HBO‘s Lovecraft Country is an ambitious genre-bending godsend of a show that would end up being any creative’s dream to work on. With its exploration of different time periods, countries, and even dimensions, audiences didn’t know where the characters we’d come to know and love would adventure off to next. And, it’s this type of unpredictability that came to be one of the most exciting, creativity-pushing aspects of the show that kept Costume Designer Dayna Pink on her toes.
Starting as a stylist, Pink steadily worked her way up on commercial and music video shoots, which developed her storytelling craft on a small scale. Through her work on a music video for Tenacious D, she was brought on to head Costume Design in their film, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny. Taking what she learned from that experience, she has since handled costuming for films like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Baywatch, Bumblebee, and, most recently, Bad Boys for Life. All of this work culminated into what is, arguably, her most ambitious project yet, Lovecraft Country.
Pink tells Below The Line how she develops the character’s costumes to reflect their internal journey, from beginning to end. She further explains how Lovecraft Country’s exploration across time, dimensions, and different countries gave her more flexibility to not stick entirely to the book when it came to period.
Below The Line: I wanted to discuss first how did you start your path toward becoming a costume designer? Did you go to a school?
Dayna Pink: I was a stylist. I did commercials, musicians, music videos. I did all that first, which is sort of like a great gateway into that, because it was all about clothing and what looked cool and what was best and like a mini-movie in a commercial where you’re telling a story. But then, my first movie happened because I did a video for Tenacious D, for Jack Black. And then, they were doing a movie, so they sent me the script, and I read it. When I went in and had a meeting with a director and producers, it was all about not only what they were wearing, but why they were wearing it. So, with the T-shirt that Jack gets off the bus in, when he had driven across the country in a bus, we just made up a whole story about where the T-shirt came from. So, it was just this really interesting transition into being a storyteller through clothing.
BTL: And you can kind of see that in Lovecraft Country, how each person’s costume tells a story about who they are. How internally, they’re developing as well. We can get it from the first episode even, especially with Atticus, because we’re introduced to him as a soldier in what I feel is the most mind-blowing two minutes ever.
Pink: Yeah. Crazy, right? So cool. [Creator] Misha [Green]’s a genius.
BTL: You also see how that transitions into the real world with his simple T-shirt, right?
Pink: That’s exactly right. Because for him, it is in the simplicity. It’s in just the details of the T-shirt and how it fits him. And he’s wearing jeans, but they’re super high-waisted jeans from that time. And how does that make you stand when your jeans are that high? It’s just a whole…he’s very proper and, at that time, the shirts were tucked in, and they wore a belt, and it all combines his character with a time period. That’s the storytelling.
BTL: The show itself is just ambitious across the board, and you have to deal with not only the period elements, but you have the sci-fi. You have the fantasy. You have all of that blood that your team has to figure out. How did you tackle the research for that? From just the period pieces to figuring out what textiles work the best in terms of showing all that blood in its splendor, for lack of better terms.
Pink: You would definitely think about what’s going to happen to a costume before you design it. Like, are you going to see blood? What are they doing? Are they dancing? How much movement, because that matters. But the beauty about that show, in particular, was that I had room and space to honor the period, but not stick to it. Meaning I could use fabrics that were modern. I didn’t have to use all ’50s, ’40s fabrics for that show because there was a fantasy element to it that we got to really lean into. So, if we thought a modern fabric was going to be better, we used it. We got to do that, you know? There was modern music. There’s all kinds of things in that show that gave us room, that allowed us to do what we wanted, as opposed to holding us to the letter of the period. And so, that was one of the bonuses and one of the wonderful things about that show is that we got to honor the period, and then create what we wanted it to be.
BTL: You know how some period pieces set in that era, everyone just looks so pristine? I was wondering if the fabrics you guys use just gave it that more lived-in quality since you were able to tap into more modern textiles. Or, if there was a specific direction choice?
Pink: Yes, that’s a really good question. Yes is the answer to that. We wanted to make our heroes in the story welcoming in a way. We wanted you to want to sit next to them, touch their clothes, lean into them. And then Christina, for example, William, for example. I wanted you to appreciate what they were wearing, and like what they were wearing, but not necessarily want to touch what they were wearing. So, they were crispier. They were a little less welcoming. They’re a little harsher. So, Christina, her clothes are beautiful. But she isn’t…It’s not soft and flowy. Whereas, Ruby, for example, her clothes were softer, and Atticus’ T-shirt, you want to touch it. Even Leti’s dresses, there was a drape to them that we purposefully added to her look, because we wanted you to sit next to her. We wanted you to want to be near her, so it isn’t crispy and crunchy. It’s soft and flowy.
BTL: I think I wrote down when I saw Christina’s clothes that it was Veronica Lake if she was a sorceress.
Pink: Exactly. Good one! Why didn’t I think of that? [laughs]
BTL: It’s all in the way they did the hairstyling, too. They just pulled out Veronica Lake from the ’40s.
Pink: Yes, she’s very ’40s. Good one. Good one. Yeah, she was really more ’40s inspired for sure. Noir and also crispy, and beautiful. But not Leti. Not Ruby. Not soft.
BTL: I also wrote down that I couldn’t wait to see Leti onscreen, because it was like a literal fashion show, almost like a commercial fashion show, where every outfit I wanted for myself.
Pink: Aw. Thank you. She was so wonderful to dress and I had such a fun time helping create Leti with her because we really got to, Misha allowed us the room to really do that. It didn’t matter. A lot of times with characters you’re like, what can they afford? What would they buy? Where would they shop? Where did they get these clothes? But, with Leti, that didn’t matter, because she was a girl who would figure it out. Get what she wanted no matter what. So, we got to use that in our designs. What do we want her to look like? Well, that’s what she’s gonna look like. So, we really got to go really far with her. It was such a gift.
BTL: And, of this series, what would you say was your most favorite thing to design?
Pink: That’s so hard because Misha gave me so much to do. And it wasn’t like doing a show where episode after episode you’re like, “Okay, now what else is happening in the 50s? Now what else is…”. It wasn’t that at all. It was like, now we’re in 1921. Now we’re Josephine Baker dancing on stage. Now we’re in the Dahomey Kingdom doing warriors. So, I got to do all these different things. I honestly don’t have a favorite, but I could name you, I don’t know, top five, which is Leti’s dress that she dances in, the teal dress that’s made out of fringe. I loved that. I loved designing it. I loved designing the actions that she had to do while wearing it. So, we really got to think about what she was doing and play off that. I love Ruby’s dress in the opening, the blue dress when she’s on stage singing. She just looked so beautiful, and I was so in love with her in that dress with a flower in her hair. I love Atticus’s T-shirt that he wears when he’s walking in the pilot underneath a bridge, that soft T-shirt, which was the first piece that I found for this entire series. I found that. It’s a vintage T-shirt that we bounced off of. That’s three. I love Hippolyta in the warrior outfits that we made her. That’s four, and I loved her on stage dancing with Josephine Baker. Top 5.
BTL: It’s really hard to narrow down, because I was trying to figure out what were my favorites of what I had seen, and I just fixated on Leti’s entire wardrobe. [laughs]
Pink: Leti in those pink pants, I loved so much, and her outfit, her red and white. She was just so much fun, and really and truly, just every single thing we did we felt so lucky to be able to mix that period with the fantasy, and create all the things we did. We had, from beginning to end, we had the best time. That show was a huge gift as a designer.
BTL: How much of the show did you guys pull from that was vintage? From thrift stores, or rental places?
Pink: Well, most of the background was real vintage pieces, and then bits of the main characters were. There were pieces that I found that I couldn’t recreate as well as they were crafted. There were things that were so historically relevant and beautiful, that I wanted Jurnee [Smollet] to wear this shirt that was really from the time, or just different pieces that really existed. The handbags and hats and those things. I think there’s an energy that comes with these pieces that were from the period that we can’t recreate. So, I loved adding little bits of that in. But then, there’s the part that you said at the beginning, which is how much blood are they going to get on them? Where are they running? What are they doing? What is happening? Do they have a stunt person, and then we need to double for them. So, for example, in the pilot, the red and white outfit of Leti’s that she wears, when the Shoggoths come out the first time, we needed a dozen of those. We needed to make like 12 of those because of everything. There’s blood. There’s a little blood. Now there’s a lot of blood. Now there’s mud. Now she’s running. Now it’s ripped. So, we had to make so many of them. There was no way not to create them. So, that’s why most of it was created, and also because we had the room to do what we wanted as opposed to what the period called for. It gave us the extra incentive to create our own pieces.
BTL: I’m blown away by the number 12. That sounds like the dream. So, another thing I noticed was the usage of colors in the series, particularly in the costuming. There’s a brightness to the colors that pops. With Leti and Ruby, they seemed to be in more jewel tones, whereas Christina seemed cooler somehow in the beginning. Was that intentional to differentiate them? What did you intend when you designed the color palette for the characters?
Pink: We wanted them to pop. The background was a softer palette. The background was peaches and creams and browns and really beautiful blues and softer colors. And then, our heroes had more of a pop to them.
BTL: Am I crazy in thinking that Christina seemed purposely cooler in comparison to the heroes?
Pink: She had a variety. As the show progressed, she didn’t stay with a color palette, necessarily. I can think of a red dress she had. She definitely had some other…It wasn’t, it was more what you said that she had a ’40s inspiration but her palette, I don’t think was cooler than the other people necessarily.
BTL: For the men in the show, they seem more pared down with the exception of what I remember from Christina’s family, and The Order of the New Dawn. When designing for the men of the show, was there more of a focus on simplicity in comparison to the women?
Pink: No. Montrose has some really beautiful pieces. He was a little snappier. He had some really fun pieces, even though they were worn and older and not, you know, he’s not Leti in that sense. But I think he has an eye and he knows what looks good on him. So, it’s all character-driven. So, as you said about Atticus is he’s coming from the military. He’s very simple. Everything is clean. There’s a simplicity to it. Montrose was a little bit different. George was a little bit different. And, obviously, William, his suits were a little different as well. So, I think it was more character-driven. And where are they going? What are they doing? But, I don’t think there’s a simplicity to the men, necessarily. I think it was more of, who is it and what is the moment that we’re in?
BTL: To wrap things up, I wanted to ask about the spacesuits we see in the series. What was your approach in designing the suit?
Pink: Well, what was cool about this particular one was it bounced off of a cartoon that Diana drew. So, it wasn’t, it didn’t have to be super realistic, and how does it work? It has to be from the mind of a child. So, there was a cartoon element to it that was really fun, which is why I made her skirt an orrery because it was all from D, from the story, from the fantasy of it. So, we made a spacesuit and then we made an orrery skirt, which I thought was really fun.
All images courtesy HBO