Home Entertainment ‘Shogun’ Costume Designer Carlos Rosario Talks Creating 2,300 Costumes and Breaks Down...

‘Shogun’ Costume Designer Carlos Rosario Talks Creating 2,300 Costumes and Breaks Down Key Characters’ Looks

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While working on “Shōgun,” costume designer Carlos Rosario created approximately 2,300 costumes for the FX limited series spanning 10 episodes.

“It was a massive. It was a huge show and a huge crew. There were consultants on set that were checking every day to make sure that the dressing of each costume was accurate for each scene,” Rosario said.

“Shōgun” follows Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) on his quest to become the shōgun, the military leader of the nation, joined by his translator Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai) and English ally John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis). Because the series is set in 1600s Japan, Rosario had limited primary sources to study. After visiting every website and museum that had Japanese pieces from that period, he said what helped him the most was studying paintings from the 1600s and chatting with historians.

Since the series is rooted in history, Rosario was able to draw inspiration from the characters’ real-life counterparts. For instance, he designed the first costume Lady Ochiba (Fumi Nikaido) appears in based on a painting of the “Lady Ochiba of that period.”

“That was the first time that I used a painting to create one of my costumes,” he said. “In the beginning of Episode 2 in the flashback, we see Lady Ochiba for the first time, and she’s wearing this beautiful uchikake that we made from scratch. All those different layers — she’s wearing six or seven different layers — are actually all based on that painting. We studied the patterns of that painting, the layers of that painting, the meaning of those patterns, and then we reproduced that costume.”

However, in addition to relying on historical research, Rosario also had to capture the characters’ story arcs: “I needed to read the 10 scripts all at once to understand their journey.” After reading the scripts, Rosario said he picked up on the texture and color he needed to incorporate. He described the clothing from that period as “rogue” and “connected with nature,” which inspired him to make the costumes “very detailed, very textural.”

As for color, Rosario said that was the most important aspect of the show’s costume design. In both the novel and the script, Ishido’s (Takehiro Hira) army is described as the gray army, while Toranaga’s is described as the brown army. Although wearing a uniform color was not historically accurate, Rosario said designing the army’s costumes in those respective colors was key to the storytelling.

“You have so many different characters that I would have gone in so many different directions for everybody in terms of the color palette. It would have been really difficult to understand. I feel like the colors put all the characters in very specific containers. It’s easier for the modern audience to understand who is who within the visuals of the storyline,” he said.

After learning that Japanese lords of that period constantly wanted to show off their wealth, Rosario had Toranaga change his outfit in every scene of the first episode to exhibit his power. “Because his clothes were copper and gold, the idea was to make him look like one of the most powerful lords at that moment in Osaka,” he explained.

As for Mariko, Rosario said she needed to be introduced as “lifeless,” sporting monochromatic clothing to represent winter. “Her family was dishonored. Since then, she has tried to commit seppuku and never was allowed to. The idea is that she was walking spiritless — without a voice, without a purpose, without a path. I needed to represent that in her costumes,” he said.

But as she finds a new purpose in life by serving as Blackthorne’s translator, her costumes begin to evolve with her character: “You can see, slowly, the camellias blooming on her costume until she really empowers herself.”

As for Blackthorne’s costume evolution, Rosario says his vision for the character was “very clear.” “As he’s introduced into the Japanese culture, we get to see him including into his wardrobe more and more elements of the Japanese clothing. We’re staying very neutral and muted and simple because in that story, he’s powerless. The lords have the power. Mariko has the power. They are in their territory. Blackthorne gets caught within all those dynamics, so it was important for me to create a contrast between him and everybody else,” he said.

Reflecting on his experience on set, Rosario said the level of involvement from consultants, historians and experts on “Shōgun” was unprecedented: “I’ve never worked on a project that was so careful and put so much emphasis on attention to the details, to making sure that we were as accurate and as authentic as possible.”