Over the course of six episodes, the Amazon original limited series Good Omens covers heaven, hell, and human history from the Garden of Eden to the present day. Suffice it to say, a wide range of fashions are involved. I recently had the opportunity to speak with costume designer Claire Anderson, who has received an Emmy nomination for her work on the series, on how she tackled the otherworldly challenges of such a unique project.
When Good Omens put a call out looking for costume designers, Anderson read the scripts and came in prepared with mood boards and lots of ideas for the series’ two leads—unlikely partners Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), an angel, and Crowley (David Tennant), a demon, who concoct a secret plot to avoid Armageddon by keeping the adolescent Antichrist Adam Young (Sam Taylor Buck) on the straight and narrow.
“I worked through it with gut reaction images. So, two guys. Two guys, kind of close, nearly in love, if you like,” she said. “I just went in and we had a really big, very open conversation about how you related to these people in the script and how we would make them real and plausible, but give them a fantasy element. Give them something otherworldly.”
While Anderson says that she ultimately took this approach with more or less all of the characters, mixing period and modern elements to give characters somewhat timeless, yet also somewhat fantastical “out of time” looks, in the early discussion stages it was all about Aziraphale and Crowley. For one thing, Sheen and Tennant were already cast, which was a major help in determining their looks. It took some time to settle on the duo’s main, contemporary looks, but once these were locked in they played a significant role in determining everything else they wore.
Another major factor influencing the costumes throughout the series was the beloved 1990 novel of the same name co-authored by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (who also served as showrunner and wrote all six episodes) on which the series is based. Many looks seen throughout the show feature details pulled directly from the pages of the original book. Witch-hunter descendent and wannabe computer engineer Newton Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall), for instance, is described in the book as wearing odd socks. “Jack had read the book and knew the character and was excited to play the character, and he wanted odd socks,” Anderson recalled, “and we wanted him to be geeky so that worked.”
Even—or perhaps, especially—in a show as temporally and geographically scattered as Good Omens, finding connecting threads to tie everything together is important in every aspect of the production, from storylines to aesthetics. When it came to costumes, a key component of achieving this sense of cohesion came in letting period details reverberate through the ages. “Once you’ve read Neil’s story a few times you start realizing things echo, and that’s what we tried to do with the costumes,” she explained. For Newton Pulsifer, that meant echoing the late Medieval fashions worn by his witch-hunting ancestor Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer (also played by Whitehall) in the details of Newton’s contemporary look such as color palette and collar shapes. For occultist Anathema Device (Adria Arjona)—a descendant of the prophetess Agnes Nutter (Josie Lawrence), burnt at the stake for witchcraft by none other than Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer—Anderson went for a subtly witchy look via some historically-minded details.
Considering the present-day Anathema is introduced riding a bike, the costume designer went with a silhouette modeled after late Victorian bicycling jackets. “Heaven knows why they developed a coat just for riding a bicycle in the Victorian era, but they did, and it’s got big sleeves and a very nipped-in waist,” Anderson said. “A costume shouldn’t dominate the scene, but it does read a character or lead an actor to their character, and I think Adria felt she was suitably witchy by the time we got those little lace-up boots on her with a pointy toe.”
Aziraphale also maintains a look with significant nods to the late Victorian era. Crowley too, although he manages to put an edgier twist on things than his angelic contemporary. “We re-appropriate bits of period stuff so that it echoes. [Aziraphale and Crowley] echo one another in their visual identity with pieces from their past—where they’ve touched each other in the past perhaps, or bumped into each other.” Regarding how Crowley manages to keep more of a modern, cool vibe, Anderson gives David Tennant’s performance the lion’s share of the credit. “He’s a very nice man, but he’s very sexy. He brought all of that swagger, that rock star, snake-hipped sexiness, and we built on that.”
Anderson admitted that Good Omens presented a challenge unlike any other project she had taken on in her career. “I think the first time I read it, I just thought, I don’t really get this. I’m not sure I can do this, it’s massive, and I don’t really know where all these people have come from—but as soon as we started talking, Douglas [Mackinnon], the director, had such an incredibly clear vision.” The experience working on the series proved to be an overwhelmingly positive one—and surprisingly smooth sailing, for which the costume designer gives showrunner Neil Gaiman a great deal of credit. “Neil was constantly available all the way through prep and every day on the set,” she said. “There was sometimes I knew, sometimes I thought, I need a bit more Neil time on this, I need to find a way with this character, and he was always available for that, and it was wonderful.” She also credited her costume team for making the process a particularly enjoyable one. She noted, in particular, her assistant costume designer, a life-long fan of the Good Omens novel. “She was always on hand to say, ‘in the book…’ She knew her material and was incredibly valuable.”
When it comes to adapting beloved books, winning over the existing fanbase is far from a given. However, in the case of Good Omens, fan reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, something evidenced by how the show’s interpretations of Aziraphale and Crowley have been so widely embraced by creative fans from fan artists to cosplayers—and cosplay (for the uninitiated, fans dressing up in costumes for conventions, meet-ups, or, y’know, just ’cause) is Serious Business. I asked Anderson if she had encountered any fan interpretations of her designs yet. Considering the novel’s decades-long popularity, she responded that the versions of Aziraphale and Crowley she designed are really just one of many. “I’m just part of the mix of one take on this,” she commented. That said, she added that she started seeing cosplays of her designs well before the series premiered thanks to paparazzi pictures snapped during filming—and that she’s found the experience an enjoyable one. “I do love that people are emulating it quite closely. That is funny. And lovely. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Considering how we here at Film School Rejects love our perfect shots, I asked Anderson if there happened to be one perfect Good Omens shot particularly near and dear to her heart. While it’s a little bit like asking a parent to pick a favorite child, she expressed a special fondness for the scene of Madame Tracy (Miranda Richardson)—part-time Medium, part-time “‘intimate care and relaxation” professional, and full-time neighbor to ill-mannered witch hunter Shadwell (Michael McKean), much to her chagrin—answering the telephone in her “sexy time” outfit in episode three, “Hard Times.”
“Our amazing hair and makeup designer Nosh Oldham did a beautiful job on her. And she’s wearing a sexy kimono that’s a beautiful color,” Anderson said, noting that the kimono was a bespoke piece. “She’s in really 1970s racy lingerie and she’s all cutesy, but answering the phone properly. I do love [Richardson] in it.”
While Good Omens presented challenges unlike any project Anderson has ever undertaken before, she also said her experience working on the show was also notable for the spirit of collaboration that permeated the process from beginning to end. “There were no really big egos. Everybody was interested in the project,” she recalled, adding that even going to different workshops and tailors across London, she found nothing but goodwill towards Gaiman and Pratchett’s book, and therefore the limited series adaptation in turn. “Everybody I approached, my favorite makers and breakdown artists and teams of people that I loved, all loved the book. It was a uniting force.”
“It’s a rare thing to enjoy everything about a job. To remember fondly even the days when the catering was rubbish. The day that your car broke down and you had to ring your wardrobe mistress and get her to pick you up on her way in,” Anderson reflected on her Good Omens experience. “All of those things. I even remember that fondly.”