Cynthia Summers talks costume design for A Series of Unfortunate Events’ season 2


The Baudelaire orphans are growing up during the second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Cynthia Summers had plenty to say about how that translated to their looks for season 2.

Taking on the task of designing costumes for the second season of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Cynthia Summers describes the experience as “a dream job.” With the scope of the series widening and the Baudelaires growing into their roles, Culturess had the opportunity to discuss Summers’ designs for the second season of the show, as well as her thoughts on where the series is going.

Was there an overall theme you had in mind or story you were trying to tell while designing the costumes for season 2?

You know, the theme of this season, I think more so than season 1, is travel and time and place for the kids, and sort of how they are maturing through their struggle to stay alive. We were trying to visually show that in their wardrobe and in the sets and towns and situations. I think that it’s more visual this year than in season 1. The first season was more establishing who the kids are and who Olaf is. So yeah, now we’re establishing the tone of children traveling through time and how they’re growing up.

It sounds like the second season is going to be much darker than the first.

It is a little darker and more adventurous. It has an adventure aspect to it. Violet is definitely growing into someone who has to take the lead to some degree. She has to be responsible for her siblings and get them out of deeper, darker situations. I’m excited for that. It’s definitely a girl power season. Even with Sunny. Violet has sort of stepped up a little bit and taken the lead, at least in the beginning of the season. Sunny is walking and talking in season 2. She’s still talking gibberish with subtitles of her thoughts, but she’s more mobile and present.

Is there a certain approach you took to show that they’re maturing?

Well, in the books the children don’t really age. And by the time it’s wrapped, we’ll have been shooting for two years. So, of course, our kids are going to age. We had to ask the question, should we mask it or should we go with it? We decided to go with it. They’re all in stages of their lives where the physical differences are very obvious. Sunny’s walking and talking, Violet’s becoming a young woman, and Klaus is getting taller. We tried to give them places to be themselves in their own physicality, but also make it a smooth transition so that it isn’t jarring from season 1 to season 2.

Season 2 also sees the kids in disguises more than in season 1. That allows us to be more imaginative and ingenious in how we put their costumes together. Now we’re seeing them as very thoughtful in what they do. We’re watching what they’re doing, instead of just watching them physically. It’s definitely a more action-packed season. There’s more jumping, climbing, driving — just a lot more to see.

A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 production still. Photo: Eike Schroter / Netflix

Speaking of disguises, what is it like to design costumes for a character like Count Olaf? And can you tell us about your favorite impersonations from season 2?

Yes, he’s had like five disguises this season. And he has these sub-disguises, where in the moment he’ll throw on a hat or a beard. His big disguises have been very situationally driven this season. The different towns and situations we find him in, he’s found a costume to assimilate to that place. That’s given us lots of opportunities to go outside the box this season.

And of course, Neil brings 95 percent of himself to that — to where I go with the costumes. He’s so well-rounded, and physically, he’s a great body. Some actors are just great at morphing, becoming a different shape.

We basically start off where the production and script have an idea of what the character should look like. Then we sit down and talk about it, and we create an illustration. Then we talk over that illustration, the color and the town. And then I usually send that to Neil.

For the most part, we work together on all of his disguises. He comes into the fittings with the different voices, the way he’s going to walk and talk with the character. He gels and solidifies it. And then we add more fun touches at that point.

Given how strange and whimsical this series is, was your experience designing costumes for it different from your previous projects?

They all kind of start the same way. You get your script. You break it down. All of that’s the same. But of course, after that, it’s quite different. Generally, we have everything made: hats, shoes, undergarments. Everything you see on camera is pretty much made, whereas on a contemporary film or show, most of it is purchased.

The immediacy of it is like a feature film. We can’t just go out and buy it. With a contemporary film, we can just go to the store and buy what we need. With this show, it’s like, “We need  this or that, and we need it tomorrow.”

It’s more creative in a hands-on sort of way. It’s a lot of coordinating in that aspect.

Wow, so you build everything from scratch?

It’s easier to have control over the final outcome when you start from scratch. We build everything, and we also dye a lot of our fabrics. We also break them down. Everything is well worn or disgusting. We even shade everything, much like you would for stage, so the piece or garment doesn’t look flat on camera.

We also have to be careful with lighting. We have a certain retina over the camera that changes the color. Everything you see is probably ten times deeper in color. When I first started, we would have camera tests. To the eye or regular camera lens, the piece looks exactly the way we want it. It’s not too desaturated or bright. And then we put it in front of our camera, and it’s grey.

It was a real learning curve.

What kind of research goes into your work? Have you read the books?

I’ve definitely read the books to influence what we did, as opposed to replicate what the books have done.

There are some story lines that are a little different from the books. And they’ve done it in a really great way. A lot of adaptations from book to screen are different, and a lot of times you have to do that for it to make sense. There are a few characters that are different, new to the books. But the main characters and supporting characters are what you expect them to be, and I think that’s what’s really important.

We’re shooting our second to last book at the moment. So we’re almost there. It starts in an adventurous way because we leave the carnival again and go into the mountains.

Is the third season the last one?

As far as I know, yes.

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Season 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events premieres on Netflix on March 30, 2018.