“The Handmaid’s Tale”

April 18, 2017

Anna Wyckoff

Since its debut in 1985, Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale has served as a galvanizing force for women’s rights. The story feels as vital today as it was the year it was written, and that timelessness has inspired Costume Designer Ane Crabtree to infuse the continuity of that struggle into every costume of Hulu’s upcoming ten-episode adaptation of the novel.

Because women’s reproductive rights figure prominently in the current political discourse, Crabtree felt a unique urgency to connect Atwood’s fictional totalitarian theocracy of Gilead to the current zeitgeist. Crabtree explains, “It had to feel like a very real possibility that we could be overtaken by that kind of power.” To find those connections, she researched present day religious cults to create a look that is both futuristic and rooted in contemporary reality. “Gilead is based on high utopian ideals, but then things go horribly wrong.”

The key was to consider the details and their implications. Handmaids wear rugged boots without laces so they cannot kill themselves, but with covers sewn on top to convey how the characters are ensnared in their situation. Domestic workers, or “Marthas,” wear aprons with three pockets that are functional, but always open for inspection by authorities looking for contraband. These details are among Crabtree’s “gentle little nightmares” that prey on the psyches of the characters and, through them, the audience.

Having author Margaret Atwood as an executive producer gave Crabtree a direct link to the source. She also proved to be a constant inspiration. “Margaret is such a open, useful, freeing spirit. The woman is a powerhouse,” says Crabtree, who hopes her own work will do the same for others: inspire a dialogue. “I think we are having more conversations, aren’t we?” suggests Crabtree, “The artists and people that can express what’s happening in the world are creating, and it’s beautiful that we can’t be silent.”

The Handmaid’s Tale premieres April 26th on Hulu.

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