There's no denying that Downton Abbey has been a feast for the eyes for fashion lovers. We've seen the ladies long-skirted and corseted, and we've watched as they danced their way into the 1920s, flapper dresses and sequins in tow. It's official: Fashion has always been the head of household in this ITV drama - Dowager approved or not.
Once the hems and hair got shorter, Downton fans were sent into a frenzy over the stylish transformation - and the brains behind Downton's 1920s extravaganza of fashion? Costume designer Anna Robbins.
From season 5 to the highly anticipated feature film out this week, Anna has seen it all. Now the Emmy-nominated designer has exclusively revealed to HELLO! all the secrets from behind the scenes of the Downtown wardrobe, from costume casualties, disappearing items and heavily guarded jewels - as well as some of her own secrets hidden in the show...
We all know that celebrities get accompanied down the red carpet by bodyguards in order to protect expensive jewels, and when Bentley and Skinner lent original diamond tiaras to Downton it wasn't a dissimilar affair. Anna reveals that the luxury jewellery brand loaned "a few carats of diamonds" worth of tiaras to the ITV drama that were "kept under serious lock and key." Having to be kept locked in a safe while not being used, Anna also had extra hands to help her protect the jewels: "I had one of my costume assistants whose sole responsibility was to follow [the jewels] around and make sure they were never taken off or left in the make-up trailer at the end of the day." The designer also spoke of drawing a "huge amount of visual reference" from the royal family so we can only imagine the diamond price tag!
Anna admits another risky business in the costume-wardrobe world is when the actors take a liking to certain costume pieces: "You have to keep a beady eye on the cast members who you know might be sort of favouring a certain thing," she admits. Anna reveals that the items that actors always tend to run off with are their wedding bands - oops! "Actors sometimes leave in a rush and then you get a frantic phone call from their driver saying, 'she's got her tiara on!' or 'she's forgotten to take her wedding band off!!' - [wedding rings are] always a big one because they can feel quite natural and not that obvious."
The cast of Downton have had their fair share of costume casualties too: "Quite often you'll be filming and you'll hear the scatter of beads and a necklace might have gone, then you've got a minute to re-thread it before they want to go again," Anna tells us. The one moment that stands out to Anna was on the first day of filming for the Downtown Abbey movie when Laura Carmicheal damaged her dress: "She put her foot through the hem! But it was dealt with and you didn't see it on camera and so there's no real harm done."
Anna has her own little secrets when it comes to designing for Downton, too. Speaking to HELLO! she revealed that she often hides little style touches that the every-day viewer may not notice: "I could have a codebook for the Downton series to point them out for everybody who watches," she revealed. "It may just be the fact that an actress wears a locket that has been gifted to her that we actually never see because of the neckline she is wearing but its there just in case we do get a glimpse of it because of its an important piece to that character."
The Downtown designer also revealed we should specifically look out for the ballgowns during the large ball scene of the film, admitting: "seeing all the ballgowns together, as an ensemble, it's really successful and is something I am really proud of." Lady Mary, Violet, and of course, the Queen all wore Anna's favourite gowns in this particular scene. "As a trio [they] are pretty perfect characterisations and have the most amazing craftmanship within them." Yet she divulged that amongst the characters, Lady Edith was her favourite "exploration of style" and Lady Mary was her favourite wardrobe to work on "as a whole" because "with her, we have geometric clean lines, it's very elegant and very striking… it's been a joy to craft."
Although, when thinking of large ball sequences and period costumes, our minds may wonder to the pain and struggle of the corsets, Anna reminds us that the male actors also have costume struggles: "You've got to remember that the gentlemen are in very stiff shirts, that's not the most comfortable thing to wear and they've worn them the whole six series and never complained so I think they deserve a bit of credit." Corsets or stiff shirts, we have the utmost respect for the Downton team who have entertained us over its five-year span and now we eagerly await for the upcoming feature-length film.
Downton Abbey is released nationwide on 13 Septembere 2019.