VOGUE – She may have created costumes for some of the biggest films of the past 20 years – from The Hunger Games and Harry Potter to Eighties classic Big – but Judianna Makovsky says there’s no doubt about which is the biggest challenge: superhero movies. The costume designer, who has won awards for her creations across many genres, including period dramas, says that her work on the recent Captain America: The Winter Soldier came with challenges not experienced on every film set.

“Well, firstly the directors wanted the clothes to look less superhero and more real; so not a colourful spandex suit,” she explained. “We look to the past for movies like this – the comics, previous adaptations – and we don’t want to stray too far from what the character ‘should’ look like, but also Disney didn’t want it to look exactly the same. The costumes have to look new. Marvel has an incredible knowledge of the character, so we work with them throughout the process, but – although they have to be recognisable – the characters do inhabit different worlds in different films. There’s a lot to balance. Superhero films are definitely the most labour-intensive for a costume designer.”

Working with the actors on set, and in pre-filming fittings, is part of that job, said Makovsky, but it is even more crucial on action-heavy movies – since the costumes must work physically as well as aesthetically. Scarlett Johansson’s character, The Black Widow, is as feisty as she is sexy, which provided its own challenges.

“Scarlett didn’t actually start to fit for the catsuit until two days before we started shooting, so we had to do lots of trials and testing in quite a short timeframe,” Makovsky explained. “It was a challenge to get that many looks done in time. We work very closely with the actors on an action movie. We’ll make different versions of the same costume depending on what she’s doing: boots with running heels, fighting heels, standing heels; costumes that will allow her to kick; others that will accommodate a harness. I supervise all the props as well – shields for every purpose, and masks for different scenes as well. Some parts of the job are more product design than costume. Film is the art of collaboration.”

Multi-million-pound franchises being what they are, Makovsky’s costumes have a life far beyond the film – not to mention the thousands of fans who dissect her work on forums. Although it’s not the first time she’s seen little versions of her work running around – since past films, including Harry Potter, engendered a wealth of merchandise – how does it feel seeing her work worn in the form of dressing-up costumes by children everywhere?

“It’s fun,” she smiled. “The costume designers are actually not involved in merchandise so much – I wish they would involve us more – so sometimes you see a cheap copy and think ‘Oh!’ – but the Captain America ones look great.”

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