Jo Korer had no easy task when she was brought on to update the costumes for Netflix’s hit show “Marco Polo.” The veteran costume designer (who’s work includes everything from “The Duchess” and “Hell Boy II”) had her work cut out reimagining costumes for a historical period when there was little record of fashion as we know it, and even fewer pieces left from season one carrying over.
Korer talked about her costume strategy and working with her team for 17 hour days to pull the bespoke fashions together.
How did you get inspired?
There are no photographs of course and there is very little record or reference. I sort of had to reinvent the wheel because [in Mongolia they] just wore robes. I flew to there and learned about the history of the period. Then I was very careful to stay true to what was available at that time and in that location. For example, places where you did get wonderful stones and certain rocks we’d use for only certain characters, like in the North you couldn’t get lapis or coral, but you could get wolf feet.
How did you want this second season to be different for Marco Polo?
Marco was 17 when he left Venice and it took almost four years by ship to reach the Silk Road before he got to Kublai Khan. He would have just been over 20 years old. When he left Venice he was a boy, and unworldly and untraveled boy, but by the time he met Kahn he was a mature man. For Marco Polo’s character, we had to sexy him up based on his age and what he’s seen now. He’s becoming an accomplished warrior and we needed to show that.
What was one of your biggest challenges?
Everything was literally handmade, and I mean every single principal costume and many of the extras. We really had to do this carefully and keep it rooted in history. It was tough because Mongolians really only wore robes, so it was really challenging in season two to really change the look. My team worked extremely hard and we had crew in from Budapest, Australia, Slovakia, Italy, South Africa and New Zealand.
You had a real challenge in season two trying to outfit the various tribes too.
This season revolves around the [coup initiated by Kahn’s cousin] Kaidu. All the tribes have to come to the vote and hear each speak. That took months of travel, but for me what was challenging was showing six or seven new tribes from Mongolia from different areas. I put the ones from the West more from the desert with colors in the sand colors and with metal work and mosaic of stones. The North were more cool blues and furs of grey wolf and white wolf.
How was the footwear designed for the show?
The boots in season one were a bit tough to wear because they were very traditional Mongolian. They were slip-on and baggy and had a tendency to stretch, so they were hard to fight in. I scoured the world to find boot makers and had samples made in several countries. I decided to go with a boot maker in Budapest. We designed them in the Mongolian style and but narrowed them for more of a riding boot style. The actors had several fittings and were literally bespoke made for them.
Did the actors love their new shoes?
We made it a bit of a celebration when we got the new boots. We put all the actors in them and put on some music and the actors started dancing. They were so happy. The footwear is important — if an actor is uncomfortable or can’t walk it’s hard to depict the characters.