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HomeCraftsCostume DesignCreating A Viking's World: Costume Designer Joan Bergin

Creating A Viking’s World: Costume Designer Joan Bergin

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LR-Joan Bergin photo by Jonathan Hession-email.jpg

Joan Bergin (Photo by Jonathan Hession).
Joan Bergin (Photo by Jonathan Hession).

Costume designer Joan Bergin is no stranger to the world of historical dramas. She previously received an Emmy nomination for her work on David Copperfield in 2001, another nomination for her work on The Tudors, along with three wins for the show in 2007, 2008 and 2010. But delving back so far into history was an adventure quite unlike any other. The era of the Vikings was 700 AD, so far away in time that research didn’t turn up an extensive amount of information on Viking attire. “A lot of it, you have to take what you find, run with it and imagine their lives,” said Bergin. “It’s not like The Tudors set in the Elizabethan period. There are no paintings and very little to go by.”

Undaunted by the scope of such a creative task, Bergin reveled in the freedom to play her part in recreating the time of the Vikings. “The History Channel was very brave to allow something not to be told in cold research and facts, but to give it flesh and blood – to allow the production design, the set dressers, the cameras to create a different world.”

LR-3-Ragnar--PBergin’s liberties began with the color palette, although the choices were steeped in research findings. “Even though the Vikings actually wore much brighter colors than I presented, I think you have to start with a more subdued palette of grains colors, so the colors aren’t too sharp. It’s a modern thing. I think if you put all of the characters in reds and purples and those orangey colors, it would’ve been hard on the eyes.”

Updating the very foreign Viking looks with modern sensibilities was often a challenge. Viking times embraced nudity, loose-fitting tunics and heavy furs which may have been quite practical for the Norse warriors back in the day, but not as appropriate for the Vikings Bergin dressed for the show. “I had to cheat a little because otherwise they would have all looked like they were wearing maternity smocks. You’re battling to present something that is pleasing to our eyes but believable for another time,” Bergin explained.

LR-4-vikings_episode3_1-PThe craftsmanship that went into the clothing was both intricate and exquisitely detailed, especially for the women’s clothing. The wedding dress that was handcrafted for a wedding scene displays Bergin and her design team’s work gloriously. “What we took originally was very heavy woolen silk and then we wove tiny little bits of branches through it but we covered the branches first with silk threads. The wood had to be dampened and molded so it wouldn’t be slapped off as the bride went to sit down. I was teasing the director, ‘Oh, please give us a long shot. After all the work that went into it, let her walk away so we could see the details of it.'”

The wedding dress Bergin created was one of many triumphant moments she experienced designing for the show. “In a way it’s hard to single out one thing because we were creating a world. It’s both quite difficult and also quite an honor to be given another century’s world and try to recreate it so people don’t feel like it’s mere fantasy.”

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