Turnbull Talks: Grace Snell
Inspired by her costume approach to the stylish realism of Joanna Hogg's film, The Souvenir Part One, we met designer Grace Snell at her flat in South London. We discussed the inspiration behind the semi-autobiographical film starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke and Honor Swinton Byrne, what Ms Snell has in store for the future, and the progression in Joanna Hogg's next chapter of The Souvenir Part Two.
Turnbull: What are your earliest memories of craft, art, or design? Did you always know you wanted to pursue a creative career?
Grace: I was always encouraged to be creative from a young age. My Nanny was a machinist for Nurseys, the sheepskin family business. My earliest memory of costume was when she would make my birthday costumes, whether it was fairies or mermaids they would always have a theme, and she would always hand-make my costumes. I still have them all today. That's how I associate costume with craft and skill. They weren’t like the normal fancy dress costumes from a store, they were always so beautifully made. That was my earliest memory… dressing up as a kid.
What do you think is a key characteristic of your style?
I really don’t know... If I go back to how I begin the process. I always start with second-hand clothes, garments that already have a history or age to them, worn-in and have had a life. So that’s my bounce board. When I am mood boarding or pitching for a job, I might go through my archive stock or through a charity shop and get really excited by the things in-store. I know it seems obvious, but I try and be as original as possible. So when I reference I don’t want to be mood boarding other people’s work. I think that is important, it means your starting point for your design process is almost quite random.
When conceptualising a characters outfit, do you consider how their look will work on screen amongst the other characters, or is it more individually focused, more similar to real life?
It’s a really fine balance between interfering too much to make an ensemble cast work but then making it look unrealistic. Sometimes it is needed, but I love the randomness, things that don’t quite work because that’s real life. Then again, if you want to create something stylised, or create a world, then you will want them all to work together.
Congratulations on your award for The Souvenir Part 2, we loved Part 1, and thank you for choosing Turnbull & Asser. Why did you gravitate towards Turnbull & Asser? Was it vintage or new pieces and how did you go about sourcing these pieces?
Turnbull & Asser was actually in the script, it was a detail Joanna Hogg (director) had written down for me. With that information, it’s like, "ok well, shall I just get inspired by the shirts, or shall I use Turnbull shirts". Being set in the 80s, I wanted to see if I could find some vintage Turnbull & Asser, but some of the styles are timeless (obviously) so I can buy them new today. Anthony has three shirts that are current and one was bought off eBay. It was in perfect packaging from the 80s – that was the blue and brown striped shirt. I also put some Turnbull’s shirts on Julie. She wore Anthony's (played by Tom Burke) blue and white pinstriped shirt, then I also found a women's Turnbull and Asser, that I put on Julie. A really interesting thin silk shirt, with double cuffs.
So I was given that small detail from Joanna and she allowed me to do what I wanted with that detail, I didn’t have to use it. But to me, it was a really important detail.
Do you find past experiences with real people help inspire these fictional characters?
I do get inspired by certain people, I mean my dad has been referenced in a few of my films. With Anthony, he was such an interesting character to design. Having been given some of these snippets of detail from Joanna, like Turnbull & Asser or the use of a silk bow tie, I could then fill in the dots. I would then go away and research things like, who was making silk bow ties in the 80s, would he have been able to afford lots of Turnbull shirts or just one – which he dry cleans because he doesn’t have much money but gives off the impression of wealth and excellent taste. So, it was making those decisions and then mixing inspiration from 1940s film stars, looking at the King's Road in the 80s, photographers of the time and their street photography (book). I wanted to try and achieve a timeless feel so that it wasn't obviously set in the 80s, so I also took a couple of references from today. I strived for the film to feel like a memory of what one can accurately remember of that time. But there were influences of the 40s also – almost like the 80s did the 40s. Because Julie and Anthony are in their magic little world, dressing like Hollywood film stars.
Was there an outfit you remember seeing that started your costume career?
I think there probably is, I could probably find it if I went through all these reference books. In fact, I have a funny research folder of just the Sunday Times Style section, I remember cutting it up and keeping all of the front covers – it’s so embarrassing. But I was just really into paparazzi photos, like really obsessed. The off-duty actor always got me excited. I have folders and folders of printed photos of off-duty looks. But there wasn’t a light bulb moment really, it happened quite suddenly. Where I have suddenly looked around at the top of the hill and realised that I am up here, I didn’t even realise I was climbing up here. It wasn’t that I always dreamed of being a costume designer, but I just love doing it so much and I’ve worked so hard and I am here now. It’s been a very natural process.
You’re wearing the white cotton Marlene shirt, what made you go for this style?
I love a double cuff shirt. I like that it’s a traditional men’s design, which is my preference when styling a shirt. I wear all my white shirts with a stripey top underneath because I love how it looks when the pattern comes through.