful…for a little bit. The dance has an all-white theme, which Wednesday, of course, bucks convention with by dressing in black. As the episode goes on, the students of Nevermore Academy become victims of a cruel joke by the local townsfolk, with three teen boys deciding to reenact “Carrie” and making the sprinkler system spray blood throughout the auditorium. It was something that went into Atwood’s decision-making with the costumes, though much of the team was in the dark till the last minute. “The whole time we’re prepping my team and I kept saying, ‘How are we going to do the blood?’ And everybody [else] was sort of like, ‘Oh, we’ll figure it out,’” she said.
The team decided to take matters into their own hands, seeking out white costumes that both adhered to the other Nevermore students, but that could be purchased in bulk to allow for multiple takes of the blood drenching. She also went in search of fabrics that had a little bit of surface coating, eschewing knits or other fabrics that would soak in the fake blood. “Things that have a little bit of structure in the weaving of the fabric” is best, Atwood explained, as they’re able to repel things a bit.
If anything, Atwood emphasizes scenes like this are a collaborative element alongside hair and makeup. “Somebody’s wig or hair gets red paint in it, sometimes it doesn’t actually come out that easily,” she said. But the filming of the sequence went off without a hitch. “With those scenes you’re more anxious about the reality of it than when the day comes,” said Atwood, and thankfully by the time filming started they had three to four costumes for everyone. “They did it at the end of the day, everybody got undressed, showered and stuff, and filmed it again,” she said.
“Wednesday” is streaming now on Netflix.