At the end of a long project that has involved writing, research, and a lot of reading, I am very happy with my results. I started with three literary women who have always fascinated me: Dido, Anna Karenina, and Scarlett O’Hara. These women are all strong, passionate, and incredibly unlucky. When I started looking for connections among their stories, I quickly realized that they have even more in common than I realized. Even the timelines of their romantic misadventures are remarkably similar. Through marriage, loss, and motherhood, these women rule a country, bewitch and then estrange a society, and survive a war. Though their societies and writers are distant from each other, the theme of being destroyed by love from Dido’s tale that has fascinated readers for millennia reiterates itself in both Anna Karenina and Gone With the Wind. These brilliant women have more in common with each other than they do with their respective societies. But perhaps the more general theme is that of three loves so powerful in their tragedy that their pages have been worn thin with innumerable readings hardly lessened by the years. Even the strongest characters could not combat the inevitable pull towards destructive love affairs. And while all three stories are heartbreaking, their endings seem somehow fitting. No ordinary ending, no romantic ride off into the sunset, would do justice to any of these characters. For them, instead, is the tragic end of three heroes who go down fighting for love at the risk of losing livelihood.
Before I started on my final renderings, I did some character sketches for the characters I felt changed the most over the course of the novel. Those characters were Valjean (whom I did three sketches for: one of him when he was imprisoned, one when he becomes mayor, and one shortly after the climax) and Cosette (one when she was a foster child at the Thénardiers’ and one shortly after she meets Marius). As for Javert, Fantine, and Marius, their clothing changes are much less drastic. Javert frequently wears his uniform. Marius leaves his grandfather’s house shortly after his introduction (from that point, his clothes become steadily more worn). Fantine was a little more difficult: her changes are mostly in health (and therefore make-up) but her clothes do become incredibly more revealing when she is forced to turn to prostitution. However, because she is not a part of the novel for a very long period of time (much less than the other characters I completed renderings for) I decided to keep her at one rendering.
Initially, when I discussed choosing a time period for the show with my advisor, she suggested perhaps working with in the 1970s, a time period when student protests were common. While I do love 70s fashion and find the translation intriguing, I have decided that the idea I am most interested in is doing a modern-day adaptation of the novel, with the Baltimore Protests as the novel’s climax instead of the June Rebellion. When I originally stated my goals for the project, I said that I wanted to demonstrate how timeless Les Mis is, and how relevant its story and characters still are to us today. And today, les misérables aren’t the young men being drafted into the Vietnam War; they are the men and women who have lost their lives to police brutality.
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.