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Taboo's costume designer Joanna Eatwell on the challenges of dressing Tom Hardy

Designer speaks about creating an authentic look as we raid Angels' costume cupboard

by Michelle Johnson /


Tom Hardy and Oona Chaplin have been lighting up the small screen with their dark and daring BBC period drama Taboo, but while the show has been a passion project for Warrior star Tom – the story was created at his kitchen table with his novelist father Chip – it's the gorgeous gothic take on regency era fashion that has caught the attention of fashion-loving fans – particularly the top hat.

"Oh, we have Joanna Eatwell to thank for that," Tom said, heaping praise on the show's costume designer. He added that the show " just grew from [sitting in] the kitchen with my dad to what you see now, which is far more elaborate than anything I ever imagined. I just thought we would do a little television piece on the BBC maybe for an hour and we've sort of done something else, which is fantastic."

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Stevie wears some of the authentic outfits from Taboo

To celebrate the DVD release, we met with Joanna at Angels the Costumier's London HQ to chat through the challenges and details of designing such a gritty, unique look, as well as experience a dramatic costume fitting of our own, with HELLO!'s Esme, Stevie and Michelle fitted for a behind the scenes tour of the intricate world of costume making.

"It was a great pleasure to work with Tom and Oona," Joanna tells us of working with the Taboo cast. "They both embraced and enjoyed their costumes. Every piece of clothing we give the actor conveys information about the character, so it's through costume that we tell stories."

For Joanna and her team, the first step for any costume design is understanding the complex history of fashion and fabric. "It's always about trying to gain an understanding of the world the characters inhabit. We look at paintings and drawings of the period and first hand accounts. Diaries and wills are full of primary source information, social history and trade routes affect fabrics and fashions.

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"For Taboo, I wanted to work in a sense of reality: London was a cold and dirty place, people walked through the mud and not over it. They were practical and didn't want to suffer the elements, which is why I favoured boots over shoes, and wherever possible used layers and big coats," she says. "This isn't the Regency world of Jane Austin! There isn't a single white muslin dress or silk slipper anywhere. People were living a brutish existence, and the Port of London was a dangerous place."

As for the biggest challenge of creating an authentic costume, Joanna says it's very simple: time. "To make something authentically means hand sewing and finishing. It's so important to get the shape right, as every era fetishizes a different part of the body. Once you know what it is, you build on that with relish!"

Cue Joanna's collaboration with Angels, the multi award-winning London-based costume house that has created clothing for everything from Game of Thrones and The Crown to The Queen and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. Founded in 1840, Angels' warehouse in north London is open to the public, you can book onto the 'Behind the Seams' tours of their departments – tailoring, ladies making, alterations, uniform – and the eight miles of rails that span their extensive warehouse.

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Michelle, Stevie and Esme get into character at Angels

"Any Costume Designer relies heavily on Costume houses to provide from their stock that which we don’t make," Joanna reveals. "The rails at Angels are full of wonderful costumes which can also be used for inspiration, Angels is like a big library. They a have workrooms we can use, where it’s possible to have costumes made in house. It’s a very creative and supportive place to prepare a show in."

And with fancy dress experiencing a huge resurgence, from Gatsby parties to Secret Cinema events, Joanna even has tips for how we can get the perfect period costume ourselves. "Get the silhouette right," she says. "If you can do that then all else should fall into place."

Taboo is available on DVD and blu-ray now. Visit angels.uk.com for more information on costume hire or to book your Behind the Seams tour

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