Disney+ Pistol, directed by Danny Boyle, charts the rise of The Sex Pistols and features authentic costumes from the 70s. We talk to costume designer Liza Bracey.
“It always begins with reading the script,” says Liza Bracey, the costume designer for Danny Boyle’s Disney+ miniseries Pistol. The series includes a cast of young, rising stars as well as more established industry professionals, including Toby Wallace and Maisie Williams and focuses on The Sex Pistols, one of the most influential punk groups in history.
Creating costumes for characters who are based on real people is tricky and Bracey was brought on board 10 weeks before filming started, but the schedule moved back due to COVID, giving Bracey even more time to prepare for the monumental challenge of re-creating costumes that have been documented and immortalised on film.
“It expands your creativity because it is such a different way to work than I’m used to, but it limits you in that you can’t adapt outfits to fit in with the action,” she continues, noting that they had to make five or six copies of each outfit and they weren’t able to simplify any of them.
As well as recreating some garments from scratch, the costume team also sourced some outfits, some of them directly from the people involved with the movement. Bracey credits her buyer Julia and assistant Phil for finding some gems for the production. About half of the costumes were recreated, but Vivienne Westwood’s son Joe Corre also lent the series some costumes.
“It was really in the ethos of punk that we adapted existing things as well as make from scratch,” Bracey explains of the team’s approach to costuming. Murray Blewitt, a designer for Vivienne Westwood also provided some authentic garments for the team to copy for Pistol. The actual items were too precious and historial to be used in the series.
“Though Murray did lend us Vivienne’s actual leather jacket that she wore on the Jubilee boat and we did use that as she was happy for us to do so, which was amazing.”
Bracey also describes finding it much more difficult to recreate and source garments from photographs, rather than work on your own, unique ideas. It proved to be a challenge unlike no other.
“When we started the project there was an idea to use footage of the actual band in with our footage but we didn’t know where that would come. So that meant everything had to be able to be intercut seamlessly and so there couldn’t be any difference.”
The actors also had a say in their own costumes. Maisie Williams, who plays punk icon Jordan, who was born as Pamela Rooke. Williams praised Bracey in an interview with Vogue and recounted a story in which the costume department recreated one of Jordan’s outfits to a tee, much to the real Jordan amazement.
“It was as if it was the real thing. I believe she had a lot of archive pieces that she sadly lost in a fire. She did bring up some of her high heels from that time, though, and they fit me perfectly,” Williams told Vogue.
Some costumes were obviously dictated by recorded history, photographs and videos from the time period, but the cast were keen to be involved.
“A big part of a costume designer’s job is to help an actor to become their character. You can’t expect them to give their best performance if they don’t feel right in the clothes. Anson (Boon) in particular was really into his costume as what John (McCrea) wore was such a part of his character” says Bracey of the actors, who you can also see talk about their favourite garments in the exclusive clip above.
Bracey names Sid Vicious’ iconic leopard vest the hardest piece of clothing to recreate. The team needed four vests and ended up having to hand paint them to get the pattern just right. When trying to recreate Westwood’s Anarchy shirts, the team ran into an unexpected issue.
“Joe (Corre) told us she would write in bleach but Ken who made them for us found that bleach isn’t as strong today as it was in the seventies so he had to try out all sorts of cleaning fluids to try and find one that had the same effect. I think it was black mould remover that worked in the end” Bracey describes, proving that sometimes costume designing requires true innovation and improvisation to get it just right.
Pistol is now streaming on Disney+.