Kurt and Bart Discuss the Costume Design of Stoker |

Kurt and Bart are fascinating. Forged as art school drop outs in 1980s New York, their name is now a singular brand to movers and shakers in the media industry. Yet they are two people, two very real people: Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller, renowned costume designers and wardrobe stylists for film, stage, TV and commercials.

Since the early 2000s, Kurt and Bart have really stepped up their work costume designing film (forgive the pun but they actually did costume Step Up 3D), although runaway hit Stoker is arguably their highest profile feature yet. In fact Stoker is the most beguiling film of 2013 so far for costume. This is the craft at its most interesting, where the ordinary has to speak volumes, colour is explicit and shoes are more than somewhere to put your feet.

Exclusively at Clothes on Film, we have the collective voice of Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller discussing their costume choices for Stoker.


The black and white saddle shoes worn by India are made Muffy’s Enterprises out of Vernonia, Oregon. Charlie wears two-tone saddle shoes of his own by Allen Edwards. Image credit: Mary Ellen Mark.

Kurt and Bart on… director Chan-wook Park:

‘Having seen Oldboy and being big fans of Director Park, we were thrilled at the chance to work with him. Few directors have the kind of eye and attention to detail. Also any opportunity to work with the hugely talented production designer Therese DePrez again, made it a dream job for sure.


Nicole Kidman as Evelyn ‘Evie’ Stoker and Mia Wasikowska as her daughter India Stoker. Nicole’s funeral dress (accessorised with veil) is by L’Wren scott, Mia’s by Proenza Schouler. Kurt and Bart added an extra pocket to Mia’s dress at director Chan-wook Park’s request because he wanted everything in the film symmetrical.

On Colour:

Director Park has such a strong sense of colour and that was so fun to embrace. Again, there are multiple meanings to the colours used but each character including the estate had a specific palette.

For example, India’s nightgown, although subtle, we dyed yellow like a new baby chick. When choosing her green Marni cardigan for the piano scene, it is very close to the colour green of the house interior and when she wears it to school she is almost taking the house and her world with her. Many of Charlie’s colours were informed by imagery of the plumage and eye colour of some birds of prey. A lot of those goldy browns into that mustard colour of Charlie’s Bottega Veneta sweater are from some of those images. Evelyn or ‘Evie’s colours went from funeral black and then opened quickly like a long dormant bulb. She wears blush and lilac and then winey colours. Her last dress was important because there was so much the costume had to do performance wise… stunt, blood, etc. We needed to have multiples and it was so hard to even find just one dress that embodied the elements of saturated colour, the feminine quality of sheerness and still the kind of dress that can seduce. Well, after looking at so many dresses we were actually lucky enough to work with Elie Saab and create a kind of completely new dress based on different elements from some dresses from his previous collections – the lace from this and the tulle from that. Mr. Saab was in the middle of trying to get his spring collection and show ready. It was such a miracle that the dresses arrived in time; it’s always a nail biter that keeps you ready lose your mind, but they arrived and fit perfectly and the dress did its job beautifully.

India with ‘Uncle Charlie’ (Matthew Goode). Kurt and Bart made most of her skirts and blouses, though the one India wears when caught in the rain is by Band of Outsiders.

On India Stoker:

This movie is really a kind of dark fairy tale and also a classic coming of age story. It was so fun to be part of creating India’s look. A lot of those initial inspirations came from really classic little girls clothing, the paintings of Balthus and even thinking of Henry Darger’s work were great springboards. It was important to everyone that the film feel out of time, but we didn’t use any vintage clothing with the exception of estate jewellery. There were some 1950s day blouses that we looked at just for the construction and finishing covered buttons and closures. They were part of our trying to show her obsession with detail. The skirts were also a practical thing for India. She’s comfortable in her clothes and they are practical for her. Almost all of her skirts had pockets in them because she uses her pockets. It was also a way to tie her to her Uncle Charlie. Uncle Charlie has his hands in pockets stance at the funeral and Director Park wanted to link India to her Uncle Charlie in that aspect. We loved dressing a contemporary teenage girl that is in no way influenced by reality TV or tabloids. She is her own creation.

Charlie’s clothes are preppy as if has has just gotten out of school. His ‘inappropriate’ funeral attire consists of Gucci jacket, Etro sweater and Prada shirt.

On Uncle Charlie:

Uncle Charlie is another anomaly. He has lived so isolated and in his head that we approached his clothes almost as if it’s his first day out of prep school. Sophisticated and well read, we thought he would present himself maybe as a character from one of the classic books he read or from his travels real and imagined. A bit of boyish elegance but with a lean silhouette. We wanted to contrast his darker nature with warm colours and soft textures. Charlie wears a lot of cashmere… blood and cashmere is always a nice combo.


Evie’s peacock blue dress is by Elie Saab. She blossomed with the arrival of Charlie, but is now back to being cold, trapped and alone.

On Evelyn Stoker:

Nicole’s character Evie was such a contrast to her daughter. There is definitely a sense of lady of the house, but hopefully also a fragile bird in a cage. As Uncle Charlie enters their secluded life, Evie warms to the attention immediately and starts dressing for him. There are strong bookends for her, opening with her veil and the L’Wren scott funeral dress and ending her peacock blue Elie Saab finale. Jewellery was important for her character and chosen each day with Director Park. We shot in Nashville and were surprised to find incredible estate jewellery there. The deco emeralds and diamonds she wore in that final scene were meant to show Evie at her most potent glamour but also trapped and vulnerable. Those rocks were worth a lot of old money.


India and Evie’s slips are from a small lingerie boutique on Madison Avenue called Peress that has been in business since 1927. Both slips are identical in style, just in slightly different muted tones.

On Symbolism:

Director Park is a master and has such a strong visual vocabulary that is all his own. There is clarity to his approach and still there is so much that is discovered along the way. From the very beginning there were visual themes with each character that were important for him. These themes were also important to their environment and the design of the house so it was rich with alliteration. India having an obsessive nature, we liked to use repetition, knife pleats in skirts or pin tucking in blouses to reinforce that obsessiveness in pattern. It was also important to Director Park that India always be symmetrical, centre parted hair and there ended up being kind of a soft geometry to her clothes. It gave us a great place to go when showing her stepping into womanhood and her truer nature. We had an amazing seamstress in Nashville and that allowed us to build most of India’s clothes. Mother and daughter couldn’t be more different, and Evie Stoker, a beautiful isolated woman starved of attention – we spoke about her being a tight bulb that opens and blossoms with the attention of Uncle Charlie. We tried to always give her feminine details, sheerness, florals and where possible, asymmetrical details to contrast her daughter. However, even with all his specificity, Director Park embraces that the audience will find their own read on the subtext and symbolism which makes it all the more enigmatic.


India’s crocodile Christian Louboutin heels are chosen specifically because she has become a predator. Snakeskin was considered but eventually crocodile was deemed the most appropriate. Image credit Mary Ellen Mark.

On Shoes:

The shoes were not a designer brand in the script but both were specific to the story. The saddle shoes are representative of innocence and youth while the high heels are symbolic to the change taking place in India. For Director Park, those shoes needed to be representative of becoming a predator. Initially, the script had mentioned them being leopard print, but after an exhaustive search we could not find anything to our liking. We had also considered snake, but ended up with the crocodile Louboutins’.

With thanks to Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller.

Stoker is currently on general release.

© 2013, Chris Laverty.