Costume Designer Consolata Boyle is a Real-Life Fairy Godmother

Isaac Perez Solano,

Consolata Boyle has opened her heart and mind to the history, colors, characters and shapes of every era she has had the chance to work with as an Oscar-nominated costume designer. I had the opportunity to talk to her on her lunch break and I was a little taken aback by our conversation. Her passionate way of speaking puts a spell on you, mixing and moving from heavy to lighthearted subjects. She transitions from the political to the playful with the ease of someone working on another plain of creativity and social analysis.

A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 14th issue of ODDA Magazine.


What initially drew you to working with textiles?

I think that when I’ve my first degree. I was studying Archaeology and History [at the University College Dublin], so you can imagine that I was very interested in everything: research, historical facts, putting together scenarios and stories from pieces and bits, fabrics, bones, ivory, anything like that fascinated me. Then, when I left college, I went into the theatre – I had been doing theatre, helping with theatre in college with a group of friends up until when I left college with my degree. I was an apprentice in a wonderful apprenticeship course in the Abbey Theatre, our national theater, so I trained there in both set and costume. While I was doing that, my interest in historical textiles grew and grew, and when I had completed that course I knew that I wanted to work specifically in costume rather than what had been until then my job.

My interest in textiles really started from that very early passion and fascination in history and with piecing together people’s stories and, obviously, filmmakers and everybody working in film, because they are, we are, storytellers and so the way I could tell stories best, or the way I felt most eloquently able to tell stories was through clothes and through fabric and through color because obviously what we wear reflects our state of mind and also it tells us historical, political, social, every kind of story is carried in the clothes we wear on our back as well as the intimate stories of our lives.

So, I went and I studied historical textiles in England, reproduction of historical textiles, printings, dyeing and weaving so I did a wonderful course there. I was very curious, so while I was also working in theatre and I slowly moved, with a group of friends -I was very lucky- into experimental film and more film, then came television, but then I got asked to do bigger films. That’s what drew me into textile and from textile into costume.


The Costume Design for ‘Victoria & Abdul’

This means that you were a very driven teen…

Do you think so? Yes (laughs). Well, I think in a way I was incredibly lucky, in that everything was very open, you were allowed to experiment, you were allowed to make mistakes, to learn from them. I was given huge responsibilities, like when I look back now, I just tremble at the responsibility, but I went into it seriously because I didn’t know. Now things are much more constrained. Obviously, my job now, along with many people working in film, is dealing with budgets, dealing with the teams… you learn all of these things, by dealing with people, how to negotiate and persuade, and yes by keeping the original vision in your mind at all times and the vision that has been dictated by the script, by the vision of the director, by all our visions, trying to place the pieces so that we are all telling the one story, through whichever means is our area but that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. In a way, I was able to move up in a way that was almost revealing, because I was getting experience through being the one there and maybe I grasped the experience, and it was… I loved it! I just fell more and more in love with film, with the technical end of film, with the camera, with the power of the medium as an art form, the incredible power of the medium.

The Costume Design for ‘Victoria & Abdul’

What does transformation mean to you?

In my work I see it every day. Actors transforming, the written page transforming into something visual and amazing, things that are just written on the page… you can always imagine what is going to happen, but the actual transformation that happens with everybody’s’ contribution is awe-inspiring, I mean that is just awe-inspiring. Then, what happens in post-production, that transformation of the music, what the music brings, the editing brings, the sound design brings, the special effects if that’s sort of film, the SFX, all that kind of things.

Filming is just one great, huge machine of transformation, but obviously at the very kernel of it, if there isn’t a heart beating and something important and you want to care about, something human, I think we are all lost. You can put a whole load of contrivances and machinery, and everything, ugliness, beauty, performance, the lot, but if you don’t have the central core healthy and touching the audience, if that isn’t, all of this is simply the stuff you learn involving, no matter how fascinating and fantastic, if the audience can’t have a direct line through to the human heart and the human story I think we are all lost really.

How do you feel now about your work as costume designer for The Queen?

Well, like in Victoria & Abdul, my recent work; I was lucky to be immersed, in a positive way, by this amazing story and that is what drew me, because there’s a lot that had been written, books and researches about British royalty, about the various queens; it was incredibly mesmerizing. Visually is without a doubt a lovely story to work on. Especially for the queen Victoria, for example, this adventure got me thinking its possibility of what can be said, how interesting and relevant might be to our times. There are some things that people don’t necessarily know about her. I’ve heard, because it’s known, that she has Indian servers because for the colonization that what was happening by then; but this very closed friendship with a young servant that was not well known was a pleasure to have my hands on. I had to do a lot of research to discover how magnificent and fascinating was. Also, the complex but creative part comes when deciding what part of the research (diaries and photographs -even when some of them with the servant were destroyed by Victoria’s son) is right for what we want to say.

The Costume Design for ‘Victoria & Abdul’

Stephen Frears is so eloquent, that’s why I love working with him and obviously the brilliant Judi Dench, the whole cast was very inspiring.
Now, regarding The Queen, I love investigating what makes people tick, because she used to have a particular point of view when Victoria was still around and discovering that exact core was such joyful moment, because there was actually more in the outer world: she’s dealing with the madness in London, the pressure was in one woman -remember that Elizabeth is dealing with Tony Blair, the media and her family- and if we take in one hand both stories, Victoria is a small nugget in a domestic situation… on picking all of that was simply fascinating.

Is there a source that you prefer to avoid when designing for such an iconic character? For example, with The Queen, did you use the tabloids to obtain more real details than the ones we can see in a Royal speech, for example?

Not really, I do it very widely. I encouraged everybody around me to do the same even if the source is the most unlikely. Sometimes, you can find something to make the image look free and wide to be accurate as possible because you’re treating real events.


the writer

Isaac Perez Solano

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