The real Duchess of Argyll, Margaret Campbell, was perhaps best known for her headline-grabbing divorce from her second husband, Ian Campbell, the Duke of Argyll. However, his signature style has also become a key part of his legacy.
The Duchess and her ex-husband are the subject of a new three-part limited series from Amazon Prime Video and the BBC, titled ‘A Very British Scandal’, which chronicles a dramatized version of the couple’s high-profile divorce, where the Duke (played by Paul Bettany) leaked his wife’s nude images to the media.
Costume designer Ian Fulcher was tasked with creating the wardrobe for the series, which debuts on the streaming service on Friday. Spanning around 16 years between the 1940s and 1960s, Fulcher had many references for the 85 costumes he created for the Duchess (played by Claire Foy), but chose not to create identical replicas of her wardrobe.
“With Margaret, the approach was that we always wanted an essence of who Margaret was, but that never really copied the clothes she wore,” Fulcher explained. “We wanted to do something that a contemporary audience would relate to more and not make it a period. We always follow the silhouettes of the correct dress period, but lightly using elements that you wouldn’t necessarily think they would have worn.
Fulcher said he wanted to evoke a continuity with the Duchess’ style over the 16-year period by using the same Venetian wool in all of his costumes. While the Duchess’ style has evolved over time by embracing popular styles – like pencil skirts in the 1950s and boxier silhouettes in the 1960s – her style has always been defined as sultry and daring, which reflected his personality, he said.
“I would describe [the duchess’ style] as very typical of an aristocratic woman of the period in which we see her, which is mainly the 1950s and 1960s,” he said. “What I loved was that the older she got, the bigger the statement she was making. The hair got bigger, the pearls got bigger, which I think is really fun. The point is through all of those statements, it’s still her statement. I felt like she never really cared what people thought of her. She did whatever she wanted. . »
While Fulcher introduced some pieces – particularly trousers – into the Duchess’s wardrobe that weren’t part of her actual style, he also took some of her style hallmarks and put a spin on them.
For example, in the 1970s, the Duchess of Argyll was regularly seen in animal print kaftans and dresses. Fulcher didn’t think an animal-print outfit matched the aesthetic of “A Very British Scandal,” so he instead incorporated a tiger-print scarf into Foy’s courtroom outfit.
Fulcher believes that since the Duchess had a signature style, the costumes play a role in Foy’s portrayal of the character.
“It’s about her identity and her armor,” he said of the Duchess’ real-life style. “We created this sensual, strong person on camera and she, to me, always stood out for that because Claire embraced that and the clothes hopefully evoked that.”
When it came to creating the Duke of Argyll’s costumes, Fulcher took fewer creative liberties. He explained that the Duke consistently wore the same cut of a three-piece suit until his death in the 1970s and wanted to stick with that silhouette for Bettany.
Although he used the same silhouette for the show’s 16-year run, Fulcher diversified the Duke’s looks through color.
“When we first see it, it’s in softer colors,” Fulcher said. “Then when we see him in Biarritz, he is in these summer colors, and then when we see him towards the end, it is these fiery reds that he ties into the accents. It’s her little journey that’s noted in color, which still plays a massively strong role in the costumes.
Overall, Fulcher said his mission with the show’s costumes was not to detract from the dramatic plot, but to advance the characters’ stories.
“Costumes play such an important role in any production because right away, as a viewer, you have to be absorbed in what you see,” he said. “Sometimes if you design costumes that are just over the top and there’s so much going on, the viewer can be taken out of the drama. This is why, in fact, with many fabrics and clothes, this is not the case, so that you are always absorbed in what is happening in front of you.
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