“Alpha”

Sept. 12th, 2018

Anna Wyckoff

Even the most well-appointed costume house doesn’t stock many accurate Paleolithic pieces, so designer Sharen Davis knew she’d be creating an entire world when she took on Alpha. Having previously collaborated with director Albert Hughes, Davis also knew that authenticity would be the heart of the project.

Because the movie was set 20,000 years ago, it necessitated making clothing before textiles existed. A paleontologist guided the filmmakers through what was happening on the planet at the time and the parameters of available materials and how people actually dressed. To create the look, Davis used fake furs for their durability and some hides for garments and accessories. It was a revelation that fur was placed toward the body to maintain heat, rather than facing outwards. To further ground the movie in realism, Davis chose prehistoric construction methods—like sewing costumes together with sinew. It took a team of 24 craftspeople 14 weeks of prep time to recreate the Paleolithic past.

“We made our own boots, tanning the hides ourselves and we had three jewelry makers,” says Davis. Aging garments was harrowing. “You’re washing leather.” Davis explains, “You’re already destroying it, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is going to dry out, crack, or be stiff on the actor.’” Another difficulty was constant concern that all the handmade pieces would survive the shoot and stunts.

For Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Davis used goat fur for his parka. She added small touches, like a scarf his mother had made him to show his youth and vulnerability. “It was definitely a different endeavor for me. I got to break free of every little thing I usually do in order to be able to open up and be able to learn a whole new way of designing clothes.”

Alpha from Columbia Pictures is in theatres now.

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