February 21, 2014
In “Pompeii,” a disaster movie set in 79 A.D. and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, Costume Designer Wendy Partridge was tasked with making her leading man look fierce, sexy and strong, whether he wore a toga or form-fitting gladiator gear.
Partridge carefully constructed costumes for star Kit Harington, who plays the slave Milo, a horseman who will battle everything from evil senators to deadly lava.
“He’s the leading man, so you want him to look amazing and show off his body with a limited amount of square inches of costume,” Patridge said. “Our design challenge was to make him look as buff as we could.”
To that end, she designed a fighting costume with a knee-length skirt, at-the-knee boots and upper body armor that fits like a harness, frames his abdomen and covers one arm.
Harington’s physique and the costumes that show it to advantage have been the focus of news coverage, and rightly so. Harington looks every bit the hardened warrior, with sinewy arms, legs and a rippling six-pack.
“He worked so hard to get that body—that is not sprayed on,” Partridge said. “When he first came to the project, he was not as fit. So at the beginning of the project, it wasn’t’ feasible for us to dress him [in more revealing costumes], so he is in a tunic and more of his body is covered. That was to allow him time to gain this incredible physique.”
Partridge had to initially abandon her original concept for his gladiator costumes because they didn’t conform to his body type. “By the time it came to shoot him in his most revealing gladiator look, we ended up with the original design,” she said.
She used hand-molded leather for his body armor, which was created by a specialized leather craftsman. The armor was custom fit using a succession of plaster molds that cast Harington’s body to accurately reflect the increasing definition of his muscles. Experts hand-textured the leather pieces and, for more detail, pounded metal to handcraft the belt buckles.
“There was not a single thing on his costume that was out of a factory or done on a sewing machine. Even the outsides of his boots were done by hand,” said Partridge. “We tried to make it as authentic as we could.”
To ensure against any wardrobe malfunctions, she cut the skirt to fit like an external layer of muscle so that it would move with his body. “The engineering behind the armor is almost as intensive as the armor itself,” said Partridge, who made about 3,000 costumes in three months for the epic movie.
Her overriding concern, however, was to allow Harington maximum mobility. Following the lead of ancient gladiators, she covered only one shoulder with armor. “What they give up in protection, they gain in agility,” she said. “If you have someone lumbering around in big metal helmets and big armor, they are not as agile—and they’re much easier to kill.
“Kit goes on strength, sinew and speed and that is what makes him a great gladiator.”
Photo caption: Kit Harington as the gladiator Milo in “Pompeii.” Photo courtesy of Constantin Film, Don Carmody Production, Impact Pictures and film District.