'Fahrenheit 451' Costume Designer on Dressing Dangerously in This Dystopia
When bookburners dress for the dystopia of Fahrenheit 451, their regal uniforms reflect the fire they used to destroy knowledge. The unnatural effect proved highly flammable, which is why the production team had to be selective in how the effect was used.
“A layer of oil, wax, and paint mixture on the uniforms made it so that the light from the flames would reflect back into the uniform,” Meghan Kasperlik, the Emmy-nominated costume designer for HBO’s Fahrenheit 451, told Inverse shortly after Emmy nominations were announced. “The uniforms are made of a waxed cotton that’s fire retardant. We washed out all of the wax and built it back up. If the firemen were away from fire, we put oil wax and paint into it. There are a few times in which a few of the uniforms aren’t as shiny because they were so close.”
With many of the firemen uniforms, they reflected the hot light of the flames in a way you don’t often see with clothing.
One of the more significant deviations between the original book and HBO’s film adaptation was in the development of the Nine, a government-run internet service that transformed the firemen from mere civil servants into social media celebrities.
“I wanted to make sure that they looked regal,” Kasperlik said of costuming the firemen. “A lot of times people in social media admire the celebrity — they want to look like them and buy what they buy.”
“We talked at great length about making firefighters look admirable, that they were clean and simple, that people paid attention to them,” Kasperlik said of her conversations with director Ramin Bahrani. “I also found that aspect with military uniforms, Air Force or Marines, that these uniforms they have a regal look to them.” Their uniforms were government-issue, so Kasperlik drew inspiration from militaristic uniforms from around the world.
“We wanted to honor the book but also kind of bring it into 2018 and what’s happening now,” Kasperlik explained. Part of that meant doing away with the ubiquitous firemen hats that are throughout the book. They’re still occasionally used as props in HBO’s Fahrenheit 451, but doing away with them put the focus on the clothing. “I moved away from that to make the uniform its own character,” Kasperlik said.
In the dystopia of Fahrenheit 451, the unique fashion of these uniforms arises from a kind of cultural fusion. “We drew inspiration from different periods and cultures, especially in how the uniform has evolved in other countries. I was looking up fireman from United States, China, Thailand, Russia, and especially French.”
“I kind of did a throwback with the clasps on the jacket,” Kasperlik noted. “It was reminiscent of old uniforms from the ‘20s but also Parisian elements.”
Throughout Fahrenheit 451, these uniforms represent a kind of social status, a symbol that literally reflects the horrors of what these firemen do to wipe out knowledge. What could be more dystopian than that?
*Fahrenheit 451 is available exclusively on HBO.