‘Westworld’ Secrets From Costume Designer Ane Crabtree

Westworld costume designer Ane Crabtree on keeping secrets, the meaning behind the show's costumes and what a gentleman Anthony Hopkins is.

Ed Harris as the Man in Black and Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores.
Ed Harris as the Man in Black and Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores. John P. Johnson/HBO

Welcome to our TV Fashion column, where TV Ate My Wardrobe‘s Emma Fraser discusses the trends in television apparel. This week: We speak to Westworld costume designer, Ane Crabtree. 

The first season of Westworld ended in a hail of bullets, with a whole lot of theories confirmed and some dismissed. Before attention turns to season 2 and what might come next for those who survive the Host-on-Guest onslaught, we spoke to Westworld costume designer Ane Crabtree about keeping massive secrets from actors on set, the meaning behind some of the costumes, what a true gentleman Anthony Hopkins is and the experience of working on a project of this scale.

Speaking on the phone from a snowy Toronto while she works on the first season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale adaptation, Crabtree had the Westworld season finale playing in the background with the sound down. This is in part down to the “immediate wipe” of what occurs when one project finishes and another begins and because Westworld (as well as The Handmaid’s Tale) shoots multiple episodes at once. At one point over the season there was as many as five going on simultaneously.

Multiple timelines was a much talked about theory throughout the season, which turned out to be correct. The Man in Black (Ed Harris) is William (Jimmi simpson) thirty years in the future. For Crabtree, this meant keeping a lot of secrets throughout the process from both her team and the actors. She explained why creators Jonathan “Jonah” Nolan and Lisa Joy finally brought her into the secret circle after several meetings where certain ideas were not translating.

‘We couldn’t tell our team, we couldn’t tell the actors. So that was a very Zen way of working.’ – Ane Crabtree, on keeping Westworld’s secrets

“There was just this moment where they called myself and two of their people into a room, well Lisa did, and she just said ‘Okay, I talked with Jonah, and we have to let you in on some of the stories and some of the secrets because you have to design.’ We couldn’t take any notes, it was all verbal. We couldn’t tell our team, we couldn’t tell the actors. So that was a very Zen way of working. I didn’t know everything, but I knew a lot.”

It wasn’t just Jimmi Simpson’s eyebrows that made him question who his future self might be, and Crabtree is quick to point out that she “certainly never said anything to Jimmi” but she suspects he had an inkling. “I had only a few photos on the wall because photos also tell secrets, so even my prep was crazy because I usually blast it all over the place for my crew to see. So I had to prep in a different way. I was taking photos of Jimmi and there was a photo of the Man in Black really far on the wall that I would kind of line-up so I could see. I think there might have been one time toward the end, before it was sort of written in a script for [Jimmi Simpson] that he kind of looked at the wall, and looked at me, and neither of us said anything.”

The blue dress worn by Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) had to be recreated from the pilot, which meant finding an alternative to the vintage fabric that was no longer available when the show went to series. It wasn’t just about making many versions of the exact same thing and sometimes variations of an important costume were made by Crabtree because “on set there was a million theories so I was always sort of designing for a million theories just in case.” Dolores’ two costumes represent aspects of both timelines; the way the fight sequence with Man in Black played out in “The Bicameral Mind” cutting between Dolores in her feminine blue dress and her practical cowgirl attire was one way to show just how disorientating things are for a host stuck in these loops. Whereas the blue dress is [original costume designer] Trish Summerville’s creation, the pants look is all Crabtree.

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores.
Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores. John P. Johnson/HBO

The blue dress, which could scream Damsel in Distress, also happens to be what Dolores is wearing when she commits her most violent acts as “Wyatt” and in the present when she kickstarts Robert Ford’s deadly plan into action. Crabtree says that this “was such a big secret. I would not say unformed, but certainly I wasn’t 100 percent sure about Wyatt. That was kept really quiet until the end.”

So was everyone on set theorizing as much as viewers? Crabtree says there were still these kinds of conversations as “It’s a rare project anywhere film or TV where the actors and the cast don’t often get scripts until either right before. Most of the cast didn’t have scripts; my people on set didn’t have scripts. Of course there was talk and theories being passed through.”

As expected, lips are sealed on season two, but I did ask about the Samurais that appeared in the finale, a moment where personal experience intersected with Crabtree’s work for the first time.

‘What was beautiful was the energy of being surrounded by Japanese people, and there were actors playing the Samurai that were actually Samurai heritage as well. So that was this beautiful, kind of sacred moment right before they went on screen.’

“I can tell you that my mouth dropped open when Jonah and Lisa said ‘Samurai.’ My mom is Okinawan and we have Samurai roots within that and so that’s pretty stinking cool,” Crabtree says. “It was really hard as anything with armor can be and there’s this high pressure to get it right, obviously. What was beautiful was the energy of being surrounded by Japanese people, and also there were actors playing the Samurai that were actually Samurai heritage as well. So that was this beautiful, kind of sacred moment right before they went on screen. I don’t want to sound stupid because it is TV, but there are moments where you’re like “Oh dear god this is my life” and I hope that my grandmother and grandfather are watching from heaven. It’s pretty cool and it has never happened to me before in twenty-five years.”

Crabtree also elaborated further into the thought behind dressing Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), someone we don’t find out is a host until nearly the end of the season:

“I think the idea was we wanted a veil over Bernard as we didn’t want folks to understand that he was a Host, and yet because he is sort of an in-betweener – in between human and host – he had to be less than Ford, obviously,” Crabtree said. “Ford is more tied to the past in the style of his dress and Jeffrey was mostly in the beginning in this futuristic part of the park, behind the scenes working so I approached it that everyone is in black, they’re in these textural lab coats and really clean lines and Jeffrey is in that version but higher up, a bit more sixties.”

Jeffrey Wright as Bernard.
Jeffrey Wright as Bernard. John P. Johnson/HBO

In terms of design influence, there are a number of periods in history that represent the Delos headquarters environment:

“We had so many conversations in the beginning Jonah, Lisa and I, about ‘What is modern?’ and ‘What is modern that is timeless and classic?’ And visually inspiring things that won’t look tired and dated in two to ten years because a lot of that does look that way, even things I adore. There’s something about the combination of my love for Japanese designers and certain creative moments in time artistically all kind of meshed together. The Bauhaus movement, the 1900s in Vienna. There are certain moments that are quite singular and somehow all core related. I drew on all of those plus icons that inspire me from the beginning of time till now. That’s where I came from for the future side of Westworld.”

With Maeve (Thandie Newton) this also came into play in picking her getaway ensemble. “I met [Newton] and I said ‘We’re going to try on something and I’m not going to talk to you about it. I just want to do this and please don’t ask me any questions.’ Thandie is very quite physical and confident in that and I remember she was walking across the room for me, and I was having her walk because I wanted to see her in a large arena, which was going to be the platform and the train and maybe escaping because I hadn’t actually read the scripts yet. What happens on this kind of show you just throw caution to the wind, you rely on your gut and you hope to hell that you’re right. And I wasn’t quite sure where we were going to head because of time constraints. Were we ever going to make the subway platform in time? Was it even going to be shot? Would I be shot for trying this on her?”

Ingrid Bolso Berdal as Armistice, Leonardo Nam as Felix Lutz, Rodrigo Santoro as Hector and Thandie Newton as Maeve.
Ingrid Bolso Berdal as Armistice, Leonardo Nam as Felix Lutz, Rodrigo Santoro as Hector and Thandie Newton as Maeve. John P. Johnson/HBO

Maeve’s other big costume moment in the season finale is what I call the “rogues gallery” of hosts trying to escape; Crabtree told me that this is Thandie Newton’s favorite Maeve costume: “We’ve seen her with absolutely no costume on – which is kind of a costume in and of itself – and as the madam and as someone on the frontier, but what I loved about the end is that her favorite costume was herself in these kind of black uniform trousers and a lab coat and she said she looked in the mirror and she said ‘Oh my god! This is empowering, this is like being a fucking Black Panther.’ It’s feminism at its best.”

For Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), it was another case of mixing femininity with power: “We just had her go back into part of her costume and have her hair down and lose her hat,” Crabtree says. “Her hair straight, with no hat on, was crazy. I mean she’s beautiful and she’s usually just – not just – but she’s usually a gunslinger and you don’t get to see it. And then being so feminine she was actually at her hardest and most mighty.”

Looping back to the creator of the park and that pivotal final sequence at the beach on the kind of night that marries magic with memories; “It happened to be a giant moon. I don’t know if it was a supermoon, but it was something insane and it was huge. It was a paper moon cut out in the sky. It was incredible.”

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores, James Marsden as Teddy and Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford.
Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores, James Marsden as Teddy and Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford. John P. Johnson/HBO

The Escalante set that the crew nicknamed “Dante’s Inferno” because of everything that goes on there, story-wise, holds a special memory for Crabtree as the sight of her fitting with Anthony Hopkins for his part of the finale. “We had to be on location really early,” Crabtree remembers. “I got a really nice room for him for his fitting so it was more special than throwing things at him in his trailer. I laid it all out. It was a very old fashioned fitting.

“I would see him every day and we would have these epic, beautiful artistic conversations. But that day his room wasn’t ready, and I was so nervous because I was going to have to be with Anthony for a few hours. It’s so dumb because I spent the year with him already, but I was so ‘how will I keep up the conversation?’ It was one of the most beautiful, singular moments in my whole life that we just sat and had cheese and tea and we talked about his life. And he probably knew that I was so fucking scared and nervous. It was really lovely, and there is never time for that when you are on set. It was an amazing fitting, and a more amazing conversation and then it led to this beautiful scene.”

Emma Fraser is the creator of TV Ate My Wardrobe and spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion and costuming; Abbi and Ilana’s Broad City style, the wigs on The Americans and Mindy Lahiri’s pajamas are just as vital as talking about ’90s, ’00s teen shows. Emma has a MA in film and television, and she probably holds Angela Chase responsible for this path. You can find her on Twitter @frazbelina.


‘Westworld’ Secrets From Costume Designer Ane Crabtree