Kaplan, Michael

Although he designed the costumes for the futuristic classic Blade Runner—for which he won a British Academy of Film and Television Award in 1982—designer Michael Kaplan is not exactly a science fiction buff. In fact, until he accepted J.J. Abrams invitation to work on Star Trek, he’d never seen a moment of the other Star Trek films and only a handful of the original television episodes. He confessed as much to Abrams upon their first meeting. But Abrams saw Kaplan’s lack of knowledge about the look of earlier Star Trek costuming as a real plus; he wanted the film’s entire design team to come at the designs from a fresh point of view. Once he took the job, however, he admits that he immediately delved into the past by reviewing Michael and Denise Okuda’s seminal Star Trek Encyclopedia in order to get a sense of the evolution of Starfleet uniforms and the motifs that had been repeated in every iteration of the Star Trek universe. As it turned out, Abrams had no intention of ignoring the past—he just wanted his group to decide on a case-by-case basis what they felt they should hold onto from the past and where they could expand into new ideas. Kaplan split the film into different eras. For the earlier era of Starfleet with Kirk’s father, he was inspired by the look of Forties and Fifties era sci-fi movies, with garments like stretch pants and retro-futuristic designs (a la Forbidden Planet and the Flash Gordon serials). Other distinct eras include that of civilian earth during Kirk’s adolescence and, a few years later, a Starfleet Academy full of young cadets. For the Enterprise uniforms themselves, the filmmakers realized that there was an innate “wholesomeness” to The Original Series’ color-coded tops and slim-fitting black pants that they wanted to hang onto. Kaplan updated the uniforms by simplifying them, updating fabrics and using some manufacturing technologies that didn’t even exist when the series first aired. Each of the garments is subtly printed with tiny Starfleet logos that aren’t really visible from a distance, but add an interesting texture to the look. It was, Kaplan notes, a painstaking process, printing on the rich primary colors and trying to get “just the right chemistry with the ink colors.”

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