How Dune: Part Two Ups the Fashion Ante

If you followed the global press tour for Dune: Part Two, you know some serious fashion was going down. Zendaya in an archival Thierry Mugler robot suit? Anya Taylor-Joy in a translucent, hooded Dior veil? Timothée Chalamet in sparkly Haider Ackermann trousers, head-to-toe Prada leather, or a Givenchy suit featuring a custom chrome breastplate? The fashion was fashioning, to say the least.

The same could be said of the epic space-opera sequel itself, in theaters now, which is a master class in costume design. Jacqueline West returned for Part Two (this time, unaided by a co-designer), and brings back what she refers to as the film’s “mod-eval” blend of modern and medieval style. West, who holds a dual degree from Berkeley in art history, described becoming “something of an Italian scholar” in her research for the Denis Villeneuve blockbuster, pulling references from Dante’s Inferno to be “dismantled and re-created for 10,000 years in the future.” Lucky for us, Part Two delves even deeper into the Dune universe than Part One—and the costumes only get richer as we go.

We caught up with West for a closer look at how she brings us along for the ride through costume—and what it’s like to dress some of Hollywood’s most fashion-forward actors of the moment.

How was working on Dune: Part Two different from Part One?

The difference is that the story really evolves and therefore changes the wardrobe. In Part Two we’re going into the Emperor’s world, we have new characters like Princess Irulan, played by Florence Pugh, and Lady Fenring, played by Léa Seydoux. There are a lot of new characters, and the worlds are expanded.

A big change this time is that you worked solo, whereas for Part One you had a codesigner.

I didn’t bring on a codesigner on this one because I thought Part One would be so massive that it would require two of us. But for this one, I designed more or less on my own, but with a fabulous crew. My dyer came back, my armorer came back, my specialty costumers came back, and all my milliners. I had new Hungarian stitchers and cutter-fitters [because we shot in Budapest], but almost everyone from Part One wanted to come back, which was a great thing.

For many films, designers are able to source some or all of their costumes via shopping, vintage, working with brands, and so forth. But for something like this, I imagine you need to build everything yourselves. How much “stuff” did you have to create for this film?

I think we made about 4,000 pieces of clothing. We make masks, we made all sorts of jewelry, we dyed and hand-painted all the fabrics, and we even had to rebuild the stillsuits because they took such a beating in Part One. But we did source a lot of pieces—I had shoppers in Istanbul and Morocco sending us stuff that we dismantled and re-created for 10,000 years in the future.

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The last time we spoke, you referred to Dune’s costuming as “mod-eval”—inspired by medieval costumery, but reimagined for 10,000 years in the future. I assume that is still your thesis for Part Two. Where did that come from?

Well, I have two art history degrees from Berkeley, which is where I first read Dante. And with the expansions of the antagonists’ world of Geidi Prime, for example, I looked to The Divine Comedy, and treated it like going through the different layers of hell. And Arrakis is like a sort of purgatory. I was totally steeped in medieval art—it’s the future, but it’s starting over. I also relied on ancient paintings, especially paintings of Arabs in Morocco and North Africa. My references for this film were pretty ancient. The Fremen, for instance, are really survivalists in the desert, so I looked to ancient Islam. They didn’t take on the Islamic faith, but we see them dressed as a combination of different religions.

How did Timothée Chalamet’s costumes change for Part Two?

The main difference from Part One is that we see him wearing many more cloaks. Though he still wears his stillsuit for much of the movie, there are different iterations of how he is cloaked. In this film, he takes on the religion and philosophy of the Fremen, so I wanted to give him this sage, monk-like quality. I wanted to give him this ascetic look like something out of Dante. I mean, I couldn’t let him wear Haider Ackermann—could I?

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The cast in this film is so incredible, but I’m most excited to see a lot more of Zendaya than we saw in Part One. What is it like to costume her?

She looks beautiful in anything you put her in. I kept her wardrobe very simple and diaphanous, so you can see her shape when she’s backlit. That choice was to soften her, and get her out of the stillsuits. She wears very simple clothes, and Denis and I spoke about this a lot. It’s this idea that when you’re living in a siege, you would’ve been wearing a lot of pajamas but would still have been able to slip into your stillsuit in a flash.

The other fashion darling we get to see in this film is Anya Taylor-Joy.

I never met her! That costume was made on the fly.

You never met her! So you just prepare a few things, and hope that they end up working out?

It just worked, which was amazing. I had some notes about her, and the character, and I had read the novel, so I came up with something I thought would fit in that world as both a princess but also the daughter of a Bene Gesserit.

Has that happened a lot in your career, that you create a costume without meeting the actor?

Maybe twice!

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Are stillsuits comfortable?

Yes, I think so! Only one actor complained about his armor—and I won’t say who! But nobody complained about their stillsuits. Some actors pointed out that they really worked. Even though the actual costumes don’t feature a potable water filtration system, as they’re suggested to in the story, people did say they were never too hot in them. We used wicking fabrics inside, and there are these breathing areas between the individual pieces of the suit, so with the wind in the desert, the actors’ sweat would evaporate and actually cool them.

Was there anything your actors tried to pilfer from set?

We bought them all very expensive underpinnings, which we did have to keep replacing, because people kept wearing them home by accident! It’s a natural thing to do—just throw your jacket on over your undershirt you’ve been wearing all day. I didn’t use silks because I thought they would get too hot in the desert, so most of the time we ended up using Under Armour, because it wicks.

Those performance base layers can get pricey once you start multiplying it by a certain number of soldiers, shooting over a certain number of days!

It was not a low-budget film!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Todd Plummer is a Boston-based writer who covers style, entertainment, and travel. He is a graduate of McGill University and Saint John’s University School of Law.