Modernizing Les Misérables: Post 1

Before starting anything else, the most important first step of my research was rereading Les Misérables.  It had been a few years since my first read through of Victor Hugo’s epic novel, and I wanted the whole scope of the work to be clear in my mind as I created my designs.  At 1,194 pages, it was a fairly daunting task; especially with the added pressure of marking all Hugo’s mentions of character appearance and clothing, but having made it through the other side I can definitely say that the reread was absolutely crucial to my research.  Not only do I have a much fresher perspective on the characters I will be costuming and modernizing, but I also have pages upon pages of research notes directly from the book to back up my artistic choices.

I have organized these notes by character and page number, so that the descriptions of each character read a little like a costume summary.  Although I did not keep track of every character in the novel (Les Mis is certainly not lacking in the character department, and making detailed notes for everyone would have proved almost impossible for this project) I did try to find at least one lengthy description of each supporting character to use as a reference.  My plan was to read the book as if I was planning on costuming the whole show, and so I did my best do the research that would allow me to do just that.

In that respect, I am pretty proud of my progress with the research.  That being said, I will be doing only one rendering of each of the five main characters (Valjean, Javert, Fantine, Cosette, & Marius).  This is where things got a little difficult for me: these characters and their fashions change drastically throughout the course of the book (which takes place over a time period of about 38 years), and just selecting one scene to depict them in feels as if I am not representing the character as a whole.  I am not sure there is any way to get around that besides simply doing more renderings, but I would rather have one high quality rendering than several lower ones.  I guess I will just have to see what time allows in that respect.  Right now I have extra sketches of Valjean and Cosette, as they are the characters who are followed most closely by Hugo; because of this, they change the most over the course of the novel.

However, before I got started on the rendering process, I had to research the time period I am choosing to translate the characters to.  I toyed around with a few different ideas, but at this point I have decided on doing a current adaptation: one that stretches from 1978 to 2016.  The Baltimore Protests will now serve as the climax, as opposed to the original’s focus on the June Rebellion.  That being said, I will go more in to the time period research in my next post!


  1. Having read some lengthy novels for my own research, I empathize with you completely! But getting information from the source itself is so important. I wonder if watching any other adaptations of Les Mis would influence your project. Aside from the fairly recent movie, I am sure there are dozens of play adaptations that have pictures or even videos available online. Have you considered looking at how other productions have done their costuming?

  2. kjtalbott says:

    I agree, rereading the book has been incredibly beneficial to my designs. That’s an excellent point, and I actually have watched a couple different adaptations of the show. However, I hadn’t looked up any productions that used modern costuming yet (I was afraid they’d influence my designs too much). But I’ve made all my designs now and your comment reminded me to check it out! Apparently there’s a production with modern dress at the Dallas Theater Center right now that looks great. Hard to get a scope of the whole show from just the clip, but still so interesting to see a glimpse of the direction they took.