“Altered Carbon”

March 19, 2018

By Anna Wyckoff

Costume Designing the science fiction show, Altered Carbon, was a liberating experience for Ann Foley. Set five centuries in the future and based on the book by Richard Morgan, the premise released her from any particular time period or culture. Coming off of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Foley is no stranger to other worlds. But, in Altered Carbon’s cyberpunk reality, where characters can change their bodies the way they change their clothes, she was able to let her imagination run wild.

“It’s also incredibly freeing, not to have boundaries and be able to do anything,” she says. “But the challenge when you are world building is to keep the story grounded.” Foley tried to keep the costumes relatable, while steering clear of other science fiction tropes such as Star Wars or Star Trek look. “We just wanted to do something a little bit different. Christine Wada was also a Costume Designer on the pilot and she did an incredible job creating the grounders and the civilian look, while I focused on the envoys and the CTAC.” They worked closely with all the departments to create a seamless world, which Foley had to elaborate upon in subsequent episodes.

For the earth-bound Grounders the costumes are gritty and have a multicultural quality. The garments are intended to reflect the melting pot of the dystopian environment. “It was very specific to fabric,” Foley explains, “and using the past to create the future.” For the terrifying CTAC praetorians, she wanted to heighten the tension by giving them an otherwordly appearance. “For me the big priority was I didn’t want the audience to know whether they were human or alien.”

To portray the aristocratic Meths, who live in towers in the sky, high above the rest of society, Foley used colors and textures that evoked their environment. Her palette of silvers, golds, ivories, and blues was cut in sheer, organic flowing fabric. Also, she used gender interchangeably. “You wouldn’t know it, but some of the men were wearing women’s garments, like coats or vests or even sometimes pants, and many of the men are wearing really fabulous pieces of jewelry.

For Foley the goal was to tell the story with the visuals while creating memorable characters. “Laeta Kalogridis wrote a beautifully nuanced script, and a lot of what we needed was right there on the page, so we could do some wonderful character development with the costumes over the course of those ten episodes.”

Altered Carbon is streaming on Netflix.


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