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.
The first part of my research involved a lot of reading. I started with the shortest text — Ovid’s Heroides VII. While only a few pages long, this dramatic letter is packed with meaning. In typical Ovid style, what is left unsaid is often just as important as what is stated directly. Since Dido’s character is most well known from the Aeneid, Ovid assumes that his reader is familiar with this text. This familiarity with the character highlights any differences between Vergil’s telling and Ovid’s. The latter author takes full advantage of this, giving the reader a big surprise in the middle of the text — Dido’s pregnancy:
Les Misérables, the classic Victor Hugo novel, contains an endless array of rich characters and complex moral dilemmas. By modernizing this timeless text, audiences can more easily connect and associate the struggles of the characters with their own lives. To make the text more clearly relevant in this way, the researcher will strip down the barrier of time by translating the costume design to a more modern era. This will be completed by reviewing the historical context of Les Misérables, researching 1830s fashion, and combing through the text for mentions of the characters’ fashion choices. To establish a more modern setting for the story, the most crucial concern is matching the conflicts present in Les Misérables with a new era. After studying the political climate and the trends in that era, the researcher will use analysis of the characters to translate their costume designs to the modern era. Finally, watercolor renderings of the five main characters will be completed to showcase these designs.