Bernadette Croft’s Modus Operandi
A good time was had by all when I recently conducted an exclusive interview with Bernadette Croft, the costume designer for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. But what regularly goes into Bernadette’s process of designing the costumes for the show? Although the first two seasons of Strange New Worlds were unfortunately produced under less-than-ideal circumstances — due to safety restrictions related to the COVID pandemic — this article attempts to examine Bernadette’s usual working methods.
Rather than gloss over the fact that what we’ve seen of Strange New Worlds so far was all produced during an intense era of lockdown, I’d like to ask you an initial question about it. So, how do you feel the pandemic-related restrictions impacted on your job of designing the costumes for Strange New Worlds?
Many of our vendors were closed or freight times were extended, so fabrics and materials were not readily on hand. We borrowed some supplies from Discovery, which was so helpful. I guess it makes you be resourceful and make the most of what you’ve got.
In general, how easy or difficult is it to design costumes for Strange New Worlds?
I always see costume design as a challenge, but we have such a talented team that work with us. They’re all so talented in their own way, and I feel like I can really tap into the talents of the crew. I know how good they are and that they can pull it off.
How much inspiration do the costumes of Strange New Worlds take from Star Trek: The Original Series?
Our showrunners, Akiva Goldsman and Henry Alonso Myers, have always wanted us to look to TOS for inspiration and to lean into that nostalgia but re-imagine it with today’s technology, resources and budget, so we always look at TOS and then other Star Trek shows and films. I always want to be respectful and pay homage to TOS, as it’s an important cultural touchstone for Trekkies. I also want to help bring a new audience to the show and captivate their imaginations with an interesting visual update and detailed production value.
Can you talk a bit about designing the Vulcan outfits for the show?
Sure. I love T’Pring and Vulcan formal attire. It’s very tailored and structured. We use a lot of metallic brocades, and yeah, I just love doing that. It’s always such an honour to do our Strange New Worlds version of a legacy alien.
I was thinking about how there’s so much to draw from as well. Like, you know, you’re talking about pulling inspiration from The Original Series and I know that, for the look of T’Pring, there was some influence there from “Amok Time”, and there’s been so many Vulcans through the history of Star Trek. That sort of goes on to my next question, which is: Where do you take your inspiration from? We’ve sort of already addressed that, but I wondered if you wanted to speak more about it.
Yeah, sure. Inspiration, I guess, directly comes from the script, so we’re always looking at the script and gleaning as much information as we can. If there’s any reference to a previous Star Trek episode, we’re always looking at that. But if there’s not, we have this incredible freedom where we can world build. So, you can look to inspirational images, and for me, a lot of the time that comes from Pinterest and I build different mood boards, so it can be, you know, pictures of fashion or even architecture or things from the gaming world or textures, colours, palettes, different things that feel like the vibe of a particular world or planet, character or alien. So, mood boards and gathering inspiration is a big thing.
Then, we come together as different departments and talk with the showrunners and the producers, the director, the writers, and just find out what they want to communicate to the audience. And then we all go and do our different things.
I have this wonderful relationship with the concept artists and they kind of bring my ideas to life. I have very rough sketches and pictures, and they digitally make this gorgeous art. I then do a few options and give them to the producers to kind of make the final decision. What’s great about being in the Star Trek family is that they are very supportive.
But yeah, inspiration comes from all over. I guess another place I find it is travel, like just thinking about how other cultures live and the way they’ve evolved and, you know, just people-watching, like when you’re going travelling. It’s just so inspiring to me. So, I guess travel and photography and nature. Like, I love nature; I’m a bit obsessed. So yeah, I think inspiration comes from all over.
That’s so cool. What part of the process of designing costumes would you say is the most difficult? And when you’re fitting for particular actors, is there ever a time that that can be challenging?
Yeah, I mean, sometimes casting is really late and so, we occasionally get the actor only a few days before they go to camera. Sometimes, they’re kind of behind a little bit in terms of figuring out who their character is, how they relate to the other characters in the story. So, we are often the first point of call with the actors and we’re just like, “Yes, this is happening, this is your costume,” and we always collaborate with the actor, but often there’s not a lot of time. They come, thankful that we’ve put so much thought and effort in to make them look believable and kind of honour their character. So, I think that the most challenging thing is not having enough time.
I love doing the conceptual art for designing. I love doing the mood boards and creating different worlds, and then getting things approved, choosing the fabrics, working with the cutter and the sewers to build the garment. We firstly make a “muslin” costume, to check the fit, then we make the hero costume out of the fabric we want to use.
Then, the fitting process is really cool too. Actors really find themselves in the fitting room, in the fitting process, because they can say, “Oh, I should have this kind of posture,” or, “These shoes make me walk this particular way.” It can kind of inform them how they’re going to play the character. So, it’s all really cool. We’ve had a few people cry with delight, so it’s cool to be a part of that. You just think, Oh yeah, this is a pretty cool job.
Are there any particular fabrics or materials you especially like working with?
I love when we can manipulate fabrics so they’re otherworldly. We often do screen-printing over fabrics. We often foil fabrics. Foil comes in a roll and you use adhesive and then a heat press or a heat iron to press the foil onto fabrics and it just gives things a sheen. I love foil. We use silicon, different dyes, pigments, paints. I also love working with textured metallic brocade, silks. Anything stretchy is always good to help movement.
The team are always experimenting and doing little swatches of things we can possibly do, and we just make a library of all these different experiments. And then, always some weird alien will pop up and we’re like, “Oh yeah, we can use that weird bubble technique we did,” or, “Let’s use that really cool geometric pattern on this costume.” So, I love when we can make our own fabrics.
The creativity that our show allows you is just incredible. You can be working with, you know, wools and cotton and natural fibres for one world, and then you’re working with, like, really tech, futuristic, sleek fabrics for another world. It’s just very, very broad. It’s awesome.
Thinking back to the Star Treks of the past, I wrote down the word “skant”. A lot of fans have pointed out that that’s a return to TNG, as The Next Generation also had that type of uniform.
They did! But they had the bare legs, so it was a little bit more obvious. We’ve got usually pants underneath or leggings. So, it’s up to the performer what they want to wear.
But definitely, we call what was a skant a “tunic.” We just changed the language a little bit, just so it’s a bit more unisex and gender-neutral. That’s what we’ve decided to do on our show. We’ve got people of all genders wearing it, but mainly in the cast, it’s Una and Uhura.
I don’t really know why the word “tunic” is being considered a more unisex term than “skant”. The latter is literally a combination of the words “skirt” and “pants”. There’s nothing inherently feminine about saying “skirt,” as a kilt is considered a form of skirt.
I thought a skant had the trousers/shorts attached. Ours are separate pieces. Interesting!
Behind the scenes, does someone on the show ensure the costumes are consistent with what’s canon overall?
We always, like, lean on our showrunners and John Van Citters, who’s head of, I think, merchandising, but he’s just got a bank of knowledge, and people like Kirsten Beyer — she’s got a really amazing bank of knowledge too. So, we always find those people to make sure, “Hey, is it okay if we use this Klingon pip here as a rank? Like, does that make sense?” Because, you know, we don’t have a lot of time. We just want to make sure we’re doing the right thing.
Are there any shows that you’d love to work on but haven’t yet?
Oh, good question. I mean, I’m loving what House of the Dragon is doing, Lord of the Rings… Any world-building show I just am obsessed with and I love being in that genre, because it’s so creatively broad. What’s great about this industry is the variety of projects you get to work on. I love seeing the talent of the different crew members on set and the people who are prepping, like prosthetics and props, set dec, production design, hair and makeup. It’s just so amazing how we all go off and do our thing and then it comes together and it’s just a really cool show that people are really loving. But yeah, I guess any other world-building sci-fi fantasy show would be totally up my alley.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Five years?! Whoa!
I feel like my work will still be in the fantasy sci-fi genre, and to be honest, it will probably still be Star Trek. Hopefully I’ll still be doing Trek in some way. I mean, it’s been going on for fifty-seven years. So, you know it’s job security, right? Like, it’s going to be around for a while, as long as our fan base are happy with what we’re doing. You know, we obviously get a lot of feedback, and the showrunners and the writers hear and read what everyone’s doing, what everyone’s critiquing the show about, so there’s always room to improve and to take advice and ideas. And I think Strange New Worlds has got a lot of seasons in it and, by what I see, we’re just getting better each season.
Next time, Bernadette Croft will discuss costumes from Season 2 of Strange New Worlds, as the season reaches its conclusion.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinated the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.