How Dune’s Futuristic Costumes Drew Upon the Ancient Past

In The Portfolio, Awards Insider speaks with some of this year’s most notable Oscar nominees about their entire body of nominated work. Today we are featuring costume designer Jacqueline West, who earned her fourth Oscar nomination for her work on Dunes.

Jacqueline West describes herself as a period costume designer, someone who works in the fashions and fabrics of the distant past. In a career spanning three decades and 28 films, she has occasionally ventured into the contemporary era, but has never before journeyed into the future.

That changed when filmmaker Denis Villeneuve asked her to create the costumes for Dunes. And that’s one of the reasons she was initially hesitant. But one of her innovations from her was envisioning a universe that was so far gone that it was coming back around again. The outfits of dunes, especially those of the wealthy and powerful, have a byzantine feeling, a sense of yore threaded into the otherworldliness. The work has now resulted in her fourth career Oscar nomination.

west spoke with Vanity Fair about how she and collaborator Robert Morgan created the looks of dunes, and walked us back through her other three nominated projects—The Revenant, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Quills.

dunes (2021, Shared With Robert Morgan)

Vanity Fair: Let’s start with dunes. What are some of your favorite pieces from this film?

Jacqueline West: One of my favorite costumes was Piter De Vries (played by David Dastmalchian.) It is Ingmar Bergman-inspired. And also the Spacing Guild, which was that very ecclesiastic costume with the big dome at the beginning of the movie, but it’s one of the last scenes we shot. I love those. I just love the historical references.

What’s historical about those?

The Spacing Guild’s are based on the Avignon Papacy from the 1200s, because they got together with the French king at the time and ganged up against the Templars, and I’ve always been Templar obsessed. So I thought, You know? They accused the Templars of things just to sideline them, the same way that the Emperor and the Harkonnens get together to sideline Duke Leto and the Atreides. Sothere was a subliminal kind of connection there.

Your costumes in dunes often had an ornate pageantry about them. There’s something very regal, or not very practical, let’s say. As opposed to the stillsuits, which they seem very practical, like that’s everyday survival wear. But it seems there was a lot of clothing and wardrobe that was meant to suggest status.

Absolutely. I was an art historian, and I came up with this term for Denis early on which was “Mod-evial.” I would go to the medieval world and imagine what it would look like in the future. dunes is about a world starting over. I thought, What better than to pull from the distant past for 10,000 years in the future? Denis loved that concept, so I used a lot of Giotto. I used Goya and Caravaggio, and then I really looked to David Lean a lot for Lawrence of Arabiaand finding knowledge from the desert, and how the Fremen had created a whole lifestyle based on desert survival.

Are there any other points of history you referenced?

For the Atreides on the world of Caladan before Duke Leto (played by oscar isaac) leaves for Arrakis, I based all of that on the Romanovs, because it was the end of an empire. It was all going to be taken away from them. They had a simplicity about them that was regal, but simple.

By Chia Bella James/Warner Bros.

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